Meditate on this for a moment -
What's the difference between a person who is genuinely very useful and a person who just does useful things for people all the time because he wants to appear to be very useful?
I think there's a correct answer to this one.
Hint: It's three words.
It is impossible for anyone to survive longer than one week without drinking, yet Abdullah managed a ten-day desert crossing without finding water or brining any along. How was this possible?
the latter can be a people pleaser and does things out of a feeling of guilt. then again he could be a sociopath and so thinks he must do useful things because that's what other people do to get their sympathies. if he is useful and beneficial to society, all is well. but if what he does eventually leads to another's downfall (i.e. lets say he kills/he steals/he cheats to get what he wants) then there is something there.
but anyway, using the beliefs of the Jesuits who believe in beauty in all things and would have us believe everyone is essentially good, then i think that in essence, even if people do things to pain popularity/social acceptance then that person is a good person and he has no difference with the foremost person.
For everyday well-understood useful behavior, the "not different" answer isn't bad. But for extreme behavior out at the tails of the probability distribution there can be a pretty significant difference. Isaac Newton probably belongs on the shortlist for most useful person evah, and in his most important work he seems to have been largely motivated by things other than being useful: cussedness and curiosity and strange mystical considerations, e.g. If he had simply set out to be useful, or to appear to be useful, he probably wouldn't have ended up being as useful as he ended up being by accident.
I would have to say "Ambition and motivation".
The first person already has those qualities that the second doesn't. However the second person also has the ambition of being like the first person and the motivation to get it done.
I think the difference can boil down to a one word answer: "Commitment".
The person who is genuinely useful acts according to the needs of those they serve and will take on fulfilling those needs as an obligation.
The person who wants to 'appear' useful feels no commitment to the needs of others, but is motivated primarily by a wish for recognition. Once the desired recognition has been received, the motivation to serve vanishes, regardless of whether or not the tasks they have undertaken to perform have been completed.
The difference is conscious effort. Also,the genuine person has a major advantage in that his/her capacity to be helpful is greater than the person that helps in order to receive recognition. The latter is requires the fuel of praise and this fuel is consumed by conscious effort whereas the former is automatic and arguably infinite, all other things being equal. Consciously doing good for recognition isn't bad, getting to the point that motives for doing good/being helpful are subconscious and just part of who you are is something to aspire to.
The latter person just wants to appear useful. He can have other things on his mind and maybe he does not want to be useful, but he must make it look like that. Tricky one, but to me this person is not someone you can trust. Maybe he is doing those things just for fun and after a while he will stop doing it. The person who is genuine sounds more real, like someone who does things not only with the brain, but also with the heart.
"If I was more effective, what would be I doing right now?"
"If I was more intelligent, how would I approach this problem?"
Sometimes I ask myself these questions, and oftentimes I get good answers.
"If I achieve everything I set out to achieve, what would I have done? How would I have done it? What would I have done right now at this moment?"
I like that last one. Very very useful sometimes.
Something I wrestle with from time to time is whether to focus on my strengths or my weaknesses. On one hand, weaknesses often represent the lowest hanging fruit. If I'm really bad at, say, programming, a small amount of effort can radically increase my abilities. If I was excellent at programming, that same amount of effort would produce negligible results. On the other hand, time spent by a skilled programmer will create usable work, whereas time spent as a poor programmer probably won't produce anything useful.
An interesting thing to consider is that where you spend your time will define who you are as a person. A person who spends all of his time on his strengths will be a very narrowly focused person. He gets good at something and keeps hammering away at it until he's an expert. He who spends time focusing on his weaknesses will have a very broad focus. He'll be fairly good at lots of little things, but not a true expert in any.
So which is better? Well, despite the impression I give in a lot of my writing, not everything has to be extreme. This is one of those cases where an optimal path may lie somewhere in the middle.
For most of my life I've been way on the side of working on my weaknesses. I was terrible with girls, so I became a pickup artist (but quit before I got as good as people like Mystery, Style, Tyler, etc.). I made no money, so I became a professional gambler. Even though I spoke passable Spanish and Chinese, I switched to learning Japanese. I had never traveled, so I spent a year going everywhere. Whenever I saw a big weakness, I would dive into it head on. Once I cross that "decent" threshhold, I'd back off and start something new.