I try not to get too stiff here. When people do something for themselves I always say, “Do it with the motivation to be able to share with others and benefit them later.”
And when people do something good for others I say, “Be happy that you have the chance to build up good karma for yourself”! Many people have the idea that they need to make themselves strong before helping others. Other people want to help under all circumstances, without making themselves strong first—but then they are not able to do much. Both of these extremes are quite common.
I always advise people to see the big picture and to separate themselves from others as little as possible. If you think, “When I do something good for myself, may others also be happy!”, then you’ll see it as a resource to be able to do more for others. And when you do something for others, you can be happy that you’re developing good karma and insight. Cutting through this idea of an “I” and a “you” is a very good idea.
Everything is the art of the possible. In Buddhism, there are three different ways to benefit beings. You can benefit them as a king does: first you make yourself strong and then you share with others. You can benefit them like a boatman, thinking, “let’s all reach the far bank of the river together.” And finally, you can benefit them like a shepherd: you help the others through first and then you go yourself.
Christianity mainly uses the shepherd system, but there is always a victim role involved along with the attitude that helping must be difficult and full of suffering. That comes from Jesus, who demonstrated it through his own suffering and sacrifice. In Buddhism, the attitude is completely different. With us, helping is the highest joy and something completely natural. If people have good karma, they meet you on a day when your actions are effective and successful, and if they have bad karma they come on a day when you’re making mistakes. And the whole time you simply do your best and see what works. There is no commandment from above. Minds in development may not always be equally talented, but they are basically nice. One does what one can, and people get something more or less useful depending on their karma. The more you enjoy helping others the better.