For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to do something big in the world. And by big, I mean ~ something that matters. And by that, I mean something that matters to me. And what matters to me has always been people and relationship.
As a little girl, I imagined I would be a teacher of small children. I practiced for hours in my basement with my dolls and stuffed animals. I produced all the assignments, did all the homework and graded all the work. It’s probably obvious that I loved school and prided myself on my academic achievements.
When I was a teenager I became drawn to working with children living with developmental disabilities eventually leading to my career in that same field working with adults. Every new position I went after was mine and I was achieving a certain status in my professional life that I had longed for. But something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
On The Brink of Burnout
It happened one morning standing in my shower dreading what the day would bring. I heard the mantra in my head, “just get me through the day”. And I saw my future self, 90 years old, realizing that I had just “made it through” a series of days. I knew I was missing the point.
I flashed back to my teenage self, reading the book that inspired me toward my career. I recalled that moment of exhilaration that came with finding a sense of direction and feeling the pull of my heart. I had been called. I knew my life would be about service in the world. I was enticed by the idea that I could make a difference and contribute something. Let’s be honest, I wanted to change the world.
What happened in the space between the original inspiration and the desperate shower scene? How had I become so out of touch with my heart’s calling? I could complain about lack of funding and resources. I could find a million things wrong with the system and everyone in it. I could get up on my soapbox and rant about the injustices of the world. Sure, but to what end?
There had to be Another Way
It was deep and it was simple. It began with me. And from there I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and learning that has culminated in the work that I am doing now.
What does it mean to serve? When I reflect on my own conditioning, I become aware of the notion of sacrifice that is often equated with serving others. The message that we are to be self-less in our outreach while sounding very noble and honorable has in my opinion, been a disservice to those called to contribute.
You are Essential to the Process of Service
The truth is that when we leave ourselves out of the equation of service, we are overlooking an essential ingredient. Service is just as much about receiving as it is giving. If we lose a sense of ourselves in that process, we often end up overextending and depleting ourselves as we chase after the elusive goal of changing others. This is how burnout begins.
Millions of people have the desire to contribute to the greater good. Some express this professionally, some personally, or both. But how do we make a difference in the world without losing ourselves?
It is time to ignite a discussion about contribution as an element of caring for self. And then in turn we must learn how to continue to thrive personally even as we give to others.
This delicate balance of reciprocity is integral to improving service and our experience of it. It involves the dismantling of worn out beliefs and ideas that are keeping us stuck in dysfunctional systems and making us sick.
Raising consciousness in service is intricately linked to expanded self-awareness and ultimately self-connection, but it goes so much further than that. Through deep personal responsibility and a commitment to showing up in our wholeness, we can bring enlightenment to our communication, transformation to our relationships, and a commitment to co-creating community.
Caring for Yourself Means Caring About What Matters to You
I got super curious about what held meaning for me at this stage in my life. I also started to take full responsibility for the state of my life and how I felt on a daily basis. Curiosity and responsibility ~ two must have inner tools for navigating a path of service.
This curiosity about myself began to complement my natural curiosity about others. The more I learned about what made me tick, the more interested I became in my interactions with others. I realized that one of the greatest gifts I can offer and receive is my capacity to witness. I had been invited into others’ lives in a variety of ways and to observe their unfolding story as I lived mine made my experience very rich.
Understanding this simple truth was a turning point for me. Maybe, it didn’t have to be about saving the world or anyone in it. Maybe, it was just about connecting with others in the ups and downs of life. Maybe, all I had to do was be present for others, to myself, and in life.
The desire to be of service is a natural one. The drive to be the one to make all the difference can be all consuming. Know that your conscious presence and engagement can be of great service in the world. It is more about feeling than it is about thinking ~ more about process than it is about outcome.
And at least, just as much about you as it is about others.
When I stopped looking for evolution in other people and began to capture the moments of my own growth and transformation, I relaxed. I realized that other people didn’t need me to fix them. I recognized that I was okay too. I started to see my version of service in the world as a journey with others through the trials and tribulations, the ecstasy and the angst, and the ever-unfolding mystery of life.
And it changed everything.