Serving the World

20 ways to serve in 4 minutes or less

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Train station

Yesterday, a frequent reader told me that finding time to do “5 minute favors” had made a big impact on their personal (and even professional) life. They suggested that I do more posts around the concept of micro-service efforts. Though quick and easy, these efforts make a difference. And they’re perfect for those with big hearts but minimal free time.

If you were with me in January the first 10 ideas below may seem familiar but the last 10 are fresh and new.

20 ways to serve in 4 minutes or less

  1. Tell someone a joke. Laughter is good for the heart.
  2. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “Hey I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  3. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  4. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  5. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  6. Pray for someone.
  7. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  8. Teach someone something. Anything.
  9. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  10. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  11. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  12. Take time to write a supportive comment on Facebook.
  13. Hug someone.
  14. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  15. Leave change in a vending machine.
  16. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  17. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  18. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  19. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  20. If you love them. Tell them.

What are other ideas you have?

Please comment below and share freely.

 

How false humility hides your natural gifts

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ornament

A few years ago, my office held a holiday decorating contest. We each had free reign to design and decorate our individual work spaces. This contest had no prize other than bragging rights, but it somehow developed into a very competitive affair. We all selected a theme and found time in our pretty busy days to shop and decorate. I can clearly remember going out and spending WAY too much money in a craft store. I also remember standing on a chair for well over an hour draping paper and gluing stars in the middle of an otherwise productive workday.

When judging time came, each person in the office received one vote for the grand honor of “Best Decorations.” No one could vote for themselves. Now I knew I worked with some pretty talented people, but these decorations were OVER THE TOP creative and well done. I walked around seriously wondering how I’d ever be able to pick my winner.

Then I saw it.

At the very end of a long hallway was an office space decked out in red, white and green with dancing elves. But not just any elves. These elves had individual pictures of everyone in the office pasted on them. It was brilliant.

The Office Elfs won the contest in a landslide. Why? Because most people like to see pictures of themselves. Whether we like our appearance or not, we’re drawn to look at what is physically unique about us. Our eyes. Our smile. And though I consider myself a humble person, I really enjoyed seeing the picture of my elf.

Humility is not at odds with us

Here’s how I view the practice of humility. Humility is the act of lowering our ego to cultivate compassion for and provide service to others. What humility is NOT is a reason to reduce your view of your capabilities. It is NOT an excuse to hide what is great about you.

  • Are you a writer? Are you a good writer? Share your writing. It can inspire, heal, entertain and inform.
  • Are you smart? Don’t dumb down your conversation to not intimidate people. You can stimulate new ideas and bring clarity to complex topics.
  • Do you have a hobby you know absolutely everything about? Make that known. Teach others and help create the feeling of community that comes from shared interests.

False humility goes directly against my definition of true humility. Hiding talents takes them away from the world you’re meant to be serving. You have your gifts for a reason and that reason is to use them to serve others. Don’t be shy. We need you.

Is there a gift you’ve been holding back from the world?

Team comes first in March. Find your service inspiration bracket-style.

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College Basketball

As a fan, I may get too passionate about my sports teams. There are unconfirmed stories out there about tearful losses. As a mother, I try not to push sports too hard on my sons. They don’t need to be super stars. I just need them to learn what it means to be part of a team. So much of life’s success gets determined by our ability to be a good teammate.

Team Human

Team Friendship

Team Marriage

Team Family

Team Work

Team Community

Team World

 

Being a part of a team teaches you to focus on the world outside of your own needs. Being a part of a team teaches you to give more than you take.

The month of March is a fantastic time to enjoy college basketball. (And I plan to partake of my fair share). March is also a great time to serve all the teams listed above.

Below you will find a link to the Simply Service “Service Madness” bracket. There are 64 acts of service ready to face off against each other. See which ones you’re most inspired to do this month. May the best service win!

Service Madness Bracket

ServiceBracket

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: SimplyServiceMarchBracket

What lessons have sports taught you about service?

Six things to do when you’re feeling small.

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Onthebeach

Like any mother, the safety of my sons is constantly on my mind. So this week has been scary. I’ve wondered if there is an entire US state where I should not send my sons to college. I’ve wondered if a place that I associate mostly with Mickey Mouse is a place where the law can’t protect their lives. I’m not an expert on these cases. And this post isn’t about that. If I’m being honest, I’ve tried not to follow the cases too closely. They scare me too much. They make me feel small.

I was reminded by a friend on Facebook that individual lives may feel small at times, but they are powerful.

This was his response to one of my status updates.

