As Mr. Dylan Said, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”

being of service

As Mr. Dylan Said, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”

When we’re solely focused on chasing our own success, we run the risk of shutting ourselves off from the world around us, and fail to see how our talents are best used for something other than our exclusive gain. Being in service not only provides value to the recipient, but also helps us to “get out of our own way” and grow.

Sample scenario #1: John used to stop by his neighborhood bar most evenings after work, not sure what he was looking for or why he was there. His brother-in-law asked him to sub at the Boys and Girls Club, and John has found it much more rewarding than warming a barstool.

Sample scenario #2: Mei was asked to mentor a special-needs student at her daughter’s school. At first she thought, I have no time for this, but has found that doing this volunteer work has actually enabled her to shift how she views time, since the young woman she is helping needs her full patience.

Why will this help me at work? Whatever the mix of service inside and outside of work, it almost always broadens our perspective and increases our compassion. Of course, one must take the same balanced approach to setting limits on our service work as with other elements in life. However, giving to others seldom has a downside.

Why is this so difficult at times? First, we get so caught up in our own personal dramas and perceived needs that we don’t necessarily think to extend ourselves to others. Second, we may feel overwhelmed, since there is an endless list of needs where we could plug in. Lastly, we may temporarily forget the positive feelings that come from helping others.

Your frank self-assessment:

  • We can be of service formally (in a designated role) and informally (seeing a situation where we can be helpful). How do you apply your energies?
  • Are any of your service efforts secretly designed or implemented with the hidden hope that you will gain stature, validation, or rewards from your efforts? If so, examine these internal dynamics, for others will pick them up at some point.
  • Can you stretch yourself in terms of working with populations that are not at all like you?

My tips:

  • Identify your own categories of service, including (but not limited to) volunteering time to accomplish physical tasks, mentoring and coaching others, being on a nonprofit board, and making financial contributions. What other ones am I missing here?
  • Make sure that you’re clear about the expectations and parameters around your service work so that you’re not harboring resentment later. I love the humor in “Doing work when you know you’re not going to get paid is called ‘pro bono.’ Doing work thinking you’re going to get paid and you don’t is called ‘amateur bono.'”
  • Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to accept help in order to help others. Make sure you’re not locked into a role that doesn’t allow you to be vulnerable in the right time and place.

Action for traction:

  • Make a list of the ways in which you provide service to others and the roles you play in doing so (routine or necessary obligations don’t count for this exercise). Where are you overextended? Where would you like to increase your efforts?
  • Start a brown-bag lunch series at work, inviting representatives from volunteer organizations to come in once a month to educate the folks in your workforce about what they do to make your community a better place and how you and your coworkers might plug in.
  • Pick an organization whose values and mission you admire. Offer them ten hours of your time, energy, and talent with no strings and no expectations. When the project is done, engage in a mutual evaluation in terms of what you and your contact learned.

Baked-in benefits:

  • You’ll enrich your experience and that of others.
  • You’ll be contributing to a stronger community and a better world.
  • You might even whine and complain less!

Excerpt From: Flip Brown. “Balanced Effectiveness at Work. How to Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor without Driving Yourself Nuts.”  Published by: Starr Farm Press