My youngest child is about to graduate from high school and although it is a melancholy time for me and my whole family it got me to thinking about all the ways in which my life and our lives as a family is also ending in one area and about to take flight in other areas.
Throughout the years of my children’s entire school career I have volunteered and served their education. I realized this week that I now have to look at new ways in which I can volunteer and serve not just my children’s extended education but also the world I live in. While it may have seemed easy to serve under the guise of being their mom, volunteering was not always easy for me.
I have always believed that we are all here to help and support one another in whatever ways our success characteristics show up but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a struggle sometimes. To say it was easy for me, an introvert, to stand tall and proud and open myself up the way I did by volunteering throughout these past 22 years, is to say that touching a hot burner is no big deal. It was a very big deal but the more I did it, the more I learned about myself and the more I wanted to keep volunteering and serving. I had to keep my motivation in the forefront which is that my children should learn not only from the words I say but also through my actions.
“Service is one of life’s great joys. It’s a privilege to be in service. It’s a great relief, a gift, to be faced with a job that you know absolutely you must do for the benefit of someone else; as long as you give yourself to it. You don’t need to worry about anything but doing that job well, and the satisfaction, when you do, is very beautiful.” ― Claire Messud
To serve means to do work FOR somebody else; a helpful action. There is no “I” in serve or in volunteer. When we serve the needs of others we leave our own personal self out of the equation except in the physical doing of the action we are called to perform.
Not long ago someone tried to make me see that the only time we serve others is when it isn’t too uncomfortable or time consuming; that the only real time we volunteer is when we are serving our own interests in the tasks we perform. I took it as an offence at first because I don’t generally see myself as a selfish, self-serving person that way. I had to find out if he was right so I volunteered, out of my comfort zone, I read a lot and I did some soul searching. What I learned was that anything we do out of our normal routine of life like making time to serve the needs of others even if we know it is for their betterment and benefit is going to compromise our personal time and feel uncomfortable. We tend to think of ourselves as inadequate to truly serve other’s needs. What is your story?
A painful life experience can always be used in service to others. You must be willing to be vulnerable and open to share the details of your story and all that you went through. Although it is your personal story about how you handled yourself, what you learned and now how you share the lessons is what makes you unique. Your perspective belongs only to you but can absolutely help someone else see something similar in a whole new way. You and your story matter a lot.
According to Dr. Rick Warren, pastor, theologian, philanthropist, and author of “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” “Serving is the opposite of our natural inclination. Most of the time we are more interested in “serve us” than service.” Many people fear serving others because it makes them feel as if they will be viewed as weak, vulnerable, less than or that they will feel those things about themselves. But I believe life is backwards. Yielding to the service of others actually makes us feel whole, important, empowered, special, loving and kind.
I had to ask myself some tough questions:
*“Is LIFE supposed to be about the “I” or is there room, throughout my whole life time to leave the “I” out and make our existence about LOVE and TEAM for surely there is no “I” in those?
* Could it be that serving the needs of others wholeheartedly is just too simple a concept and therefore too simple an action to give meaning to our own existence as well as to those we would serve?
This led me to think about all the ways in which I have been outside my comfort zone in service to other people and trying to understand my approach to that service. Was it personal or was I actually in the shoes of the people I was serving? Honestly at times I would have to say a little bit of both BUT as I am getting older it absolutely is more in the shoes of those that I am serving because over the course of volunteering all these years in many different ways I have learned an important lesson:
Everyone is the same when there is a need, any need, to fill or support and the pure gratitude and gratefulness and love that comes as a result of fulfilling the need is actually quite addictive because it is coming from deep inside of the receiver and the giver. For me ego gets left at home in a drawer, buried deep under a pile of photographs and papers and books and life lessons written in my gratitude journal.
“When we fix others, we see only brokenness. Fixers trust their own expertise. When we serve others we see the unborn wholeness of them; we collaborate with it and strengthen it. Others may then be able to see their wholeness for themselves next time.” –Rachel Naomi Remen
A person that can see their own wholeness, whether in big ways or small, is a gift because then that person will want to give to someone else. It is a natural, unstoppable feeling that is like a pull from deep inside your gut, the feeling to serve it forward.
