Selfishness is a personality trait that is often criticized, seen as egocentric, and deemed inappropriate in most circumstances. We are taught to share from a young age, and as we mature into adulthood we find ourselves giving some of the most important aspects of our individuality. We devote our time, money, thoughts, physical space, and whatever else is asked of us, without analyzing the cost-benefit implications of these actions.
All of this sharing forces us to lose sight of what we need most: Something entirely to ourselves.
In my short time as a teacher, one of the greatest lessons that I tried to teach my Middle School students was to advocate for themselves. We must become the greatest advocates of our skills, abilities, and most of all, our needs. If we aren’t willing to go to bat for ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to step to the plate?
The Many Forms of Service:
Each day, we are afforded a fresh start. A new set of opportunities to serve ourselves, others, and our community.
The order that the above are placed in is just as important as the service itself. Let’s break it down:
1.) Self-Service- A practice of identifying, understanding, and meeting your physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Life is a set of choices. You have the opportunity to build a lifestyle that is filled with important, purposeful habits. A routine that is uniquely yours; one that establishes your preparedness for success.
The actions that you choose each day affects not only your ability to develop as a person, but also your capacity for service to others. At the end of this post, I’ll list a few practices that you can implement each day to better accommodate your needs, and create space for a fulfilled life, in service to others.
2.) Individual Service- Once we have our own affairs in order, we can then shift our focus to a service for others, on an individual basis. First, let’s consider who we most want to serve:
A significant other (Husband, Wife, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, etc.)
The furry friends in our lives, our pets (If you have an animal, you know that you serve them in more ways than one)
Anyone individual that you encounter and deem as in-need of service in some way
Once we have identified those that we get to serve on a regular basis, we can look at how we can best serve them. Oftentimes, this part is not up to us. We must meet each person where they are at. This may mean doing things that we don’t want to, or devoting more time than originally planned. Because of this, service to others can often be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.
The tax that our service to others can take from us makes it all the more important that we serve ourselves, first and foremost.
It is great practice to find ways to serve yourself early in the day, before you have committed yourself to the demands of others. By doing this, you ensure that you are prepared for whatever lies ahead; and that you won’t hang yourself out to dry.
Consider some applicable strategies for beginning your days in service to yourself. Choose things that you enjoy, so that you can easily implement the new task. Devote time to these practices, and make it so routine that you can’t imagine beginning the day without your habitual practices.
When serving another person, remember that your needs must become secondary. What matters most in these moments is that you are attentive, aware, and actionable. Attentive to the individual’s state of mind, aware of their needs, and driven by action to serve them in those moments.
3.) Community-based Service- To serve your community is to accept your ability for influence, and to purposely expand that reach.
Serving a community places you in a position of leadership, and this responsibility is one that we aren’t always ready for. Before placing yourself in a position of community-based servant leadership, ensure that the previous two forms of service are being attended to, effectively, and purposely.
When we try to skip one of the rungs of our service ladder, in favor of another, we risk sacrificing our relationships, both with ourselves, and with those that we love and care for the most. Attend to yourself, others, and your community, in that order; no compromise.
So how does service to others and service to a community differ from one another? Sure, they sound the same, but ultimately, it’s the difference between meeting the needs of an individual, versus meeting the collective needs of a group of people. When we serve others, we work for a person in isolation, and focus solely on what we can do for them, in that moment. When we serve a community, we not only consider a group’s needs on a collective front, but we are also responsible for considering the implications of our actions on future events.
As a leader, we take ownership over the wins and losses of the group (or community), and members of the society hold expectations of who we are, how we will act, and in what ways they can rely upon us to meet their needs.
A large responsibility indeed, and one that should not be taken lightly.
Because service to a community can be a large undertaking, it is wise you grow your commitment gradually. Consider identifying ways that you can serve a small sect of your community first. Aim to meet specific expectations, and fulfill basic responsibilities to the best of your ability. And then, over time you can expand your reach to more people, and greater means of influence.
As we progress through challenges in our life, both self-imposed and otherwise, we become more advanced in overcoming them. With each successive challenge, we build on our tolerance for expectation and responsibility, and can then confront larger-scale obstacles. All aspects of our life are relative, and what is hard for me, may be very routine for you. Because of this, we have to eliminate any mindset that attempts to compare our reach to that of another person, even if it’s someone that we look up to.
Allow your current abilities, skills, and capacity for service to progress gradually, and enjoy every opportunity for growth along the way. So long as you keep your ‘why’ in mind, and act with intention, you will look back years down the road and see countless examples of positive influence that you’ve had on the lives of those around you.
I want to leave you with a list of practices that you can implement into your daily routine, in order to better serve yourself. Because as we know, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Fill that cup with a few of these simple, effective ideas!
Wake up earlier - Even 30 minutes of extra time in the morning is step #1 in allowing you to serve yourself, before attending to the more pressing matters of the day.
Read - Find a book that interests you and enhances your perspective. Devote a period of time each day to allowing yourself to be immersed in that book, and distracted from all other worries!
Breathe - Devote a few minutes to getting in touch with your breath. Choose a quiet time and place, and focus solely on the sounds and sensations of your body. Allow thoughts to come and go, observing them as they arise, and sending them out of your consciousness. Your breathing routine can also be paired with a stretching or yoga practice, to better allow you to feel the rhythms of your physical state.
Walk - Perhaps one of the more peaceful practices that you can implement into each day. Go for a walk in nature! Don’t settle for the treadmill, and don’t let weather hold you back. Go and be in nature, free of any distractors. Listen to the sounds that surround you, embrace creative thoughts, and become lost in each step.
Pursue a Hobby - Whatever you enjoy or aspire to become better at, allow your pursuit of a hobby to serve you each day!
Clean your Environment - The benefits of cleaning are rooted in the present and future. In the present moment, cleaning can be therapeutic, allowing you to drop your worries and engage more with the present moment. For the future, it ensures that you will have a more tidy environment to live and work in, further promoting feelings of wellness.
Prepare - Embrace the mundane tasks of preparing for each day to begin anew. Meal-prep, laying out clothes, grinding coffee beans, packing your bags, etc., all of these tasks may seem constant; a never-ending cycle of life. Yet, when we embrace the importance of these tasks, and genuinely care for the quality of work that we’re devoting our time to, even the most basic acts then become fulfilling and mindset-altering.
Journal - Get your thoughts out there. Allow your emotions to be felt. Resist passing judgment upon yourself, and instead care for yourself. Have a conversation, just you and the paper. Don’t worry that the page may become messy with thoughts, ideas, and feelings; because a messy page represents a cleansed mind.
These are just a few of the things that I aim to implement into my life, as an act of service and proactivity towards my mental and physical state. When we care so much for the service that we provide others, it becomes far too easy to neglect our own well-being.
In the new year, make yourself priority #1. Serve yourself first, so that you can better serve others.