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Making Service an Everyday Practice

Issue 9

If you feel like you don’t have time to volunteer, that doesn’t mean you can’t engage in service.

Engaging in service doesn’t have to mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, or for some other non-profit.

Instead of seeing service solely as volunteering for a worthy organization or cause, what if we see it as something we bring to our everyday lives? It’s like the saying “charity begins at home.”

So does service.

It’s just as important—if not more important—to recognize simple opportunities in our everyday lives to give to, and uplift, others.

Here’s an example:

A few months ago, I met with Liz Cotter Schlax, CEO of United Way of Greater Portland at their office in the Old Port. I walked in and introduced myself to the receptionist, Sharon Roberts.  Not only was she warm, friendly, and welcoming, she also said at the end of our pleasantries “Boy…you have lots of energy for a Friday afternoon! That’s great!”

I remember being touched by her generosity of spirit…both in bothering to notice and appreciate when someone shows up in an uplifting way, and in bothering to share her observation with that person.

Think of how rarely that happens.

Within a couple of weeks after my interaction with Sharon, I was reminded of the simple gift she gave to me, when I encountered two other receptionists who interacted in a bored, indifferent manner.

I noticed the difference in how I felt after interacting with them, compared to how I felt after meeting Sharon. The difference speaks to a line from Jim Carrey’s famous commencement speech: “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

Your effect on others might also be the greatest gift you have to bring to the world.

You can show up in the world in such a way that your interactions are a gift and an act of service through bringing more mindfulness and intentionality to all of your relationships and interactions. We can do the following:

  • Be fully present and truly listen when talking with others.
  • Instead of acting in an impersonal, “you don’t matter” way to clerks, consciously make eye contact, smile, and speak as if you were talking to any other person who matters. Better yet, beam love at them.
  • Smile at strangers.
  • Practice being more aware of opportunities to give sincere compliments and be more generous with your compliments.
  • Do the same with gratitude.
  • Practice being tuned into noticing opportunities and potential connections that might benefit others, and then follow-up by taking the extra step to let them know.
  • Share uplifting stories of people overcoming challenges or being kind to others (can’t think of any, Google “inspiring stories” or “positive news”).
  • Remind people who are feeling scared of the things they’ve overcome—i.e. “If you overcame that, you can overcome this!”
  • Practice managing our emotional state so we are filled with joy, gratitude, and goodwill. When we are filled with these emotions, we can’t help but show up in a way that uplifts others.
David Lee
David Lee
David Lee is a career coach with Heart at Work Associates and a workplace relationship consultant. He is the author of the “Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker: The Courageous Conversations at Work Series.”
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