The Importance of Serving Others in Personal Growth
community service helping others personal development self development self-growth service
Why We Need to Serve Others
Humans are social creatures, so it stands to reason that we do best when we have the opportunity to be part of some movement larger than ourselves. We are more effective when we act in groups, and we derive a sense of purpose from making the lives of others better in addition to our own. This article in Psychology Today discusses some of the real benefits of helping others as well as the biological basis for our altruism.
That is one reason I dedicate my time to this blog; I found that some people really liked hearing what I had to say and that I actually did inspire others to think differently about their lives. That gives me purpose, far beyond simply keeping a journal of my thoughts. If I took everything I've written on Warrior Spirit, and transferred it to a journal that nobody else would see, it would have far less meaning for me. It is the opportunity to provide something (inspiration, motivation, arguments, entertainment, anything) to others that gives it meaning to me and helps me feel fulfilled.
As Napoleon Hill points out in his book, Think and Grow Rich, the best way to become successful is usually by helping others do the same. By giving of yourself, others become eager to help you reach whatever goals you have set for yourself as well. I've found this to be true in many areas of my life. By helping out at my old gym, I was offered a job. When I helped the Farm to Table community, I was met with offers of help in my writing aspirations. What goes around comes around.
What about My Dreams?
After spending so much time preaching on the importance of pursuing your dreams despite all the naysayers and the obstacles, how can I now tell you that we have to serve others in order to feel happy and fulfilled? After all, most of what others want from us is our money and time, at least if we look at the standard models society presents us with how to interact with others. You either buy stuff from people, or you work for them.
Returning to the theme that we probably know what is best for us, I am going to go ahead and say that we know best how to help others. Instead of doing the job others want us to do, we are probably more useful doing the jobs we are good at and that we want to do. I'm a terrible salesman, so if I worked as a salesman, my boss would eventually come to the conclusion that I was inept, unhelpful, and selfish, only working when paid. On the other hand, I am a good trainer. People I train find me very helpful, attentive, and concerned with their progress. I will stick around long after I'm being paid to help with technique on various movements. I derive pleasure from seeing people progress physically. I don't derive much pleasure from giving others material objects they need, though I know others do, and those people make good salespeople.
Of course, we are often called upon to do favors that we don't derive much pleasure from anyway. These are in a different class of service, and hopefully most of us are willing to provide help with little things on a regular basis. What I am talking about is setting a direction in our lives that aligns our day-to-day routine with ultimately being of service to others. This might simply mean being a helpful and friendly public service worker. Or it might mean being an author who writes for the betterment and inspiration of her readers.
The Fine Line
There is a danger in making service to others your top priority. You have to make an effort to find personal joy and fulfillment in what you are doing. If I tell myself I only for my readers, eventually a part of me will begin to question why I write at all. As much as my readers give me positive feedback, there is no way they can provide enough positive reinforcement to satisfy my motivational needs in writing. The vast majority of that has to come from within me. Likewise, if you are helping others with no thought for your own well-being or enjoyment, I'd wager you will eventually come to resent the very thing you used to love. How many musicians eventually resent the pop, crowd-pleasing music they find themselves forced to play in order to sell records? How many writers sell out and find no joy in their craft?
Selling out is a nasty by-product of our society that rewards 'service to others' with money; you know you are serving others because they are paying you. Confusing payment with appreciation is a dangerous mistake.
So where does that leave us? We want to do what we love, and we need to use that to help others, but we can't let others tell us how to do what we love. So even as you craft your passion to be useful to other people, remember to do it your way. Some people will complain, but the quality of your work will be far superior, and many more people will appreciate that much more than you pandering to their whims.
This is a tricky concept to express. So many people are barely able to get by that the thought of helping others is the last thing from their minds. But even in those situations, sometimes reaching out can help pull us to a better place. Social inequality is no excuse for selfishness, and I've known as many generous poor as self-centered wealthy. Those with less often seem to understand better the need to help and give (but not always).
Another great article from Psychology Today on how small helpful actions can lead to bigger ones.