By Ted Yavuzkurt
I like to compartmentalize my life. This is work, this is play. This is learning, this is doing. This is service to others, this is not.
This is natural. It’s also limiting. When I distinguish between work and life, I begin to live only when I get home. When I draw a line between my job and school, I miss out on opportunities to absorb new information.
When I draw a strict boundary between service to myself and service to others, I make them mutually exclusive.
They’re not; in fact, they are mutually beneficial. They only appear to be at odds when we impose a narrow definition of “service.”
To me, “service” used to imply joining the Peace Corps, working for a nonprofit or going to teach English abroad. That isn’t the right fit for many people, however. If everyone in the world spent their life on this type of service, it would not increase the effectiveness of their work. It would probably be counterproductive. Some people can offer more in the boardroom than they can building houses.
Volunteering is both commendable and necessary-if you can volunteer, do it! But, it is no substitute for being service-minded. Being service-minded is asking oneself many times a day: “how can I help someone else right now? What can I bring to this situation?’
I’ve realized now: we need more people with a service mindset, not more service workers. This mindset extends beyond service work, permeating every aspect of one’s life.
We need compassionate people in positions of power. We need CEOs, bankers, and elected officials working for the common good. We need workers, investors, managers, developers, engineers, lawyers, and small business owners all doing their part.
When we exclude ourselves from “normal” career paths out of a desire to help, we may be inviting less altruistic people will fill in. Our good intentions may end up causing net harms. We may prevent ourselves from doing good on a broader scale.
I used to be cynic. I saw the “system” as designed to oppress and exploit. This was also a narrow view of reality. Our economic and political structures are value neutral-they are just systems. We are the ones who make them good or bad.
There are many companies and wealthy individuals out there adding real value to the world. Just look at how much good Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are doing-their resources are an immense force for positive change. Were we to dilute their wealth arbitrarily, it likely wouldn’t possess the same positive potential. Gates and Buffet are service-minded. They use their power and influence unselfishly.
By sheer numbers, people in “normal” occupations have more clout than all volunteers combined. Thus, if we want to make a proverbial “difference,” a service mindset is arguably even more important than service work.
Developing a service mindset starts with asking oneself, “am I adding or subtracting right now?” If I’m improving the situation around me, I’m listening to someone else who needs to get something off their chest, or I’m developing a skill I can use to help others-I’m being of service. If I’m playing office politics, being passive aggressive, or only considering myself without regard for others-I’m not.
I’m going to practice this myself. I’m going to ask myself how service-minded I am. If the answer is “not a whole lot,” then I’ll stop imagining all the magnanimous things I can do later. I’ll be of service today.
Let’s all try to be more service-minded; then let’s observe what happens in the world.