So what can I do, now that I too am taking on my own life now that my children don’t need me as much?
I am a life coach and that is how I choose, among other ways, to serve others. Through my training and heart toward my new career I find myself volunteering a lot. With each new client I serve I am equipping myself to serve more people in a deeper, more wholehearted way.
Dr. Warren lists 6 ways to recognize your own power and willingness to serve others’ needs:
1- Make yourself available to serve: make myself available to serve by always being ready when called whether it is through the PTO at a school, taking on extra responsibilities at work or when a client calls in between session meetings.
2- Pay attention to needs: I try my very best to pay attention the needs around me. I look for ways to help people. I try to stay flexible in how I approach structuring my day having learned very well as a mom that days, months, life itself does not stick to any kind of structure or schedule; stay open to the road twisting. Dr. Warren quotes John Wesley, and Anglican cleric and theologian with this motto: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Wow!
3- Do your best with what you have: This is where those fantastically unique success characteristics come in to play as well as keeping an open mind and a positive attitude. What are all the things that make you so equipped to serve others? The overall attitude is to just do what needs to be done and don’t worry how you look or what kind of time it costs you. Know for sure that you are absolutely good enough and needed enough to manage the task at hand.
4- Do every task with equal dedication: Lead with your heart. Big or small tasks, seemingly trivial or vital tasks, perceived need or not, help as equally as if it were life or death. That kind of passion is what makes a great world better.
5- Make sure you finish what you start: Serve and volunteer until the task is done. Don’t leave your post mid-stream. Be the person that others can always count on from start to finish. You build trust from them to you and from you to you.
6- Don’t toot your own horn: Stay humble and modest. Don’t brag or boast about what great deeds you have done. Your efforts will speak a whole lot louder than you ever could anyway. Become like beautiful wallpaper. Pleasant to look at and admire that serves an important purpose by making the atmosphere that much more special.
Here are a couple of questions for you….
What matters most to you, how long you live your life or how you live your life?
Does the “how” in either case only include what matters to you?
Dr. Warren says, “When you attempt to serve in ways that you are not equipped to serve, it feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole.” At times I agree with this statement. It may feel like it wastes your time but can still teach you a lesson. Better service comes when you know your abilities and stories and talents and can use them wholeheartedly and willingly. However by challenging yourself to a new task you have an opportunity to see what more you are made of.
There is a Danish Proverb that in a nut shell says: “What you are is the universe’s gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to the universe.”
After I read that proverb I had a thought: Why is it that the smaller our world seems to get the lonelier we feel? Perhaps it is because we are not reaching out enough in aid to others? How would you answer that question?
So, in a round-about response to the person that tried to lump me in with those that only serve for their own fulfillment I remembered the cliché, “You never know until you try.” If you want to truly know what you are made of, all of your gifts given to you by the universe, all the potential still locked inside of you, all of your personal success characteristics, take a look at this short list and see how you can start to serve others.
Call To Action:
1- Always lead with your heart. Make a list of what brings you pleasure when you take action.
2- What would you like to do but feel inadequate to try? What have you always wanted to try but felt scared or found a reason not to do when presented with an opportunity?
3- Ask others what they admire about you and the things that you can do or they have seen you do. This is meant to enlighten you as to how you are seen in someone else’s eyes.
4- Ask yourself, where have I already experienced success? This can be in a big or small way. Where would I enjoy experiencing success?
5- Experiment by volunteering to serve anywhere and take note of how you feel and felt.
Were you charged? Were you indifferent? Were you bored? How involved did you allow yourself to get? Did you lose track of time? You might just learn something wonderful about yourself just because you tried.
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear how living outside your comfort zone in service of others was the best use of your time and life.
“The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed is the nourishment the soul requires.” –Albert Schweitzer