“Think globally, act locally. If everyone looks after their family and friends, a geometric progression suggests everyone is better off and taken care of.”

Here are six things we can do whenever we’re feeling small.

  1. Be still. Notice that I didn’t say pray. Prayer is speaking to God. Stillness is allowing time to listen.
  2. Cook for someone. Sure you can eat some too, but cook with the idea of serving and nourishing another. Any recipe will do.
  3. Seek out a child. There is something about a child’s energy that neutralizes defeat.
  4. Find art that moves you. My favorite book is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I find it hard to believe that a person could weave together a story so complex and vivid. It reminds me that humans are capable of beautiful things. Sometimes I need the reminder.
  5. Take up someone else’s cause. We all have struggles that are unique to our position in life. Help someone else with theirs. Embody the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  6. Serve in the way that only you can. If you aren’t sure what that is yet, refer to #1 on this list.

What do you do when you’re feeling small?

Who else wants to have an honest conversation about money?

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Money

About a week ago, we had an opportunity to talk with college-bound teenagers about money. We had their full attention once they saw the charts of average starting salaries for different fields of study. Clearly graduates from some fields (mostly in the hard sciences and technical disciplines) made much more money than others. Some fields required additional graduate degrees and that meant a potential for larger student loan debt.

We still encouraged the students to follow their talents and passions. We talked to them about how passion would play out in the long run which was loosely defined as 10-15 years into their career. It’s passion that drives people to work harder, smarter and network better. Then those passionate people get promoted, make more money and far outpace their peers financially. Passion is still an important factor for long term financial success.

Honest Conversations About Money

So why even give them the starting salary data if we still think they should consider any field they like? The point was to have an honest conversation about money. It was to help them make an informed decision about which field to pursue. It’s a complex decision. We also discussed the social and emotional impact of making more or less money than their peers at any stage of life. We acknowledged that some jobs would always pay less than others even if they’re successful at them. This talk was to help them make decisions about their life and the role money will play in it. Deciding how important each factor is to them is something they will have to do on their own.

Even as adults we are often left uninformed about the social and emotional factors surrounding money. When I was single, it was hard to make decisions and place priorities on my money. Should I save more for a rainy day or take a trip with my family? When I got married again it became even more clear that I needed to learn and communicate my financial needs better. I say “needs” and not “wants” because how much we derive pleasure, connection and/or security from money is core to who we are. These factors aren’t simple preferences that can be ignored. This is something you may already know if you’ve ever managed money with someone that doesn’t share your financial values.

Luckily, there are resources to help us get informed about our financial preferences and have more honest conversations about money with each other. The link below will take you to an online tool that will “find your money mind” and uncover your personal biases about money’s value. A friend suggested this site to me and I wanted to pass it on.

Three Types of “Money Minds”

  • Happiness: The Pleasure Seeker
  • Committed: The Giver
  • Fear: The Protector

http://findyourmoneymind.com/

Once you take the quiz for yourself you can also take it with someone you manage money with. This will give you insight into your collective priorities and styles. You will also get communication tips to have better and more honest conversations about your needs.

So what does this have to do with service? Everything. Money has a huge impact on our relationships and resources. Our relationships and resources will have everything to do with how and who we serve.

Who else wants to have an honest conversation about money?

10 ways to serve in 5 minutes or less

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DecThis is our dog. His name is Deacon Dillon Earl. Most of the time, we call him Deac for short.

A few days ago, I was talking to an online friend (that I don’t know well in real life). He was dealing with suddenly becoming internet famous and not knowing how to adjust to it. I have absolutely no experience in being famous so I could only offer my real life experience of adjusting to divorce and remarriage. Throughout the conversation I kept referencing things my husband and I had recently discussed. He asked, “Do you two typically have such deep conversations?” And this is where Deac comes in.

Let me tell you a little more about Deac. He sleeps a ton, but when he’s awake he has a lot to say. He is sarcastic and witty. He is short tempered and fiercely loyal. He has an ongoing vendetta with my super sweet mother that happens to not be “a dog person”. He thinks he outranks the kids and they should constantly “freshen up his water”. And he has apparently lived a life full of celebrity interactions and coincidental brushes with current events. We talk about Deac and what Deac told us often. By often, I mean every day. By every day, I mean several times a day. It’s funny. We like it.

And it allows us to not take life so seriously.

 

Service can seem like a serious topic. It gets people thinking about the big things in life – love, legacy, and purpose. But it doesn’t have to be so serious and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. Below are 10 easy ways to serve in 5 minutes or less. So you can start serving right now.

