To Serve or Self-Serve?

In every life, there are defining moments, both big and small, in which we must choose between two or more courses of action. Choices which may, from the outside, appear to be of little consequence to others, but which are nevertheless driven from within by different forces of motivation, whether fear, duty, purpose, sacrifice, greed, love, etc.  Of course we are always making choices, even in the mundane, and over the course of a lifetime, these choices, however seemingly insignificant at the time, add up and reflect a larger choice…a deeper value…which ultimately shapes the character and quality of our lives.

As I’ve stopped to consider and reflect on the motivations inherent in each choice along my own journey, I’ve discovered that most choices can be whittled down to two questions:  1) Will this choice serve others; or 2) Is this choice primarily about serving the self?  As John Maxwell writes in his book, The Journey From Success to Significance, “are you working for success (primarily serving the self) or are you working for significance (serving others)?”

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing inherently wrong with serving the needs of the self.  In fact, I would argue that until and unless we are able to take care of our core needs and truly love ourselves, we have very little to offer anyone else – whether a relationship, a family, a community, or a profession.  Still, when we build a life primarily centered around the self (which may even come at the expense of others), we miss out on so many gifts in this world.

Paradoxically, the more we serve others, the more the Universe opens to us.  The more we seek ways in which to use our gifts for a greater good than just our own self-promotion, the more opportunity arises to share these gifts.  In placing the needs of the whole above the self, we position ourselves as leaders; and through thoughtful leadership, we create openings for others to grow.

Most significantly, as empowerment of others leads to increased and mutual trust, we collectively grow and achieve greater results than any of us could standing alone.

I’m curious…

What values, motivations, and influences drive your daily decisions?  Is there a center point or compass driving your choices in life?  How has serving others created openings and opportunities to lead and influence change?  

4 thoughts on “To Serve or Self-Serve?

  1. In Tim Sanders’ “Love is the Killer App,” he speaks of the concept of a ‘lovecat’ – this is a person who intelligently and sensibly shares their knowledge, network and compassion with others. And here is the important point – with NO expectation of anything in return. This is how I try to lead my life, everyday. And the amazing thing that we learn from this approach is that in the end, we do receive something back as those people who we help pay it forward…and, to your powerful point at the end of your post, we grow collectively, we move the universe forward, we leave this place a bit better than we found it. Here’s to acting from love more often, i.e., acting as a ‘lovecat,’ in our personal and business lives!


  2. Chris, building off of Tim Sanders’ concept of a ‘love cat’, I believe that the tendency to hoard versus share our knowledge, network and compassion, without expectation of anything in return, is rooted in a personal attitude and belief in scarcity versus abundance. The first breeds fear and distrust, while the second approach – viewing life as infinitely abundant – only breeds more love compassion as we share ours with the world.

    I once asked a friend of mine why she extended her hand as she did during a very difficult time and transition in my life. She had little free time, yet always made time to mentor, support, guide and uplift me. Her response? “Someone once helped me during a difficult time, so I’m just paying it forward. When you are on the other side of this, so will you.” Beautifully said. Beautifully lived.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing you wonderful thoughts, experiences and insights. -Sharon


  3. Check out Matthew West’s song from his new album titled “My Own Little World”…you’ll love it! Very much along the lines of what you’re saying here. We can’t be all we’re meant to be until we expand our world to include serving others. As always, I love your posts! 🙂


    1. One of the things I truly love about Rotary International is the organization’s commitment to service above self, and I believe that it is in this extension of a hand to others through service, that we truly discover our humanity and deepen our connection to others. Thanks for sharing, Linda. Look forward to checking out the song!


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