“To shine your brightest light is to be who you truly are.” ― Roy T. Bennett
When I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. This desire had nothing to do with spreading the Gospel and everything to do with “helping people.” I imagined going to the Amazon jungle and…helping. I honestly had no idea what missionaries did. But, thanks to our minister’s sermons, I believed that what they did was good and righteous.
When I was 16, I wanted to become a missionary nurse. By that point, I had a better understanding of what missionaries did and I dreamed of providing medical and spiritual care to Amazonian tribes. (The possibility of being assigned somewhere other than the Amazon never occurred to me.) I held fast to this aspiration until one of my older church friends who was a nurse sneaked me into a conference for missionary nurses at Bible camp. The opening session featured a slide show illustrating a surgical technique geared towards primitive field conditions. I promptly clamped my eyes shut and decided that I was not cut out to be a nurse.
Like many people, somewhere along the way I stopped trying to pick a career and was simply swept along from one job to the next. I worked in retail, publishing and Information Technology (IT). From time to time, I would consider obtaining an advanced degree in one of the “helping professions,” but I never mustered the energy to do so.
I wish that I could say that there was an “aha!” moment when I realized that I could be of service to others regardless of my job title, but there was not. Rather, there was a gradual awakening, a series of little epiphanies.
If I had really been paying attention, the first epiphany would have been enough to make me do a 180. But I often need to have the message driven home multiple times in a variety of ways before I “get it.”
I was on jury duty in Manhattan. The attendant for the women’s room was a young West Indian woman. She greeted everyone with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” and a blinding smile as they entered her domain and said “good day” when they left. The bathroom itself was sparkling clean, cheery pictures from magazines were taped on the walls and there were even small vases with fake flowers on the windowsill.
The woman was a public employee; she was not soliciting tips. She had created a pleasant environment and was friendly to the women who entered within because that’s who she was: someone who wanted to be of service. The first time that I visited that bathroom, I was a bit taken aback by the decor and by her behavior since they were both so out of the norm for New York. But as I watched jurors and lawyers leave transformed with a “goodbye” on their lips and big smiles that reached their eyes, I realized that the attendant was doing what I was not: giving of herself in a job that was decidedly not one of the helping professions.
My next lessons on being of service came from the 12-step rooms of recovery, which stress that you can’t keep your recovery unless you “give it away.” Giving it away — “doing service” — encompasses anything that spreads and supports the message of recovery: sponsoring newcomers, sharing at a meeting, leading a meeting, putting chairs away, making phone calls to other members, etc. At first, I practiced doing service in the 12-step rooms. Then I learned from my sponsor and other members that I needed to do service outside of the rooms in the “real world” as well.
I remember the first time that I was consciously “of service” at work. One of the people I supervised came into my cubicle. My initial response was annoyance. Couldn’t he see that I was busy? Then I had the clear thought, “This may be the most important thing that you do all day.” I invited him to sit down and quickly learned that his wife had a chronic illness. He just needed to talk to someone and he had chosen me.
In the following years, I was privileged to have many more “This may be the most important thing you do all day” moments. They cost me nothing more than a few moments of my time and some compassion and they always left me feeling as if I had made my world a little better.
Service at work grew to include being more mindful of how I spoke to people. If I was leading a conference call, I went out of my way to welcome all attendees and to ensure that everyone had a chance to express their opinion. If there was dissension, on calls or among my teams, I played the role of peacemaker. I empowered the people I supervised by creating training and opportunities to help them to grow within — and eventually beyond — their roles.
When my job was downsized in April 2016, I was surprised to receive a gift from my old team. After all, I hadn’t worked with any of them directly for several years. The card read:
Please accept this small token of our appreciation for everything you have done for each and every one of us. We just want to say thank you and we will miss you.
I believe that our bond stemmed directly from my conscious decision to be of service in a job that was most definitely not a helping profession. Being of service created a positive, supportive culture within our team. And in the end, they were of service to me by letting me know that I had made a difference.
Please share how are you are of service in your job and your life.