10 ways to serve in 5 minutes or less

  1. Tell someone a joke. Laughter is good for the heart.
  2. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “Hey I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes”.
  3. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  4. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  5. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  6. Pray for someone.
  7. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  8. Teach someone something. Anything.
  9. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. I admire how much patience you have with me).
  10. Give someone you love your undivided attention.

This is just a start.

What other ideas do you have?

9 Ways You’re Serving

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TreeBranches

It still seems strange to me that Peyton Manning chooses to shout out “Omaha!” while calling plays. To me, it’s a tame word for him to have chosen. I probably would have gone with something like “Eagle!” or “Raptor!” or even “Dragon!”.

This week’s post is being written from Omaha, Nebraska. As a girl from New Jersey, I’m not sure I ever expected to end up in Omaha (or Nebraska for that matter). We are staying in a part of town called Old Market which is filled with mid to high end restaurants, boutique shops, and many (read: many) art galleries and art inspired stores. The area has lovely historic architecture that is really beautiful. It’s the kind of place I could visit over and over again. So I’m not sure what I expected from Omaha, but I know it has far exceeded my expectations.

I’d have to say the same thing about the feedback I’ve gotten from you on your passion for service. In the last month, I’ve had all kinds of conversations about what service means and how it is playing out in your lives. I’ve also uncovered ways to serve and organizations that weren’t previously on my radar. Thanks to all who have shared these. I’ve compiled a list of ways readers are serving that have recently come my way. Maybe some of these will become additional inspiration for your next act of service or even your lifelong service mission. Or maybe not.

Either way, I know you’re serving in some very important ways already. (Visit these posts if you think you aren’t serving anyone because I bet you are). I look forward to learning more from you all so please keep sharing. Serve on!

 

WAYS YOU’RE SERVING

  1. MLK Day of Service (http://mlkday.gov/): Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” On the MLK holiday, we are being challenged to “take a day on, not a day off”. Go to this site for information on group events and ways you can support in your local community. I know many of you will be doing this on Monday!
  2. David’s Hope (http://www.davidshope.org/): This came to me by way of a local Police Chief. His wife has made several trips to Kenya to do community development for a small rural town. He will be making his first trip this Spring. I like their website because in addition to donating money and going on mission trips, they refer to prayer as a distinct way you can serve their organization. If you can’t find the money or time to serve right now, maybe prayer is a contribution you might be interested in.
  3. Acts (http://actspwc.org/): This is a local Virginia non-profit so you may need to research other organizations similar to this in your area. What I found interesting about this organization was that it has a volunteer job called Senior Link Caller. The Senior Link Caller makes phone calls to homebound seniors in the community. Calls are to check-in and connect, and to assist with referrals to resources if they have any immediate needs. This was passed on to me because I lost my grandfather last year and wrote a post about it. The thinking was that it might be time for me to call someone else’s grandfather.
  4. Tigerlilly Foundation (http://tigerlilyfoundation.org/): I recently met the founder of this organization. Beautiful woman! She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. Since her recovery, she has built a non-profit organization that focuses on financial and emotional support for women between the ages of 15-40. I’m thinking about running in their 2014 Pink Boa race.
  5. Life Missions (http://tlc-missions.com/): My cousin left Thursday on a mission trip to Nicaragua with this organization. She will be serving on the medical team. Go Tammie!
  6. Pets On Wheels (http://www.fpow.org/): This is another local Virginia organization, but if you do a search there are likely similar organizations closer to you. Pets On Wheels connects pets with people living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. A friend’s dog used to be a part of this program which was just another way this family dog shared love and served. He is nearing the end of his life and time with his family. She reminded me of his service this week in a tribute to him. I think our dog might be a perfect candidate for this program too. Something I’ll have to talk to him about.
  7. Learning to cook: My hairdresser told me last week that she has a New Year’s Resolution to learn how to cook better and serve more home cooked meals to her family. She invited a friend over to teach her a new dish which I thought was a great way to learn and spend time with someone. Needless to say, she was very proud of the meal she served that night.
  8. Caring for graves: At the start of the holiday season, there is an effort to place wreaths on the graves of soldiers in many cemeteries across the county (US). Driving to the airport a few days ago, Arlington National Cemetery was still a beautiful tribute to our soldiers with the wreath covered tombstones in glorious display. During the rest of the year, you can find volunteer opportunities to maintain and beautify soldier’s graves all across the country. This is a passion of a fellow reader.
  9. Serving your Parent Organization: If your child attends a school, there is a pretty good chance you have a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) or something similar that supports the teachers and administration in making the school the best it can be. There are a variety of ways to serve from time donated to fundraisers to serving on in a Board or Committee leadership group. If your children are grown, this is still a place you can serve the schools that helped build their foundation. I heard from a passionate grandmother that has been in a PTO for over 25 years.

