The word is loaded for me. With each passing year and because of my chosen field I become more acutely aware of how vague the English language really is. How I define specific words might be drastically different from your own definition. One word that might bring me to my knees in the emotional realm might have no impact on you. And vice versa.
A few days ago a new friend described someone as tedious. I was a bit confused and so I asked for clarification. One of the best tools I have learned in Life Coaching. Her definition was absolutely brilliant and she went into a stunning dialogue of what tedious meant to her. I never thought of anyone as tedious. I had never really used that word when describing another.
I learned a lot about her experience and about a word and a moment I had almost skipped over. I am glad I didn’t. But how often do we skip through the nuances of conversation and skew it towards ourselves and our own definitions? No wonder miscommunication is the driving factor in relational distress!
In coaching, we have a term called “collapsing distinctions.” This is when we pair words together that really don’t belong together. We collapse them early on in our life due to overt and covert messaging we receive growing up. For example, how many of us are walking around with the message that self-care equates to selfishness? Or money equals evil? Speaking our truth is arrogance? And the list goes on. Service has been collapsed for me due to some covert messaging that I have been attempting to unravel the past few years. Who knew one word could be so complex?
Service is one of those words that can make my stomach churn and my heart sing. It is also something I deeply long for. I feel like I have been put on this planet to Serve God and Others. And yet the word can also make my skin crawl and I am almost always deeply suspicious of those who live a life of Service.
Serving or Deserving
Until recently I defined Service as surrendering. Letting go of me and my needs and attending to “The They,” “The Him,” “The Her.” “The Them.” I have been particularly fascinated with Service as I move deeper into my Yoga teacher training.
I spent a big part of my life vacillating between Serving others and hanging out in the “I deserve” realm. I had a short stint as a waitress in my early twenties and hated every second of it. I remember verbalizing to my fiancée at the time, “they should be serving me.” And yet I would also lose myself in relationships by completely letting go of my needs and attending only to another’s needs.
I suspect pieces of my either/or spectrum of Service related to my long struggle with codependency. The Service that I engaged in had strings attached. It wasn’t coming from the heart. It was stemming from this need to please, to feel worthy, to feel like I mattered. I would lose myself. Feel angry. Embody resentment. And then ditch the scene in a passive-aggressive and sometimes aggressive way. Service was my attempt to fill the hole in my soul.
I am Not Enough
To the Erie Community in the 70s and 80s, my father was well known as a man of Service. He was a banker by trade. However, a lot of his time was spent Serving. He was the president of the United Way. He was the President of the Rotary Club. He was a member of many boards. In fact, he was so busy with Service that he spent little time with me or my siblings.
I believe in many ways he was a victim of the times. A victim to his faith. He never received the memo that Service might just begin by connecting with his children physically and emotionally. He didn’t have the tools. I never really knew my father but I suspect his dedication to Service stemmed more from an “I am not enough” place.
He Served well, however. To this day I have people remark on what an amazing man he was for our community. These strangers had a closer relationship with him than me. Thus solidifying the negative imprint I held for many years around Service. And leading to my ongoing suspiciousness around people who live a life of Service. At what cost? What is their true intention? Is it coming from the heart? Are they neglecting their health or their own family?
I was reminded recently of the culture of India and their brilliant perspective of Service. They break things up in categories. It is only when their children are raised that they dedicate the last part of their life to Service. Often intensely.
Which leads me to my own evolving definition of Service.
One of the best learnings I absorbed in my leadership training was becoming much more aware of my impact – intentional and unintentional.
- Is my desire to be of Service helping or hindering?
- What is my intended impact?
- How is it being received?
- Does this person want help?
- How often have we taken it upon ourselves to help someone who was robbed of their own learning because we wanted to be of Service?
I believe that true Awareness is essential for me when playing with this idea of Service.
In my opinion, Service goes two ways. Service has to start with me. It means attending to my own needs first and listening deeply to the wisdom of my body. If I am tired, rather than push through exhaustion (my tendency) it means rest and maybe going to sleep. It means quiet. Claiming quiet. Getting up early and attending to my spiritual practices. Writing. Contemplating. Setting boundaries. It’s about filling my cup. It is only when my cup is full that Service feels genuine. It is only in this space that I can assess the truth behind my intentions. This to me is a sign of health.
And then I tune in the season of my life. Right now I am in the season of raising our two beautiful children. I recognize this time as short and sacred. If I feel the tinges of guilt that I “should” be helping the community more, or the poor more…I tune in to my current reality. Would serving the community rob me of serving my children and husband and my clients? And the answer is yes. I work hard in my career. And I am gone from the home enough. They need me. This is where I am being called at this very point in time.
I have learned along the way that Service can be constant and present. It doesn’t have to be huge, although the impact can be significant. I always make it a point to talk to people throughout my day. Whether it is on the elevator or checking out at the grocery store. I offer eye contact, a smile, and a query about their day. And I offer a listening ear when they respond. Service sometimes means texting a friend and letting them know that I love them and I am thinking about them. Service for me is about being more present.
I know that I am truly Serving from the heart when my heart actually sings. A warm sensation that is hard to put into words feels like Gods way of giving me the thumbs up. When serving leads to resentment and burn out I know I am operating from the place of people pleasing and revisiting the old wounds of not being enough. The immediate feedback is both fascinating and helpful and I am quick to change course when this happens. Service for me now equals connection.
So I am curious, what’s your word? The word that triggers so many emotions? I LOVE reading YOUR comments below so who will be first? Like me, perhaps the emotions are an invitation to dive deeper. To unravel the collapsing of two words that don’t belong together. Consider practicing the life coaching skill of asking clarifying questions. It’s a great way to step outside of yourself and connect more deeply with others. And it just might be salve to soothe the pain of miscommunication.