Life can get tough, really tough. Pay checks don’t stretch as far. Invests have turned to dust. People, that thought they would be retiring, are looking at postponing their retirement or finding a second job. Others who have joined the growing ranks of the unemployed are struggling to find an income after their unemployment benefits run out. Panic sets in and fear becomes immobilizing. How can we turn around the panic and keep moving forward.
John Adams, the 2nd Vice President of the United States, wrote back in the 18th century, “If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind, whom should we serve?” In these words, I think that President Adams was giving a call to action. Adams was motivating, inspiring, commanding that we be in service to mankind!
“How can I serve mankind, when I can barely keep my company afloat, meet payroll, pay the vendors, expand services, continue services?” one might ask. Or is the better question, “How can one not serve mankind, when some can barely put food on the table, receive health care, access transportation to find a job, let alone keep the job?”
I am not talking about service that is enabling, debilitating and or demeaning because one has more and must take care of some one that has less. I am suggesting that we actively seek opportunities to serve others in meaningful, mutually beneficial ways. That we approach each day as an opportunity to discover someone, some organization, some community that has little or big challenges and offer service little respect, integrity, compassion and humility.
“Okay,” one agrees that service is important. “How do I begin? Where do I go to find opportunities to offer my services? How can I be sure that my services will be appreciated or accepted?”
One pre-requisite that I have made for myself is to go into the service with an attitude that I will also be receiving something in return. This return won’t be money. It will be some much more and it always is.
In service to others, I keep in mind that everyone – I mean everyone – has value and a contribution to make. I learned very humbling lesson more thank once.
In one experience, I volunteered to work with women in low income housing. I was working as an executive in a health system and decided that I needed to offer my services and expertise to one of our community service programs. I showed up dressed in a business suit and heels – just a tad overdressed for the occasion. I intended to “teach” them about self esteem and a better way to live by sharing some “tips and tools.”
There were about 20 women and several small children in the community room. I had been speaking at these women for about ten minutes when one woman stood up and she interrupted me. “I may not have a car, nice clothes or a fancy job, but I do know how to a thing or two about taking care of my family.” She continued, “I have two modes of transportation – my two feet. I have 9 people that I am responsible for and I have four part time jobs. We may not have a lot, but there’s food on the table, a roof over our heads and I love all of my family and I don’t need someone to make me feel like I am not doing a good job. Let’s get that straight right up front.”
Talk about a humbling experience. I apologized and asked them what they would like to talk about. You see, I forgot to ask them about themselves – I made some terrible assumptions. Fortunately, one of those courageous, intelligent, talented women was willing to stand up for the others and her. She was not willing to waste her time, but she was willing to invest it. It turned the experience around and I am fortunate to have a relationship with many of these women for more than a decade. They have taught me economy, time management, resourcefulness, courage and so much more.
Another experience, I was distributing some food to a center for the homeless and mentally challenged. I was in a hurry as usual, but there was a cluster of men outside of the building just leaning against the wall. One man, surrounded by his bags and a shopping cart, stopped me and said. “You look like you could use a hug today.” He grabbed me and hugged me tight! At first, I was rather shocked. Then suddenly, I realized he was right, the day had been hectic and I was doing a duty not enjoying the service. He made my day.
I do hope that I have caused you to think of the power of service in a slightly different manner. Take a moment and write down one service that you can perform today. And write down what you received in return.
The service _______________________________________
What I received in return ___________________________________________________