Service as a Spiritual Practice

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Spirtual Service

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of walking my extremely wonderful and recently divorced friend through setting up her eHarmony profile. I was impressed with the depth of the questioning process. One of the questions took a long time to answer because it steered our conversation off-topic. It asked her to select the type of religion(s) or spiritual affiliations that she seeks in a potential mate. There were many options and she could select all that she would be willing to consider. One option was “Spiritual, but not religious”. She had a hard timing imagining exactly what that meant.

I shared with her my perspective though I’m not in any way suggesting that this is an official or all-encompassing description. It is just how I view the distinction between “spiritual” and “religious”. For me, the word “spiritual” refers to a core set of beliefs. The most universal is the belief in a supernatural force that exists in the world. Spiritual people may call this God, the universe, or many other names but it always relates to the idea that there is an unseen order in the world. This order can’t be proved empirically or through our senses, but a spiritual person still believes in this concept. I view “religion” as the particular set of rules and rituals that a spiritual person guides their life path by. So in that sense, all religious people should be spiritual. But all spiritual people don’t have to be religious. They may choose to pursue their spiritual path on their own and without engaging with organized religion.

There are other concepts that are typically believed by “spiritual people”. Some examples are:

  • Faith that positive things will occur. (Also called “trust in the universe” or “setting intentions” and many other names.)
  • Giving thanks for what you currently have.
  • Believing that life is a series of lessons and that negative things happen for the purpose of teaching those lessons.
  • The importance and power of setting time to build a deeper spiritual connection. (This is called by many names from prayer to meditation to advanced yoga practices.)

When I think of the last bullet, I realize that I’ve tried all three of the examples and have absolutely felt a deeper spiritual connection while doing them. I now see serving others as a spiritual practice similar to prayer. There are three things that I look to get from my prayer or meditation time. At times, I have experienced each of those things while serving.

  1. It clears my mind of the non-stop internal chatter. When I’m focused on serving others, I’m also enjoying the rare mental silence that allows my heart to awaken with spiritual awareness.
  2. I’m not focused on myself or the importance of my place in this world. I feel part of a system that connects us all at our core. This concept reminds me of a quote I once read (but can’t for the life of me remember who wrote it) that described people feeling like individuals to waves feeling separate from the ocean.
  3. There is a peace that comes over me. It is like I briefly understand my place in the world before my mind wakes back up and starts telling me how important I am again.

I know these are very hard concepts to get across through writing, but I believe that many have experienced these through their own spiritual practice. I hope some of you have experienced this through the practice of service. If you have, I’d love for you to share it with me. I’d love for you to share it with others. No pressure though, I’m happy to have shared a connection to you just because you chose to read this. Until next week, serve on!

January Service Inspirations

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2014There is a natural synergy with the holiday season and the spirit of serving others, but January tends to be a month when we take on self improvement, self development and other individualistic pursuits. This year, I’d like to challenge you to consider adopting a service way of life instead of restricting service and philanthropy to November and December. Below are five ideas meant to get you thinking about ways to weave the spirit of service into a glorious start to your new year.

Consider trying one or two, but please don’t try them all. This will be a great year and I want you still with me come February.

