The 8 Laws of Being of Service

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I’ve got an ego big enough you could weekend there.  The views are gorgeous and there’s some pretty good fishing up there too.

So I sometimes wonder if I’m in this coaching/writing thing for the wrong reasons.  Do I do this just to fuel my ego and because I want to feel good about myself?

I know that when I’m working with someone and it all goes great, I feel fantastic. I’ve received cards and gifts from clients who’ve thanked me profusely, and I feel on top of the world as a result.

“I must be bloody good,” I think to myself as I ponder just how tall the statue of me will be when they decide to open a park or a hospital in my name.

It would be easy to conclude a cause and effect relationship between what I do and feeling good about myself or pandering to my ego. A conclusion that would draw me inevitably to one place:


Ever met someone who comes from that town?  Swell company, ain’t they?

I’ve been really keen to walk on the right side of the line on this one, and having thought long and hard about where that line is, here’s what I’ve learned about business, helping others, and being of service.

1. Feeling good about yourself is a good thing

A lot of people don’t feel good about themselves, and heartbreakingly, there are people who think that feeling good about yourself is somehow inappropriate, bad or not deserved. Feeling good about yourself is not the same as giving in to hubris.

2. Feeling good about yourself becomes an issue when it’s conditional on external feedback

Receiving great feedback gives your brain a little boost of dopamine that gives you those feel-good fuzzies that tell you you’ve done good.

But imagine going about your life seeking good feedback purely in order to get that little high. Imagine only feeling good about what you’re doing when you receive feedback that what you’re doing is worthwhile. What about the rest of the time?

3. Being of service to something — a person, a group, a community, a cause or a belief — means that you’ve chosen to engage without expectation of reciprocation

I’m the biggest fan of Christmas that Christmas ever had, because there exists the possibility that everyone in the world can give without the expectation of reciprocation. A somewhat whimsical and naive view perhaps, but giving without expectation of receiving is the truest definition of being of service.

4. Being of service requires alignment with your values

A doctor who doesn’t value human life or human connection. A soldier who doesn’t value integrity or freedom. A writer who doesn’t value imagination or honesty.

You can’t truly be of service to something unless it aligns with what truly matters to you, and it’s that alignment that allows you to give simply because it matters.

5. If your choice to be of service is costing you more than you can afford (financial, emotional, physical, spiritual), you need to make a new choice

In an effort to be of service in a previous career, I damaged myself to such a degree that I had a complete breakdown.

That’s not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. I simply never gave space to the idea that I could get the hell outa dodge … and never saw that the damage I was doing was way more than I could afford until it was too late.

Being of service is to be applauded and respected, just don’t become a martyr in the provision of that service.

6. Making sacrifices in being of service is a noble and honorable thing to do, unless you do it because you want people to notice how noble or honorable you are

Sacrificing something that matters to you for something that matters more is certainly a noble act — and whether it’s a choice of work, love, friendship, location or lifestyle it’s a choice that life gives all of us at different times. But remember this — if you need to sacrifice something, do it because it matters to you and not because you want to matter to others.

7. You can feel great about a difference you’ve made, just don’t conflate that difference with the choice to be of service

At some point the lines between being of service and seeing the difference you’re making can get blurred. Success can take over.

So it’s in the midst of any success that a little back-to-basics humility and grace goes a long way. Never conflate the idea or experience of “success” with your decision to engage with what matters.

8.  Intention is all

The final law is a breathtakingly simple one.

Be of service because you want to be enthralled by the world, not because you want the world to be enthralled by you.

Honestly? I’ve struggled with this whole “being of service” thing over the years, and it’s fair to say that it’s cost me a lot and that I’ve crossed that line a few times.

But I’ve learned one important thing.  I do what I do because it matters to me more than I can say.

Same goes for you. You started in business for a reason.  Whether you’re a writer, a marketer, a blogger, a coach, a consultant, a trainer, or anything else — you started because you wanted to effect a change.  You wanted to be of service.

