Shortly before he died, my father challenged me about what I was doing with my life.
I was 33 years old and had moved back to New York to be with him, which I was able to do by leaving my booming private practice as a bodyworker and acupuncturist on the West Coast.
He said, “Most people your age are climbing the corporate ladder and getting married. Why aren’t you?” I replied, “My ladder is on a different wall. In 10 to 20 years when they get to the top of their ladders and find out they still don’t feel fulfilled, they’re going to come to me.”
Seventeen years later, that’s exactly what’s happening in my life-coaching practice.
Here are six ideas about how to be of service to others while creating fulfillment that I’ve learned while climbing my ladder on that other wall:
1. Cultivate our connection to something larger than ourselves.
My best friend is a brilliant spiritual teacher and activist. When she facilitates a discussion or teaches, everyone sits up straighter and pays attention. Her clarity of presence has a non-verbal effect on the whole room. Whether a person feels affirmed or exposed by the honed blade of her attention, no one is indifferent to it.
If we all were to cultivate our connection to our own clarity of presence, the world would look and feel very different than it does now. Whether we’re an athlete, teacher, banker, homemaker, or CEO, having a meditation or mindfulness practice that connects us to clear presence is essential to being of service and feeling fulfilled.
2. Focus on who we want to be instead of what we want to do.
In other words, bring love to whatever we do. Whether we drive a bus, stay home to raise a child, cook a meal for one, or solve world-wide problems of climate change and access to clean water and food, we will leave the planet better than we found it if we do it with love.
Each one of us matters, no matter the scale of our influence. If we keep that in mind instead of fixating on a ladder that may or may not be ours to climb, we get to discover what we’re actually here for. The more we express who we are, the more the true arena of our contribution reveals itself and the more fulfilled we feel.
3. Handle our people-pleaser and our rugged individualist.
We’re relational creatures, and we need each other. Whether we’re denying ourselves in order to cater to others or we’re isolating ourselves to go it alone, we will likely burn out. We need to unpack our conditioning and make new choices that move us toward real connection instead. Over the last 80 years, Harvard conducted a longitudinal study of men that revealed that the key to healthy aging is happy relationships. Learning how to navigate our intimate relationships as well as our relationship to the larger human community is key to being of true service.
4. Have an audacious goal.
If we’re just trying to get through the day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by details. But if we’re focused on the change we want to create in our family, community, or the world by being ourselves to our fullest capacity, that focus helps us get through the nitty gritty stuff that pops up each day. At a recent conference, billionaire entrepreneur Naveen Jain said, “Self-worth doesn’t come from what you own, it comes from what you create.” If we let the desire to create flame large enough in our core, it will clear a path toward its fulfillment.
5. Remember to play and rest.
According to scripture, God took a day off while creating the world, so we can too. Taking deliberate time to play and rest, especially in connection with others, helps keep us fueled up. With an audacious goal lighting us on fire, it can be hard to notice when we need a break. By building rest and play into our lives, we avoid burnout. Also, when struggling to create something, turning the conscious mind away from it by taking a walk, a shower, a nap, playing a game, or having sex can allow the next piece to emerge, because our subconscious continues to wrestle with it under the radar. By building fun into each day, we can get more done and enjoy the journey more too.
6. Change before a cataclysm changes it for us.
Change is hard. And when our low backs have been hurting for months, or we barely touch our significant others anymore, or we have a headache by 11 a.m. every morning at work, it’s time to ask ourselves what’s happening instead of self-medicating to avoid feeling our feelings.
It’s time to ask our bodies what they’re trying to tell us, start that hard conversation with our spouses, speak up at work about what needs to change, or look for another job. A first step could be to hire a coach for support to get clear on what we desire and take action on what we discover. The main thing is to act before life acts for us. I guarantee that the way life does it for us will be more painful than the discomfort we face by being proactive and taking action first.
I think being of service and having fulfillment can best be summed up in these words by Dr. Howard Thurman: “Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Let’s do it. Let’s come alive and serve the world in the way each of us is meant to serve.
Author: Marie-Elizabeth Mali
Image: Jane Rahman/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis