Service Is Freedom

A while ago, my dad invited me to tag along for a charity dinner. When I wandered the halls of the hotel complex, one of the many plaques on the wall stood out to me: “Service above self,” it read, “He profits most who serves best.” As it turned out, that was the original motto of Rotary International, a so-called service organization with over one million members around the globe.

It’s an intuitive yet not-at-all obvious idea, isn’t it? The person who helps others the most will see the greatest returns. Of course, the word “profit” extends well beyond its financial sense, and, given it is a voluntary non-profit organization, the intangible rewards make up the bulk of the benefit for most Rotarians. Yes, there are connections to be made and favors to be had, but the best thing, by far, of a “service above self” attitude, is that it liberates you from yourself — and it doesn’t take a club membership of any kind to embrace this ideal.

When you think about how to do something good for your customers, you don’t worry about how to extract the maximum amount of dollars from their wallets so you can spend more on trinkets. When you think about what a good father would do today, you don’t have time to beat yourself up for not feeling good enough. When you think about how you can make your boyfriend proud, you won’t waste time obsessing about how others think you look.

Service is freedom because freedom happens within but can, in large parts, only be found without. Freedom from our mind — our incessant, ego-focused, ever-chattering mind — is what we need the most, and the best way to escape our brain’s self-centered clutches is to focus on the people around us.

When you’re worried about money, give someone a dollar who needs it more than you. When you’re struggling with your self-worth, pay a friend a compliment. And when you feel like you’ve bitten into a project so hard that your teeth hurt, remember who it’s for and why you began it in the first place.

Service above self. Those who serve best will profit most. Not a bad theme for a charity dinner — perhaps even for an entire life.