Serve first, last, and always.MJ Dickinson
Service. What thoughts and feelings does that word evoke for you? Waiting tables or working retail? Volunteering at a soup kitchen? Community service mandated by the court?
Unfortunately, service often gets a bad rap in our self-focused culture. We tend to think of it as a chore, obligation or punishment. But what if we flipped the script and made service a way of life that guides our every thought, word and action?
Adopting a “serve first, last, and always” mindset can profoundly impact our lives and world for the better. Read on as we explore the magical benefits of service and provide tips to make it your new lifestyle.
Why We Resist Service
Before diving into the virtues of service, let’s look at why it goes against human nature:
We’re wired to put ourselves first. Our primitive brains are programmed for individual survival above all else. Taking care of others can seem like an unnecessary expenditure of our limited time and energy.
We expect immediate payoff. Service requires investing without expectation of reward. Our fast-paced society wants quick gains and instant gratification. Slowing down to serve others can seem like a waste if we don’t see an immediate benefit.
We crave recognition. Serving anonymously feels pointless when we don’t get acknowledged. We want to be praised and validated for our efforts.
We’re taught it’s weakness. Messages in our culture, like “Nice guys finish last” and “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” imply service is for saps. Standing up for yourself is valued over lifting others up.
We’re burnt out and depleted. When we’re running on empty, taking care of others feels draining instead of energizing. We yearn to withdraw and recuperate instead of expending more effort.
These forces combine to make service unappealing. But if we can overcome our instincts and conditioning, service can become an incredible source of fulfillment and joy. Here’s why…
The Benefits of Adopting a “Serve First” Mentality
Serving first simply means approaching situations with the intent: “How can I add value here?” Before considering your own needs, look for opportunities to support others.
This serve first mindset can reframe any interaction from mundane to meaningful. Imagine if we brought this intention to everyday exchanges, like:
- The barista who makes your morning coffee
- The airline attendant who checks your bag
- The clerk who rings up your groceries
- The stranger who grabs the door as you’re entering a building
What if you sincerely tried to brighten their day through small acts of service? You could compliment the barista’s cool tattoo. Ask the airline attendant how their day is going and really listen when they answer. Slip an uplifting note in with your payment to the clerk. Hold the door open for the next person following you inside.
These simple gestures seem trivial. But when done with intention, they can uplift others’ spirits and create a chain reaction of positivity.
Even more importantly, serving first gets us outside of our own head. Rather than obsessing over our own needs and problems, we become present to others’ humanity. Serving first reminds us we’re all in this together.
Studies show that givers experience surprising benefits including:
- Increased happiness and life satisfaction
- Improved physical and mental health
- Enhanced empathy and emotional intelligence
- Deeper connections and sense of belonging
Next time you’re feeling low, try volunteering at a shelter or baking cookies for an elderly neighbour. Watch your mood lift as you shift focus from your own worries to alleviating others’ suffering.
Serving first transforms not just those we serve, but ourselves. It reorients us from selfishness to selflessness and fills our soul with purpose.
So how do we make this serve first mentality a habit when it runs counter to so many of our natural impulses?
Applying Serve First in Your Workplace
Bringing a spirit of service into your workplace can profoundly impact company culture and team dynamics for the better. But it requires overcoming the natural inclination to focus on our own career advancement first.
Here are impactful ways to make serving an integral part of your work life:
Serve your team. Treat colleagues in other departments like valued customers. Learn their needs and go the extra mile to support them. Aim to make their jobs easier through your service.
Offer praise. Validate and uplift colleagues by recognizing their accomplishments, big and small. Send praise through emails, handwritten notes or public shout-outs. Appreciation is free but priceless.
Volunteer for extra tasks. Don’t wait to be asked. Proactively offer assistance whenever you see the opportunity. Your “serve first” attitude will stand out.
Share knowledge. Spend time training and mentoring more junior employees. Pass down institutional knowledge so those who follow can build on your shoulders.
Model work-life balance. Refuse to burn yourself out for the sake of career advancement. Set boundaries and practice self-care so you can serve sustainably.
Collaborate, don’t compete. View colleagues as partners, not rivals. Find ways to combine your strengths and support each other’s professional growth.
Speak up for equity. Notice if any groups are marginalized or overlooked. Advocate for diversity, inclusion and belonging. A rising tide should lift all boats.
Serve the customers. Make their satisfaction your purpose, not just completing tasks. Infuse empathy and care into each customer interaction.
Be a team cheerleader. Encourage your colleagues when they face setbacks. Celebrate group accomplishments over individual triumphs. Build team spirit.
Share credit. Let others shine instead of hogging the spotlight. Uplift colleagues publicly and advocate for their promotions.
Clean up messes. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see problems brewing. Diplomatically address issues damaging morale, productivity or reputation.
Serve on your way out. Offer to document your knowledge before leaving a role. Make time for a thorough transition hand-off to your successor.