  1. Take the time to notice the people around you. Many people are especially lonely following the holidays. Start in January to take more time noticing and engaging with the people around you and not treating those moments as mere transactions. This is something I often fall victim of as I can get caught up in my own thoughts and schedule. The smile, word of encouragement, or simply valuing their presence may be the only positive interaction they receive that day. Often people with numerous loving personal relationships tend to assume that everyone else has them with equal abundance – they don’t.
  2. Share your story. The New Year tends to bring on goals, aspirations and pressure to achieve perfect lives or perfect versions of ourselves. We have all been through some measure of difficult times and have failed to meet this ideal. I was an overweight adolescent, struggled with the early years of surrendering my life (and sleep) to motherhood, and still battle shame from a failed first marriage. It is important to share our failures with others just as it is important to show success to the world. People need to know they are not alone and more importantly that perfect lives do not exist. Don’t hold your story back if an appropriate moment to share it as a service to someone arrives.
  3. Try to burst out of your bubble. I consider myself a “glass half full” kind of person which in the past prompted me to turn away from topics that brought with it inherit negative emotions. I filtered my news consumption to just enough to be aware of what was going on in the world, but not enough to draw me in emotionally. I was concerned that if I knew too much I’d be emotionally engaged, but unable to help in ways that mattered or on the many things that might need my attention. In some part, this is exactly what happened when I started opening myself up to more information. I do give more financially now than ever before. Still, I know there are limits to how much I can do and for how many different things. But caring is also an act of service. This January, make a commitment to learn more about the world and how your actions (or lack of action) impacts that. I can’t and don’t serve all the things that move me, but I can align things like my consumer spending and political affiliations with my beliefs. If you are like me and hiding in a safe and uninformed bubble, spend this month making small or large steps to let the world in.
  4. Get active. Do you really want to go to the gym in January? We all know it’s going to be like a crowded zoo that will be cleared out significantly by February. I know there are many gym promotions in January so feel free to join now, but don’t start going until February. Spend January getting active in your community. We all have different passions so I won’t tell you how or where to serve, but use the spirit of the new year to push you forward and get you active. Let one of your new goals be to serve your community in a tangible way. Set a specific amount of time to volunteer and commit to it. I can promise it will be a lot easier to achieve this goal than your average New Year’s resolution.
  5. Out with the old and in with the new. This January you probably have many new gifts and toys around the house which has left some great quality items that have been replaced for newer models. Consider drawing a line in the sand and declaring your home a place where you have ENOUGH things and don’t need any MORE. That doesn’t mean that you never get new things, it just means you commit to donating things with every new purchase or gift. Do you have enough in your home? If so, spend January gathering things for donations and choosing the organizations you want to give them to.

What are some other ways you plan to focus on service in January? Tell us below. You know you want to. Happy January and serve on!

Better is Better

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dog-assist-shopThe title above is from a recent cell phone carrier commercial. I like this commercial. It shows kids being asked to value which one is better “more or less?”. Of course the kids say “More!” This commercial is meant to highlight that using their carrier’s service is almost a “no brainer”, something kids could easily choose. In theory you would always choose something “better” if you knew for sure it was of higher value, but that assumes you can easily compare the value of things. In my experience, you rarely can. This is especially true when you introduce human needs into the equation. I won’t even try to discuss the complexity of selecting the right romantic mate for yourself. But, I’m sure you get the idea.

THE VALUE OF YOUR SERVICE

What is interesting to me is that there seems to be unspoken value judgments placed on service. I will call this the “more is better” valuation. This is the idea that the more people your service impacts the more value it has. For example, caring for your one baby does not have as much value as working to provide clean drinking water to thousands of people. Think about that for a moment. Please actually take a moment and a break from reading and decide if you agree with that statement. Does more lives impacted equal more valuable service? Most people never thought about it, but they feel it. They feel it in whose service they consider honorable and whose service they ignore. They feel it in what service impact they hope to leave as a legacy and what they think will be unimpressive. But you won’t find that thinking here.

You will find a challenge to serve deeply and more broadly when life allows. You will find a challenge to serve fully and to serve better. Then after you’ve served better there will be a challenge to serve better than that. Why? Because better is better, but know that any act of serve or any act of genuine caring and love will be valued here. Below is the a list of the five ways this blog will categorize service and encourage you to serve others. Some of you will spend an entire lifetime mainly in one category while others will find seasons of life for them all. I can almost guarantee you that you will not have the capacity to serve well in all five categories at once. So please don’t set that expectation for yourself. Nobody can serve all missions or in all categories so you will have to explore what is the right match for you. All you need right now is to decide that however and wherever you are serving today, you will serve better tomorrow. I plan to serve better tomorrow.

Service Categories

  • Serving Personal Relationships: Giving time and energy to the people you know well and are emotionally invested in. You will have the deepest connection and impact with this group. This is worthy service.
  • Serving Professional Relationships: Using your unique abilities to make a positive impact in the work environment. We spend a lot of our lives in our place of business and it’s a worthy place to serve, but one often overlooked.
  • Serving Community: This is usually the first type of service that comes to mind. Efforts spent here can have immediate life changing benefits to those served. This is worthy service.
  • Serving Country: There are those that serve their country directly (and their families serve along with them), but there are also a host of organizations and services that support the US military and those in foreign service. Further, there are many other ways that civilians can serve their country. They are all worthy service.
  • Serving the World: This is about thinking beyond borders and addressing issues that affect mankind as a whole. This is doing your part to fight for global causes that have wide reaching impact. This is worthy service.

Feel passionate about a certain area, but not sure where to start? How are you focusing your area of service and has it changed over the years? Tell us about it. Serve on!