How to Be in Service

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” – Henry David Thoreau

Service = Success

“Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” – Vincent van Gogh

Let us begin with a simple question:

How do you define success?

Well, maybe not so simple. And often it sounds like a platitudinous question you may receive during a job interview.

But this is one of the most important questions to revisit over the course of your life and career. And in turn, it almost always aligns with a meaningful sense of work that can be in service to yourself and others.

Henry David Thoreau was a 19th century American abolitionist, naturalist, and author widely known for this transcendental ideals and writings on protest with Walden. He offered people, for one of the first times, a rejection of conformity and society. He was and still is a mainstay for artists, poets, and general citizens alike. He wrote about his removal from society and an immersion into a simple, quiet and natural life in a cabin by Walden Pond.

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” – Henry David Thoreau

He learned that “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams” then you will find success. In other words, follow your passion, your values, and what makes you unique. You can build “castles in the air” and your work will still matter. It simply needs a foundation to begin.

Parker J. Palmer, founder of the Center For Courage & Renewal, reflects in his book Let Your Life Speak about the very existential ideas Thoreau was grappling with. He tells us to listen to ourselves and our intuitions, and to shake off the “shoulds” in our lives. He says instead we discover our vocation not by “scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach”. Rather, he says it’s something we inherently possess. Not from a place of lack, or I am not. There is a voice “in here” guiding us toward the person you were born to be.

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” – Parker J. Palmer

What is a Purpose Economy?

Working within a Purpose Economy means that you are able to find a personal, social, and societal purpose in your vocation. Aaron Hurst describes it as creating an economy that is oriented toward our overall good. Purpose Economy, CEOs of companies are very much in their infancy stage. But it’s clear that people are seeking more meaning in their work and lives. This purpose can be derived from having an impact in your work, facing challenges in your workplace, and having strong relationships with your co-workers.

But what does that look like on the ground? Let’s dive into a few examples of how high offices are delivering results and impacting how our world is evolving into a larger Purpose Economy.

The Obama White House, for example, created an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. We thought, “Why not create a wing in our government that applies data and scientific evidence to figure out which societal policies actually work?” As a government, we decided to create a check on organizations that are not participating in a new Purpose Economy, and instead, to find more beneficial and effective solutions. This policy has potential to reign in an era of social innovation for the United States.

Or how about the OHCHR UPR. Wait, you don’t know about OHCHR UPR?
Just kidding. It’s quite an acronym. It stands for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Universal Periodic Review. This gives all UN Member States the opportunity to declare the steps they’ve taken to ensure and improve areas of human rights in their country. They’re work is in service of human rights and makes sure that countries are fulfilling their human rights obligations. They also share such human rights practices across the globe. Stakeholders that hold each country accountable include NGOs and other human rights defenders across the globe. This is where the 193 UN member countries can be of service to one another through measurable reports and valuable recommendations.

Ways To Find Meaningful Work in a Purpose Economy

 

New Experiences & Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering for an organization is a great way to do a trial run of an organization. And sometimes, if you show up often and with good intentions, it shows your level of commitment to the organization. Do this with passion and excitement. Break up the daily routine and link up with local volunteer organizations, outings, etc.

Volunteers Outdoor Colorado is a great example of a way to find various types of outdoor volunteering organizations to give time, talent, and treasure. Your town likely has something of the sort.

Visit our page of Service Opportunities for a curated lists of what’s out there.

What are you willing to give of yourself?

We keep coming back to the mantra of time, talent or treasure. Generally speaking, you can funnel these kinds of explorations and expressions of self in service through these three words.

After considering what you are willing to give, start thinking about the why. Ask yourself, “What is my intention of gifting my time, talent or treasure to this endeavor?” With this answer, you may find the work that moves you and pulls at your heart. There are many ways to be in service via social responsibility.

