Several times over the last few weeks, I've had conversations with coaching clients about being in service of others and the value that this can bring to your own life. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” and I am a firm believer in doing it, not just because it is a nice thing to do and can positively impact the lives of those around you, but because it can have a meaningful impact on your own life.
One of my clients spoke of a general malaise; a feeling that while there was nothing specific in their life which they could point to as going dramatically wrong, they just didn't feel like they were at 100% and there was something missing. The more I listened, the more I heard them speak of lacking opportunities where they can see the impact they have on others. Their current role in the office didn't offer that in the same way that previous roles had, so I asked about opportunities outside of work to get that same sense of impact on others and adding value and they shared that this was absent in their current situation.
Another client spoke about having specifically started working with a charity in their free time, in order to capture a sense of helping others and seeing that impact, but found that because of their professional experience and capability, they had been elevated to a senior role on the board of the charity almost immediately which, while it was important to the charity, didn't give them any of the direct contact with those who use the charity and therefore minimal direct visibility of the impact they were making. Wanting to help and being too polite to say no, they'd allowed themselves to be moved into a role which gave them none of the things that had attracted them to charity work in the first place!
Sometimes, the skills we have and the experience we've gathered can cause us to be offered roles which take us away from what we love or, what we really need to live fulfilling lives. And these roles are often presented to us in a way which is flattering. We're praised for our skills and capabilities and told about the value we can add and who doesn't like to be flattered? Most of us are susceptible to ingratiation as a method of influence. Professionally this can mean more authority, increased pay and benefits, increased status and a role with more prestige. But at what cost do these things come? So we take the job or the role and we come to discover that it's taken us away from the thing that we loved in previous roles, whether that be serving others, or another passion. And ultimately we've accepted a job that benefits the other party and not ourselves.
Often, being altruistic and doing things for others is selfish - and I mean that in a good way. I'm lucky that the work I do involves building connections and supporting people in a way that allows me to see clearly the impact I'm having on them, but I also know the difference it makes when I have periods where I'm not doing many things where I can see that impact. At those times, I have to actively seek out chances to help others. Sometimes by volunteering my services for free to organisations who couldn't otherwise access them. And sometimes by doing things outside of work that are totally unrelated to my profession; like litter picking with my daughter in the village where we live, or cutting the hedge for the old lady at the end of our street. And while it probably looks from the outside like I'm being a good samaritan, the truth it it's for me as much as it is for others. When I'm not in service of others, I feel empty and rudderless, but as soon as I'm able to do something, no matter how small, to help other people, I feel that benefit straight away and it gives me the energy and the drive to engage with the other things I need to get done in my life.
If you find yourself feeling that sense of malaise - like you're drifting through your life and going from day to day without feeling like you've doing anything that matters, I'd ask you to consider where you could do something, no matter how small, that's in service of others. Visit an elderly neighbour. Offer your skills or your time to a needy cause. Volunteer to help with a local gala or charity. Even, as neighbour does, put people's bins back on their driveways after the bun man has been to empty them on a Wednesday morning! It decreases your stress levels and you'll be amazed at the impact it has on your mood!