Serving others is a funny thing. We convince ourselves that we do good work for the benefit of others, but at the end of the day we all get a rush from having completed a day in service. But what does it feel like if we take an attitude of service to every day, every interaction, every opportunity?
That’s the question I asked myself when I thought through what kind of culture and environment I wanted to create at Living for Monday.
I started a new ‘series’ earlier this week to dive into more detail around each of our core vales at Living for Monday. This is the second post of the series and in it I want to dig deeper around this idea of serving genuinely.
Much like integrity, my understanding of service has morphed and adapted and grown over time. At the most basic level, I understood service as being a thing I did a couple of times a year when my family and I would participate in The Great Day of Service through our church. We would go do work on someone’s home that needed the help and didn’t necessarily have the resources to pay for it.
It felt good – we did good, physical labor. Things like building a railing for the front stoop, re-painting a stained wall, or simply doing some yard work to clean the place up. When we got to the end of the day, we could see what we had accomplished. We had served.
That type of service is important. It opens people up to the idea that its ok to give away a day of your life to serve someone else’s needs. A day of service gives people that rush – the feeling of having done something productive and inherently good.
I moved on up in my service journey and I went on mission trips with my church. Each mission trip was like 5-7 days of service strung together in an effort to complete some larger project. We painted the tin roof of a church in an underprivileged area of San Francisco. We cut a trail through the rain forest in Brazil so that children could explore the natural wonders. We had that rush, that high, from our work every day for a whole week, and it felt good.
As I got older I dedicated myself more to specific organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, and now Camp Horizon, which I’ve written about extensively here and here. Dedication feels a bit different – it’s a sustained effort on my part to have an impact. It feels more like a part of my life and less like a break from the day-to-day.
But there have been two lessons over the last few years that have really made themselves apparent to me. The first came from the Leonard Leadership Scholars Program (LLSP) at UGA. It was a two-year leadership program that transformed my thought-process and took me down a path of true self-discovery.
What I realized from the LLSP was that service does not have to be a thing you do every once in a while, but instead it can be a mindset. Leaders are in the unique position to positively (or negatively) affect everyone around them. We can transform the way people perceive the world by choosing an attitude of service to others.
The most recent realization I’ve come to on my ongoing path to understanding service has to do with sustainable impact. Let’s go back to the idea of painting a rooftop on a church in California. Painting the rooftop was great and fun. I learned a new skill and I did some good. But I know that by now (8-10 years later) that roof probably needs to be painted again. That church likely still does not have the resources to do it for themselves.
What we really did was put a bandaid on a leak and got the rush from our activity. That kind of thing has its place. But how would our efforts have changed things if we had taught 5 other people from the church community how to paint the roof as well? And then what if our leaders had simultaneously sat down with the church administration and taught them how to effectively fundraise to support their church? How would that change the impact we had?
It goes back to this concept:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
I don’t know that it’s possible to take this approach in every situation. Sometimes it make sense to solve a discrete problem and move on. And as I said, service days and trips have their purpose in introducing people to the idea and feeling of service.
But on a large scale, I think that service means focusing on the teaching of concepts, skills, attitudes and principles. I also believe in providing tools that will equip people, like Scott Harrison does through Charity:Water. Essentially, I believe sustainable service means we can and should help people help themselves over the long-term. That requires measuring impact and tracking successful tactics. It also means that we may not see the direct impact on the same day.
At Living for Monday, ‘Serve Genuinely’ means we do it because we believe, and the rush is a nice side effect. We dedicate ourselves to causes in order to have a sustained impact. We live a life of servant leadership because every day is a new opportunity to serve. Every day is a chance to have an impact. For real change to occur, service can’t be something we do every once in a while. It has to be engrained in who we are and how we do things so that over time we can measure the impact and spread what works to those who need it.
At Living for Monday, I want us to live every day with a genuine attitude of service to others. That’s why one of our core values is ‘Serve Genuinely.’
One of my highest priorities with regard to our values is putting them in terms that people can relate to. With that in mind, what do you think about our core value of ‘Serve Genuinely’? Does it resonate with you? After reading this post, how would you put the idea of service into words?
I look forward to your feedback, and as always, thanks for reading!