A major part of the program I work to stay sober is the act of being of service to other people. Being of service is something that has always been important to me, and has been the undercurrent of what I want to do with my life. My favorite quote has always been, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.”
I’ve taken that to mean that the best way I can help other people is by being true to myself and living a wholly authentic life. It’s interesting how the act of helping other people really does so much more to help yourself than it does for them. I think that’s why it’s always been easy for me to say that I want to help others, because secretly I know that I’m going to benefit from any good deed I do. That balance between selflessness and selfishness has been something that I’ve gone back and forth with through the years.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be liked more than anything else. And I quickly learned that people liked me when I had something to offer. So I tried for a long time to get people to like me by doing things for them. I had that mindset of “If I give you a dollar, will you be my friend?” The problem was, I didn’t particularly have a whole lot to give. My parents would get annoyed when I would treat my friends to lunch, with their credit card. It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money. I quickly found when I became self-sufficient that it is a lot harder to be generous with your own money.
I still struggle with the balance between taking care of others and taking care of yourself. It’s true that when I am feeling stressed or resentful, the best thing for me to do is help another person. But sometimes I can go too far, and cause myself to be stressed by feeling beholden to others. I’ll offer my help with something, but then when my help is requested again, I feel suffocated. So I go back and forth with generosity and miserliness, because I still haven’t quite learned how to say no. I’ll either say yes to everything, or I’ll come up with a million excuses as to why I can’t.
I signed up for this volunteer service where I’d go to Juvenile facilities, which I thought would be really cool. The trouble was, I had to drive an hour away to get clearance for it, and I don’t have a car. So I asked a friend to drive me there last week, and on the way there we got in a car accident. It was nothing major, a minor fender bender, but it rattled me. “Come on, God,” I thought. “I’m trying to be of service here!” Cue me as Elpheba singing “No Good Deed” from Wicked.
Then at work I was making a bank run to get quarters, and along the way I lost the $100 cash I had taken from the safe at work in order to get the quarters. I retraced my steps 3 times and couldn’t find it anywhere. It felt like God was putting roadblocks in my path to make me want to say, “Screw other people, I’m just gonna go home and isolate.”
But I know that’s not how life works. I know that bad things don’t stop happening just because you’re trying to do something nice. And I know that my life is not about the things that happen to me- it’s about the things that I do. It’s about my response to what happens. And I still want to be of service, because I still want to feel good and I know that that’s what makes me feel that way. And just because I can’t be of service in some of the ways I’d like, doesn’t mean that I can’t be of service at all.
It’s funny, I’ll say that I wanna help people and then an opportunity will present itself and I’ll be like, “Eh, not that one.” I work with customers, and instead of looking at my job as being of service, I’ve been looking at it as something to get through. But I don’t want to “get through” 50% of my life, I wanna live it to the fullest. So maybe I can adopt that service mindset at work, and apply these tools to every area of my life. Because if I’m thinking about other people, then that’s less time for me to obsess about my own life.