I had a cathartic conversation today with a coach/therapist-colleague, and something in particular created a wave of release, something that i hadn’t had anyone say to me before.
She said that it can be hard, especially for women, to admit to themselves that they want to do something FOR themselves, rather than nurture someone else / serve others. And i don’t mean just allowing themselves to have bath or go for a massage, I mean putting their happiness/vitality/’self’ at the heart of what they do in life, including career.
In the self-growth/spirituality world, there is a lot of talk about being of service, of helping others, perhaps nurturing others’ talents or healing etc. Purpose is very often linked to helping others. Even watching Oprah’s life class the other night they were talking about taking the lessons from painful episodes in life and using them to help others.
I’m on board with that. I mentor women on all kinds of areas using what i’ve learnt, and share some of the tools i’ve picked up along the way to help others. I genuinely love loaning to microfinance projects and promoting solution-based projects that help empower women overseas. I love to spread love-based messages and relate to others in a very human, intimate way. I appreciate life, nature, and feel connected to humanity at large.
When it comes to the main drive in life, in my heart of hearts, perhaps being of service is not my main driver. And when i consider fellas, for many of them it isn’t either. I’m not talking about the ones who perhaps feel that their life lacks meaning, who work shallow jobs just for the money, i’m talking about the guys who follow their passions (whatever they may be – motorbikes, basketball, cooking) and don’t need it to be ‘of service’. They just love what they do. If what they do provides benefit to others (eg inspires fans, feeds people etc) then it’s almost a by-product; the main goal is to be the best sports player or create dishes that have never been made before.
Whilst spiritual guides often say that universally our main purpose that will bring the most satisfaction is to be in the service of others, i don’t know if it IS universal. And controversially, it can be okay to have a purpose that may be more about facilitating and stoking your own talent rather than those of others.
In the convo with my friend, it kind of came down to this: would you rather be the tennis player or the tennis coach? If you’re the player, you have to focus on your own talent. If you’re the coach, then of course your work is serving the player. Neither of these roles are better than the other. The coach needs someone with talent to serve, otherwise they can’t fulfil their purpose of serving/helping the player. Likewise the player needs someone to help them develop their talent. So they need eachother – it’s just the coach is more obviously serving, and the player is providing an arena for the coach to do that. We can’t all be the coaches or servers, some of us have to be the ones being ‘served’/nurtured.
It’s funny, at the beginning of this week i was helping out at a workshop which aims to uncover people’s values, talents, dreams etc. Many of them work jobs they either don’t find fulfilling, or jobs that aren’t in line with their values.
After one exercise i overheard a small group of women talking about what their values/dreams were, and it was really juicy. check it:
One woman said how she felt like maybe the noble thing would be to say, she wants to help others or go volunteer or set up a social enterprise. But actually her desires are just desires for her. Like, i think she wanted to study history of art and travel. And she was giggling with the other women in her group about this. And i smiled too, in empathy and shared relief – that yes, it’s okay to not want to be a crusader. That maybe there is a hidden taboo (esp for women) – that it might still slightly be perceived as less ‘worthy’ or ‘right’ to want to do stuff just becuz you want to, becuz it fills you up, rather than be purposefully ‘changing the world’ or trying to make the world a better place.
In the career change field that i work in, there is a lot of content out there that talks about ‘meaningful work’ being about eg working for a not-for-profit, becoming some kind of wellness facilitator, setting up a social enterprise etc. Some content even encourages people to find or give a service to the work they do, to make it fulfilling, such as being a hairdresser in order to make customers happy (rather than do it because you love cutting hair!) or sharing your experiences in writing in order to elevate/transform others (rather than because you just love doing it and need to do it for yourself).
For some people, doing things purely for-the-pleasure-of is ENOUGH. For some people, having a service-based purpose can feel like something they ‘should’ do, like a chore, and that’s not going to be sustainable. I’ve worked in many worthy organisations and done things in alignment with a bigger purpose to serve others, but it very often hasn’t been enough to sustain me. Putting aside the more obvious service-based work, this also extends to things like starting a business. It’s something I have dabbled in, and know that generally speaking, you’re in the business to serve customers – that’s the point of your work, where your energy should be directed, ultimately, towards. Yet what if you genuinely don’t have a burning fire inside that wants to be customer-focused? Whilst that lack of interest may hamper your progress in business, does a disinclination to wanting to be focused on who you are serving make you a ‘bad’ person?
So i want to acknowledge and give some space to women like me, who hope on one level to be contributing to the world and to others (via our families/friends, an interest group, charity contributions etc), but also on another level need to contribute to themselves. Who want to fly a plane ‘just because i can’, rather than to serve… passengers. Who want to be in the winning hockey team ‘because it kicks ass’ rather than to serve… whoever hockey players serve. i guess they serve hockey-stick manufacturers. anyway.
For some of us, having ‘being of service’ as THE core thing we do in a professional capacity may not be quite right. Again, I wanna re-iterate that this does not mean being completely self-obsessed and not contributing as you move through life – it could just mean that you consciously, knowingly contribute and focus on serving others in other ways – such as through interactions with loved ones, random acts of kindness, charity donations, promoting a healthy lifestyle etc.
I don’t know if most sports professionals have ‘being of service’ as their core driver
I don’t know if frieda kahlo was making her art to be of service
I don’t know if top chefs do food experiments out of a drive to be of service
And isn’t that okay?
I think we should have permission to do what we love out of love for it, not necessarily focusing on the service part. For some people yes, it’s absolutely true for them that a service-mentality towards others is bliss & must be weaved through all that they do. But I think there should be an allowance and acknowledgement that for some, having a purpose aligned with pure joy for doing what they do (rather than aligned with serving) and stoking their own talent/curiosity/fire is also totally okay, and as equally valid.
If this rings true for you, I hope you can move forward without judgement (either from others or yourself) to nurture your talents and joy. If you’re not sure, then get honest with yourself. People who genuinely have a calling to be of service vocationally are in their element when they’re doing it, there’s no question. My mother, for example, is like that – she loves to feel needed and do things for others. Yet if you do things for others / out of service because you feel you ‘should’, and you don’t enjoy it or feel begrudgingly about it, then just be honest with yourself and accept that. It’s okay. O-kazay.
Love to the servers and the served