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I’ve got an ego big enough you could weekend there. The views are gorgeous and there’s some pretty good fishing up there too.
I know that when writing for or about someone and it all goes great, I feel fantastic. I’ve received thank-yous from people that I have “helped”, and I feel on top of the world as a result.
“I must be freaking good,” I think to myself as I ponder just how tall the statue of me will be when they decide to open a park or a hospital in my name.
It would be easy to conclude a cause and effect relationship between what I do and feeling good about myself or pandering to my ego. A conclusion that would draw me inevitably to one place:
Ever met someone who comes from that town? Swell company, ain’t they?
I’ve been really keen to walk on the right side of the line on this one, and having thought long and hard about where that line is, here’s what I’ve learned about myself, helping others, and being of service.
1. Feeling good about yourself is a good thing
A lot of people don’t feel good about themselves, and heartbreakingly, there are people who think that feeling good about yourself is somehow inappropriate, bad or not deserved. Feeling good about yourself is not the same as giving in to hubris.
2. Feeling good about yourself becomes an issue when it’s conditional on external feedback
Receiving great feedback gives your brain a little boost of dopamine that gives you those feel-good fuzzies that tell you you’ve done good.
But imagine going about your life seeking good feedback purely in order to get that little high. Imagine only feeling good about what you’re doing when you receive feedback that what you’re doing is worthwhile. What about the rest of the time?
3. Being of service to something — a person, a group, a community, a cause or a belief — means that you’ve chosen to engage without expectation of reciprocation
I’m the biggest fan of Christmas that Christmas ever had, because there exists the possibility that everyone in the world can give without the expectation of reciprocation. A somewhat whimsical and naive view perhaps, but giving without expectation of receiving is the truest definition of being of service.
4. Being of service requires alignment with your values
A doctor who doesn’t value human life or human connection. A soldier who doesn’t value integrity or freedom. A writer who doesn’t value imagination or honesty.
You can’t truly be of service to something unless it aligns with what truly matters to you, and it’s that alignment that allows you to give simply because it matters.
5. If your choice to be of service is costing you more than you can afford (financial, emotional, physical, spiritual), you need to make a new choice
In an effort to be of service in a previous career (Law Enforcement), I damaged myself to such a degree that I had a a bit of a breakdown.
That’s not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. I simply never gave space to the idea that I could get the hell outa dodge … and never saw that the damage I was doing was way more than I could afford until it was too late.
Being of service is to be applauded and respected, just don’t become a martyr in the provision of that service.
6. Making sacrifices in being of service is a noble and honorable thing to do, unless you do it because you want people to notice how noble or honorable you are
Sacrificing something that matters to you for something that matters more is certainly a noble act — and whether it’s a choice of work, love, friendship, location or lifestyle it’s a choice that life gives all of us at different times. But remember this — if you need to sacrifice something, do it because it matters to you and not because you want to matter to others.
7. You can feel great about a difference you’ve made, just don’t conflate that difference with the choice to be of service
At some point the lines between being of service and seeing the difference you’re making can get blurred. Success can take over.
So it’s in the midst of any success that a little back-to-basics humility and grace goes a long way. Never conflate the idea or experience of “success” with your decision to engage with what matters.
8. Intention is all
The final law is a breathtakingly simple one.
Be of service because you want to be enthralled by the world, not because you want the world to be enthralled by you.
Honestly? I’ve struggled with this whole “being of service” thing over the years, and it’s fair to say that it’s cost me a lot and that I’ve crossed that line a few times.
But I’ve learned one important thing. I do what I do because it matters to me more than I can say.
Same goes for you. You do what you do for a reason. Whether you’re a writer, a marketer, a blogger, a coach, a consultant, a trainer, or anything else — you started because you wanted to effect a change. You wanted to be of service.
The reality of life is tough. And while you might still have the best of intentions, you can become so focused on the cogs, levers, and whirring wheels that you lose sight of why you switched the contraption on in the first place. You’re so busy operating the machine that the difference it can make becomes forgotten.
I know you want more than simply tending to the noisy business machine. So remind yourself.
Every single day.
It’s only by weaving heart, honesty, and vulnerability into your life, work or business and actions that you get to be of genuine, valuable service, and that’s how you get to leave your fingerprints on the world.