The reality of business is tough. And while you might still have the best of intentions, you can become so focused on the cogs, levers, and whirring wheels that you lose sight of why you switched the contraption on in the first place.  You’re so busy operating the machine that the difference it can make becomes forgotten.

I know you want more than simply tending to the noisy business machine.  So remind yourself.

Every single day.

It’s only by weaving heart, honesty, and vulnerability into your life, business and actions that you get to be of genuine, valuable service, and that’s how you get to leave your fingerprints on the world.

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Reader Comments (51)

  1. says

    Hi Steve,

    Hold this intent: serve for the sake of serving. Feels good and helps you detach from outcomes. I too struggled for a bit in this area, thinking I was serving but trading on a deeper level. As I watch my feelings with greater care I can re-align with the intent when I feel a shift happening. Smart post.

    Help, to help. Help who you can. Just because you can. Leave it at that. The neat part about detaching: as you let go outcomes you see your sales increase, you attract like minded folks and generate prospering ideas with increasing ease.

    Thanks Steve!


    • says

      Steve is spot on with this post… Happens to a lot of people… We all need the realignment thing once in a while. And always remember that we can’t please everybody so their feedback isn’t all that we need to feel good. It’s what we did or what we wrote or what we said that should make us feel good. It’s sharing with them our simple knowledge.

  2. says

    I’d say I struggle with most of these things. It is SO easy to let your feeling about yourself be determined by outside sources – How would one go about fixing that issue?

    • says

      Your feelings will always be wrapped in what you do, that’s natural. I think the trick is to just gently be aware of what’s serving you well and what isn’t (because it’s holding you back, serving your ego, based on out-dated assumptions, etc). That awareness creates space for you to make a choice based on what matters to you.

      Truth is, it takes practice, and I don’t think the process is ever “done”.

      You go about “fixing” it (and I’d be inclined to choose another word like “improve on” or “get better at”) by starting.

    • says

      @ Graham, the theory is that if you feel good on the inside, the external factors will align to be in your favor. If your self talk is harmful, this will manifest on the outside.

  3. says

    Fantastic article on being of service!

    Many people, including myself, have struggled with ‘being of service’ because the word “service” usually has a negative connotation. It’s attached to ‘negative’ references such as indentured servitude or slavery which means having to serve someone else who’s above us. As Deepak Chopra says, “no one is beneath you and you are beneath no one.”

    I think it would help if we step back for a moment and get to the ‘root of why’ we want to be of service and what it means to us. Is it to receive accolades and awards for a job well done? Is it to receive approval from others? Or, is it because we want to do something for the sake of doing it without any strings attached? We genuinely want to help and give back or in the case of a business, we know we have a product/service that will truly help people.

    BTW: This was a deep article to read on a Monday. :)

    • says

      It hadn’t struck me that the word “service” can be open to negative interpretation, so that’s an interesting thought. There’s certainly value in asking what being of service means to you and how that aligns with your values and behaviour, and I think that also evolves over time.

      Glad to have provoked some thinking on a Monday!

  4. says

    Still trying to figure out the definition for “conflate”…;).

    Great opening Steve.

    We can never underestimate the value we provide, and it doesn’t have to be grand. Last week I struggled for hours trying to switch out my social media icons in WordPress. I sent a tweet, and a lovely, gifted techie instructed me where to go to access the files. That service provided did not save a life or feed a hungry family, but it sure made me happy :).

    It’s the fingerprints we leave that make a difference, not the elephant tracks that some sadly, believe is the way to provide a valuable service.

    • says

      I had to look it up too Linda 😉

      *Great* point – it’s easy to get hung up on thinking that being of service has to be big, grand, life changing or world changing. I’m somewhat troubled by the “gotta hustle” and “go big or go home” movement, because that’s not how it works (in my experience).