By infusing service into your work life, you’ll transform your company’s culture, uplift your colleagues, and boost your own sense of purpose. Serving and succeeding are not mutually exclusive – when done right, they go hand in hand.
Tips to Build the Serve First Muscle
Like any mindset shift, becoming a serve first person requires commitment and practice. Try incorporating these practices into your daily life:
Set a daily reminder. Program your phone to pop up a message saying “How can I serve today?” Make it the first thing you see in the morning. Use it as a prompt to consciously prime yourself for service.
Start small. Look for minor opportunities to serve strangers through actions like holding doors, letting someone go ahead of you in line, smiling warmly, being patient with mistakes, etc. Small deeds add up.
Give compliments. Verbal praise and appreciation is free to give but means so much. Look for genuine opportunities to compliment others’ talents, appearance, values, etc.
Lend a listening ear. One of the greatest gifts is the gift of presence. Make eye contact, ask questions, and listen intently when others speak. You’ll make their day.
Perform anonymous acts. Get creative with stealth service. Leave encouraging notes on strangers’ windshields. Pay for the person behind you in a drive-thru. Serve with no expectation of reward or credit.
Volunteer. Look for opportunities to volunteer your time, whether at local nonprofits, community events, your child’s school, professional groups, etc. Serving together builds bonds.
Practice gratitude. Start a daily gratitude journal listing things you’re thankful for. Gratitude shifts your mindset from lack to abundance and fills you with love to give.
Forgive generously. Let go of grudges or pettiness in your relationships. Free yourself through forgiveness and seek to repair rifts. Reestablishing connection serves all.
Lead without ego. If you supervise others at work, mentor youth, or guide your family, aim to uplift others up rather than exalt your status. Serve their growth.
Advocate for justice. Stand up against bias, discrimination, and unfair practices that harm groups. Fight social inequities through service.
With consistent practice, the serve first mentality will transform from conscious choice to instinct. You’ll carry an aura of service that uplifts all who cross your path.
Why You Should Serve Last Too
Serving first means entering situations with an open heart. But service can’t just be transactional. To create lasting impact, we must also serve last by nurturing relationships long-term.
Serving last means sustaining caring after the initial exchange. When we only serve first then abruptly move on, people can feel “used” instead of served.
Here are tips to incorporate serving last:
Follow up. After assisting someone, check back in to see if they still need support. Ask “How else can I be helpful?”
Mentor. If you teach or train others, keep doors open for continued advice after programs end. Volunteer as a career coach, youth sponsor, peer counselor.
Show loyalty. Support others steadily through ups and downs vs abandoning them when inconvenient. Be reliable even when you don’t “get” anything out of it.
Forgive again. Reconciliation is an ongoing process. Don’t give up at the first misunderstanding. Keep heart open to rebuild trust.
Share your network. Connect people to opportunities and contacts that support their growth. Leverage your resources to serve long-term.
Leave a legacy. Consider how your actions impact others even after you’re gone. What seeds can you plant to continue uplifting?
When we sustain service, we transform superficial encounters into profound relationships.
Serving Always: Making Service a Way of Life
Serving first and last are crucial. But to fully experience the fruits of service, it must become an ever-present state of being, not just a situational choice. We have to commit to serving always.
Serving always means integrating service into our daily habits and mindset until it becomes second nature. Here are ways to make service an omnipresent guiding force:
Make it your morning mantra. Start each day by asking “How can I serve?” Let it frame your attitude and priorities for the hours ahead.
Infuse it into “life’s moments.” Look for service opportunities in everyday activities – household chores, commutes, work tasks, parenting, errands. Find meaning in the mundane through service.
Carry a spirit of service. Approach every encounter radiating warmth, patience, generosity and care. Make “service” your aura.
Give the gift of presence. Offer people the service of your full attention. Put down your phone, make eye contact, be fully present. The greatest gift is you.
Serve through character. Let integrity, honesty, humility, courage, forgiveness shine. Build others up through who you are.
Double your service quota. When you’re tempted to withdraw in exhaustion, push yourself to do just two more acts of service. Serving lifts our energy.
Serve with detachment. Don’t worry about recognition. Serve unconditionally without expecting anything in return. Service is its own reward.
Look for the helpers. When tragedy strikes, focus on the first responders, volunteers, donors rushing to serve victims. Let it reignite your faith in service.
Harness technology for service. Use apps and social media to find service opportunities, rally support for causes, and coordinate acts of service.
When service becomes your way of life, you carry a sense of meaning, connection and joy wherever you go. Serving always transforms us into our highest selves.
So are you inspired to adopt this serve first, serve last, serve always mindset? What fears or obstacles come up for you? How can you overcome them? What difference could living a life of service make for you and the world?
The incredible thing about service is that your small daily acts create ripples touching lives far beyond what you see. When we come together in service, we uplift the entire human family.
The choice is yours. Will you commit to serve first, last and always? I hope you’ll boldly step up to this calling and experience the magic awaiting you on the service path!
How may I serve you today?