How can I be of highest service?
I have another linguistic translation to do with this prompt. When I read “highest service”, I am taken to a theological interpretation of highest that involves transcendence, escape from messy earthly reality and aiming for a supernatural perfection. I think of the work I do as deep work in the Jungian sense of depth psychology: approaches that are open to the exploration of the subtle, unconscious, and transpersonal aspects of human experience.
But, there is no reason that I cannot interpret “highest service” to mean simply “greatest service.”
Do I value being of service?
I do. Even when I am being totally selfish, there are elements of service that are important to me.
Happiness researchers discuss three elements of life that lead to happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Engagement refers to being involved with family, friends, work, hobbies, and community. Such involvement often involves elements of service. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose.
Service to a larger purpose is, as so many philosophers have said over the centuries, an important part of a good and happy life.
Who or what should I serve?
I could function in service to myself, to my family, to my clients, to humanity in general, to the earth, to the universe.
The challenges of 2014 have taught me that I cannot be of service to anybody without first taking care of myself.
Beyond that, I find myself pulled in too many directions. I want to serve my kids and my clients and some nebulous idea of “the world.” It’s the ambition embedded in “the world” that trips me up.
When I was a student at Starr King School for the Ministry, many of my classmates used Frederick Buechner’s words as guidance for discerning what path they were being called to follow.
Something about this quote spoke to me, but I could never find a deep hunger in the world that seemed to match my deep gladness. Something in the language didn’t resonate with me or with my self understanding.
I preferred the less obviously religious language of theologian Howard Thurman.
Over the years, I have struggled with how to combine my need to make art, my need to connect with people deeply, and my constant intellectual analysis of the things I care about. It is in discovering my skill as a life and creativity coach that I have found a place where my aliveness and skills manifest in a way that both helps people and allows me to make an income.
And, recently, there are three non-fiction books I have been asked to write – not, unfortunately, by publishers, but by people who want to have my wisdom on certain topics available to them in a format they can easily turn to for reference.
In all three cases, the topics are ones about which I have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years because I have been personally inspired to research them. In some sense, then, people want information that I have acquired by following my own interests and instincts.
Earlier this year, when I was going through a period of feeling particularly ineffective in the world, a friend of mine told me that I am the sort of person who changes the world just by showing up and being me. Several of the most trust-worthy and insightful people I know agreed with him.
Since then, I have observed how I am in the world and realising that he was right. There is a way that I see and interact with the world and people that often serves as a catalyst for personal growth in others. This is in my nature. It is why I am an effective coach.
Of course, I am human, so I make mistakes. Even so, it is in my nature to question how I came to make mistakes and my learning from mistakes in simply a part of my journey.
But, the truth is that I walk through the world in a way that touches people and often offers an opportunity for positive transformation.
Tracee Vetting Wolf created a piece in response to this prompt that I would do well to reflect on.
Somewhere, in the heart of what makes me “Me” is the core of the way I can best be of service to the world.
*Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. She is the author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, published by Penguin in October 2014. She is the creator of the acclaimed Playing Big leadership program for women, which now has more than 1000 graduates from around the world. Tara writes a popular blog on women’s careers and wellbeing at www.taramohr.com and has been featured on The Today Show and in publications ranging from Huffington Post to Harvard Business Review to MariaShriver.com.