      Sometimes actions can be small, subtle or gentle; and they can speak louder and reach further than any big or bold action that isn’t threaded with heart and meaning.

  5. says

    This is so well done!! Thank you! I love the emphasis on choice…so many people don’t realize that you can always make a different choice, whether that choice is to do something else, look at it differently, etc. Also, I think self-love is so important. When you love yourself and honor your life’s passion, the gratitude and opinions of others are the icing on the cake…not why you do it, but a very nice outcome of the service itself.

    If you are not doing what you love, do something else. If you don’t know what you love…spend time with yourself, spend time in nature, and contemplate what makes you feel good. Then find a way to make a living do it, writing about it, speaking about it, etc.

    I love my work as a medicinal aromatherapist and owner of an essential oils company. I help people, I love my suppliers, I love my clients and students, and most of all…I love the purity and power of the oils. I can’t imagine life without them, and I am one happy woman! Plant and tree medicines are pure, authentic, and help reconnect you to yourself, nature and others. They will make the choices available to you painfully apparent! (Some are not so easy to make, after all) But, and I speak from experience, the change may be painful, but the new reality is well worth it.

  6. says

    A very timely blog. I have given time and energy for many years to clubs, and not regretted the effort until I began to realize I was expected to give up my time, and my opportunities, so others could have a good time. When it became difficult for me to continue, no one else was willing to step up and take over. Quite a lesson in reality

    • says

      Right – it’s easy to mistake a sense of duty with being of true service, isn’t it? Believe me, I struggle with this one too. I have a massively over-developed sense of responsibility, so that line between duty and genuine service is one I’m more and more aware of.

  7. says

    G.I.D A.A.C Get It Done At All Cost. Lots of people talk a good service game but when the going gets tough they get gone. People always seem surprised when something is delivered on time and stated costs. They are willing to give you repeat business if you can cover the most basic principles.

  8. says

    Steve, great read once again. Last time, I attended a conference about service for the Sendong Victims (major flush flood) in our area. Just like this article that you wrote, many of us were enlightened to help other people without asking anything in return. Just the thought of seeing their smiles from us is enough to keep us serving.

  9. says

    I agree with Sonia. Having the courage to own up to your ego wins you brownie points in my eyes.

    Also, I agree that it is important to always think about serving others while you do your business things. Anyone who fails to put his customers first will soon be out of business.

  10. says

    Sometimes I have to get over the “what do other people think about me?” when I serve others, and I should just go ahead and serve anyway because it’s true to my authentic self. If I want to serve others to please certain people, then I better not start. The service itself is usually what helps me “feel good” because I’m giving back…I have to watch what expectations I have regarding the results.

    • says

      It’s a tricky balance to strike, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling good about you’re doing. The value, as you suggest, is in the provision of the service. Sounds like you’re doing good Ryan.

  11. Laura Lynn says

    Can I come weekend in your ego? It sounds like a lovely place and mine is much too small :)
    But in all seriousness, Steve, I think you’re much more humble than you think you are. Some times our minds are so loud that we delude ourselves into thinking we’re some kind of monster when we’re really not at all. You deserve to be proud of the empire you’ve built and how many people you’ve helped because of it. I’m a true fan of what you’re doing. It’s not a park or a hospital, but will you settle for having an omelette named after you in my cookbook?

  12. says

    Hi Steve!

    Great post and tips you have mentioned above and I could not agree you more on the point of intention is all and certainly, if your intention is to get to the top level of whatever field in your are working you need to give all your intentions to it and consistency really does matters a lot in achieving this.

    Thanks for sharing great information with us!

  13. says

    Really great article and I think this line really summed it up for me: “Feeling good about yourself becomes an issue when it’s conditional on external feedback” – It’s so easy to get caught up in the “high” of those moments of praise for a job well done etc… it can be really hard to let that go afterwards and just do something for the sheer enjoyment of doing it.