Network & Leverage of Skills

When volunteering and spending time among socially responsible organizations, talk yourself up a bit. Don’t be shy. Go on. Show them that you are passionate about this cause and intend to work in the industry. By leveraging your skills in a soft way, such as volunteering your skill sets, you will likely get noticed. Why not inquire about work opportunities in the future? Remember, you have nothing to lose by doing so. It may even lead to a contact. Or perhaps a phone call and interview. And perhaps, a career in that field. Either way, you’re working alongside service-oriented people. Feels good! And it’ll have been a two-way meaningful street to boot.

Modeling Business As Service

There are companies out there that stand for a cause. And then there are companies that set the bar high for others. In these cases, a business can be a model for the rest of an industry. And then there are those few companies that are able to match their operational models with their business modeling objectives. Patagonia has seen many iterations over the years, with a long-standing reason to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Recently, they made a move for brevity and to reshape their business model.

“Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” – Yvon Chouinard

Founder of Patagonia and all-around outdoor adventurer, philosopher, iron worker, surfer and mountaineer, Yvon Chouinard recently made a statement about the urgency to signal other businesses in the Outdoor Industry. While his books, environmental and political statements, and his responsible business model have created a high bar for other companies to reach, it wasn’t enough. There is a much higher level of conscious capitalism going on here. It comes with a sense of urgency for the planet. It comes as economic impacts are projected to provoke annual losses for companies and billions of dollars of loss by the end of 2100. And as a business model, Patagonia is taking the reins to set a new kind of standard.

This change of stance means hiring people that are committed to saving the planet. It means shaping your ambassador program so as to encourage environmental advocacy at all costs. They give over 900 organizations grant money over the course of the year by way of their retail stores. It’s grassroots at a local level.

So how do businesses and organizations begin the process of modeling a company like this? It starts with a firm stance for equity, equality, and betterment of the world. Come up with the areas of the market that you influence, and funnel it through a model that works toward the health of our world. For Patagonia, they realized they need to focus their areas in the protection of native lands, for fair politics and in regenerative agriculture.

Becoming a business that mandates social responsibility can be done in a few ways. Becoming a Benefit Corps (B-Corps) gives an environmentally and socially committed business the opportunity to incorporate such values into their articles of incorporation. This is a necessary first step of a company which holds them accountable to social and environmental metrics, not merely financial ones. If a business is able to give a substantial amount of their profit, consider joining the network of companies that are 1% For The Planet. And committing your business to being energy efficient and having products that are Fair Trade Certified offers your producers, shoppers, lands, and workers an environmentally and socially conscious product.

Adulthood + Meaningful Work

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005

You may recall the name BF Skinner from your high school psychology class. The classic “Skinner Box” offered people a window into the world of human behavior being defined by punishment and rewards. What we spend time doing, our relationships, our work … yes,  everything we do is a learned behavior through a lens of reinforcement and punishment.

Yet researchers like Barry Schwartz asked a deeper question:

Why do we work?  

Schwartz, author of Why We Work, blows up the myth that we work to earn money and that it leads to better work. Our society has been entrenched in this misguided system of fulfillment for years.

“Human nature is to a significant degree the product of human design.” – Barry Schwartz

According to Schwartz, our human nature is informed by our culture. This means that our values, ideals, goals, dreams, and everything from mythology to the systems we’ve created, helps to curate our nature as humans. Schwartz explores the possibilities of work and how incentives have demoralized our culture over the years. Through his research he found that “ninety percent of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.” Yet, we designed the whole system. So how do we back ourselves out of it? Incentives particularly fail people in the workplace. Much like Daniel Pink’s studies on motivation, the reward and punishment approach is a doomed system. Instead, our best bet at workplace motivation is through something called “the impartial spectator.” This is essentially an abstract figure of moral authority who evaluates our workplace actions so that we hold ourselves accountable.

