The Service Trap
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Howard Thurman
Over the years I’ve worked with many clients who are in career transition, or who are retiring from their careers and want to create a fulfilling next chapter in their lives. Not surprisingly, I tend to attract people on a spiritual path who want to deepen their understanding of creation and manifestation from the perspective of Spirit. They want to learn more about how Spirit - the vast, infinitely loving, intelligent and powerful aspect of who we are that exists in nonphysical realms - is expressed physically through the lens of our individual and collective human consciousness.
More often than not, when these beautiful, spiritual people come to me during a career transition, they seek to find paid or volunteer work through which they can be of service in the world. When that intention arises from an awareness of who they really are, it’s a recognition of the joy that Spirit wants to experience through them, as them. It reflects delight in sharing their gifts with others.
Yet a similarly stated intention can arise from a totally different place. It can arise from guilt, which reflects a misunderstanding of who they – and others - really are, and that guilt spawns an obligation to serve. Giving from obligation is a contradiction of terms and, more fundamentally, a contradiction of energy.
The energy of giving, which is at the heart of true service, is life-enhancing Source energy expressing its fullness, its creativity and its generosity. The energy of guilt is a depressive, heavy energy which can be only be activated when we aren’t in harmony with who we really are.
Providing service out of guilt-induced obligation often results in feelings of exhaustion and resentment in the providers, yet they keep pushing themselves to give out of that same sense of obligation.
What they don’t fully realize is that their feelings of resentment and exhaustion may not be real from a physical perspective, but they are nonetheless very real from an energetic perspective. And the energy of those feelings diminishes their health and vitality.
That energy can affect the receivers as well. The unspoken but active emotional vibrations of resentment and exhaustion can reinforce, within the receivers, subtle feelings of unworthiness as they sense that having their needs met is an inconvenience to others.
This is one of the many reasons why I believe it’s important that we understand the implications – and creative power - of our vibrational nature. When we view ourselves as purely physical beings in a physical universe, we rely solely on physical action to accomplish results. But the effects can only be temporary until we understand that consciousness is the primary driver of all physical effects.
And our consciousness reflects our awareness – or relative lack thereof – of who we really are.
Here is an example of how a lack of awareness of who we really are might play out in the arena of service, in this case the giving and receiving between two people:
Let’s say I am unaware of myself as an extension of Source and therefore believe I am unworthy. The vibration of that belief will not be in harmony with the ideas, opportunities and natural support that would otherwise reflect my worthiness. On a physical level I may have unmet needs.
If you, too, are unaware of yourself - and others - as extensions of Source, yet your physical needs are met, you may start believing in something as capricious as luck. Unaware of your own worthiness, you could feel guilty about your seemingly random good fortune and give to me out of a sense of obligation.
If you continued giving from that place, you would tire yourself because you’re disconnected from your true Source of energy and inspiration. If I continued receiving from that place, I would remain disconnected from my own Source of energy and inspiration through my ongoing false belief in unworthiness.
The immediate giving and receiving of physical support would of course be needed, welcomed and appreciated, but if it doesn’t also stimulate a shift in self-awareness and self-belief, the vibrational patterns of our thought will predispose us to a continuation of the cycle. We will remain trapped in an unfulfilling dynamic.
It’s a dynamic that can only be shifted as more and more of us awaken to the truth of who we – all of us – really are. And that truth is alive and well in our hearts.
Our hearts know that true service arises from love and is given in love, not from any false need to prove our “goodness” (and therefore ease our guilt). Our goodness, our worthiness, is an absolute given. It doesn’t need to be proven because it can’t be proven. It simply IS. And this is the astounding truth we have the sacred and joyful opportunity to awaken within us.
The heart also knows that people we might currently perceive as needing to be served are, themselves, glorious expressions of the Divine. Our greatest gift to them, or to anyone, is to see them for who they really are – to help them wake up to their own magnificence and power.
And we can only do that by being awake to our own. That’s why I love the Howard Thurman quote I featured at the start of this article. Although he wasn’t speaking in the language of energy and vibration, he clearly understood that people who have come alive naturally and powerfully uplift everyone they meet and, in truth, the whole of human consciousness.
I often use the phrase, “feeding into the grid” to express this. The more peaceful, loving, joyful and empowered any one of us is, the stronger those qualities are in the entire vibrational grid of human consciousness - which means everyone else has easier access to them.
Bringing this back to people who are in career transition or are, in a more general sense, desiring to be of service in the world, the first thing I want to say is that their aliveness – their joyful connection with the truth of who they are – is innately of service to the world. Their very Presence is uplifting in ways that catalyze awakening in others because of humanity’s vibrational connectedness.
And next I want to say that, by Divine design, what they genuinely want to create and share is what is naturally of most benefit to others. Another of humankind’s most brilliant, heart-centered minds said it this way:
“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” - Rumi
Rumi also said, in the piercingly direct and elegant way of his,
Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”
I fully realize, of course, that the path of translating our heart’s call into activities that are meaningful, joyful and expressible in our physical reality isn’t a straight line with predictable steps and outcomes. It’s a complete reorientation from a perspective that sees us as needy individuals who are separated from Source and from each other, to one that understands ourselves as magnificent, individuated expressions of Source who each have unique attributes of Source to share with each other.
That kind of reorientation doesn’t happen overnight. And in the transition, of course, many of us have some degree of misunderstanding about who we really are, which means many of us experience feelings and circumstances of unworthiness and lack, or of unworthiness and guilt, or any number of unwanted feelings and conditions arising from a consciousness of separation.
These misunderstandings mean that many of us have the experience of unmet needs, and we can absolutely support each other through our mutual giving and receiving of things at the physical level.
Yet if we limit our giving to the visible requirements of our physical world, we remain trapped in a dynamic that perpetuates the very conditions we want to change. It’s like moving pieces around on a game board until someone is declared the winner and another, the loser.
What we need is a whole new game, one in which there isn’t a board with finite edges but an infinitely expanding playing field that allows everyone to thrive.
We expand our playing field by letting ourselves be drawn by the stronger pull of that which we truly love, as Rumi so wisely counsels us to do, because the energy of love is the most expansive and generous of all.
So let’s be drawn by love, not pushed by guilt.
Let’s see others who can benefit from what we have to give not as unfortunate, but as the unique expressions of Source they are, open to receive what we are genuinely willing to give and knowing that they, too, have much to give others.
And let’s remember with Howard Thurman that our aliveness – our full allowance of the Source which enlivens everything in our physical experience to flow through us – is what our world truly needs.