  14. says

    Hi Steve

    Providing good service should be a given. What goes around comes around. It shouldnt be taken for granted and requires a lot of hard work. On the surface it may seem simple, but in business it means running a lot of things very well. This tends to be done by people who are very focussed on their aims. One small fly in the ointment and the end result can be detected as a loss of quality in the service.
    It may seem simple, but the reality is different

    • says

      I think there’s a balance to be struck. Not everything has to be running like clockwork or “perfect”, and people can waste a huge amount of time, energy and focus on that rather than looking at the value, nature and integrity of the service being provided.

  15. Lynn Hess says

    This article really affected me, Steve. I struggle with how to be of service all too often. And “Be of service because you want to be enthralled by the world, not because you want the world to be enthralled by you.” is one of the best quotes I’ve read in a long time.

    I really appreciated the mention of how being in service needs to be aligned with values. It really is so much easier to serve when it is something that matters to you. The best feeling is when it doesn’t feel like any kind of sacrifice at all….when you feel privileged to be helping. I think I’m going to ponder some ways I can get some more of that feeling in my life. Thank you, Steve!

    • says

      I think the only way to be of real service is when it matters to you, otherwise you don’t really need to show up, right? It changes over time too, there isn’t just one way of doing this but a whole multitude. In a way, that takes the pressure off, because you don’t have to ponder and deliberate until you find that “one thing”.

  16. says

    Hey there Steve,

    Usually don’t leave a comment, but I just had to say: great article dude. This has got to me probably one of my favorite, or maybe THE most favorite article I’ve read on Copyblogger. It really answered a lot of questions and thoughts I have been struggling with. Especially the whole thing about NOT being a martyr and being okay with feeling good about the work you do and how you help others. Seems so simple, but it’s a real struggle, ain’t it?

    Here’s what I would add:

    If you want to be a “giver” by helping others you HAVE to be open to receive. You also have to be a “receiver.”

    It’s weird: we must give without exception of getting anything in return, yes, but if a gift comes our way, we must receive it. It isn’t egotistical to do so. In fact, it’s our duty to accept that good into our life.

    I don’t know if that makes sense. But that’s where am I at right now.

    Oh, and by the way, do I sense a Bhagavad Gita reference? 😉

    • says

      Hi praise indeed Ollin, thank you. Great point about receiving and it definitely makes sense – that’s something I’ve had problems with in the past and am still working on. Having spent some time diving into what being of service means, maybe my next stop is diving into being open to receive…

      Hadn’t come across Bhagavad Gita until you and Archan (below) mentioned the reference!

  17. Archan Mehta says

    Thank you for contributing this fabulous post: I really enjoyed reading it.

    In ancient India, an ancient book, Bhagvad Geeta, patronised a similar idea several thousand years ago.

    The Hindus refer to it as Nishkama Karma, that is, perform your duties without expecting anything in return.
    Don’t hanker after rewards, achievements. Do not be seduced by words like failure and success.

    With selflessness dedicate your entire being into cosmic action–and detach your self from the fruits or rewards.
    This is how Lord Shri Krishna sagaciously guided the Kshatriya warrior Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra which was believed to be faught several thousand years ago.

    We have our own battles to fight in the world of business. With devotion to work, we can make a positive difference to the lives of so many people. And our clients stand to benefit from the work we do. Through our contributions, we can gain satisfaction. It is an inner satisfaction; it is an inner game we have to play. Enjoy the journey: it is process and it is an experience and it will lead you to the path of nirvana. Have a good one. Cheers.

    • says

      Thank you Archan – appreciate the comment. I hadn’t come across Bhagvad Geeta or Nishkama Karma until right now; the article was really about me looking at what I think being of service is *really* about because I had some concern that I was getting it wrong. I spent some good time looking at these individual elements, and am a little humbled that I’ve inadvertently stumbled into some millennia-old thinking!

      I guess it’s true what they say – there are no new ideas :)

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