“There is really no substitute for the integrity that inspires people to do good work because they want to do good work … When we give shape to our social institutions — our schools, our communities and yes, our workplaces — we also shape human nature. Thus, human nature is to a significant degree the product of human design. If we design workplaces that permit people to do work they value, we will be designing a human nature that values work. If we design workplaces that permit people to find meaning in their work, we will be designing a human nature that values work.” – Barry Schwartz

Schwartz says that in order to enrich our nature with this sense of integrity, we need to radically reshape our ideas on how we view work. If we can understand our infinite capacity for choice and reconcile this with designed lifestyles, we may be able to reverse the system we created and shift toward a workforce of meaning for all.

Deep Work & Focus

In order to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling had to find a place where she could find focus to work. She ended up at The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh in order to find some quiet space to finish one of the most successful book series in modern history.

That said, you may not have to go to those extremes. There are cheaper options to do some quality work.

Finding the right system to get projects done can be a daunting task. From social media updates, to switching over the laundry and washing your dishes, to companies trying to get your attention through online advertisements, it can difficult to find a consistent work state. That and the nagging feeling of social comparison and never feeling like we’re enough in the work we do. So how do we create space and time for getting things done? And how do we focus intentional energy on doing quality meaningful work?

In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport offers us a few ways in which we can focus on our work and activities that are of worth to us. Newport explores how to create depth with your life and gives us tactics on how to cut through the attention-grabbing enticements.

Keep your distance from social media

The added benefit of connectivity does not outweigh the level of distraction that social media or networking tools provide. Newport tells us that we don’t use the same approach with physical tools. I don’t go over and grab a hammer for five minutes if I’m not building a bench. So why pick up a digital tool?

Create specific, focused times to work

Offering yourself something other than a fixed schedule of productivity can help you maintain focus and reduce the tendency for burnout. Give yourself specific timed goals to finish projects, like 60 minutes to finish this blog post. And create bookends for your work so that you create space for living your life.

Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week has a few more insights on this model of work scheduling. The same could be said of the U.S. Army and how they utilize backwards planning for goal setting.

Work it out

Utilize your walk to lunch, your run around the park, or a climb at the bouldering gym to work out project ideas. This kind of “cognitive fitness” while in repetitive states of mind may help you unlock certain concepts rather than sitting at a computer screen and zoning out to a podcast.

 

The 4DX Framework

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, was consistently tasked with incredibly difficult decisions as a general and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander in World War II. He invented a quadrant that offered him the ability to prioritize important and urgent tasks. This later became known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The 4DX Framework, explored as the 4 Disciplines of Execution, is more or less an offshoot of Eisenhower’s quadrant for urgency. The framework was developed by various business leaders from around the world.

Concentrate on Wildly Important Tasks

As a writer, it’s tempting to write something and go back to edit immediately. Or as a photographer, it’s enticing to edit and tweak your Instagram page. These are all small hurdles to climb over. Focus on the wildly important tasks. In other words, what are the incredibly important tasks you have. Likely there are a few essential ones. Cut the busy work and finish what’s wildly important to you.

Jump On Lead Measures

Focus on the lead measures. In a deep work state, this “is time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.” Lag measures, alternatively, tell you if you’ve completed a goal. Focus on the former.

Keep score

Find a way to keep track of how much time you’ve spent in a focused work state of mind. Be honest about this. It will help you hone in on the amount of quality of work done and how you created that environment.

Be accountable

In order to complete a project moving in a forward direction, you have to hold yourself accountable. Find ways to audit your progress on a regular basis. Every week, month or quarter, track your progress, re-focus your goals and create a plan.

Newport also mentions a few more, like creating a calendar of your focused work time and marking it like a calendar when you’re engaged. Or switch up your default response to emails as not responding at all. Email is a HUGE time suck. Only respond to the emails that matter, which in reality are only a few after all.

Remember, a deep work state won’t come overnight. It’s like a muscle you need to flex every time you go to do work. And eventually, your unique deep work state will become muscle memory.

Moving on, the last page in this section in this section will be a pragmatic list of opportunities for volunteering, work, fields, etc. for a meaningful life of service, as well as related quotes, videos, and articles.