True Service: “Important Work” is a Matter of Conditioning

One problem is that so many people think that their life truly begins after their service job ends. Their service job is a state of purgatory where they’re waiting for their real professional lives in some more noble industry to truly materialize. In a previous post, I mentioned the many people I’ve met that have “graduated” from the service industry into a “higher” level of professional life. I’m now going to talk more about how that paradigm of “moving up” is a delusion and will needlessly jam your ability to truly serve in anything you do. I’m also going to talk about how I’m a total hypocrite. 

I was working as a food and beverage professional until mid-March of this year. Strangely, just before we had any sense that the Coronavirus pandemic would significantly affect North America, I decided that my energy is no longer ideally as effectively spent as someone directly on the front lines of service and would best be directed fuller into education and training. Then the virus basically dropped the hospitality industry as we know it into suspended animation a week before I was planning to leave it. 

I’ve done this before, leaving on-the-ground hospitality work to pursue a path that I considered more meaningful, more “grown up.” And then I would later return to my service job not knowing why, only to find such seemingly humble work rewarding beyond my wildest expectations. It was so rewarding that I’ve abandoned all paradigms of “moving upward” and will now always be available to the opportunity to get my hands dirty with something that others may feel too proud to do. Self-development coaches and business leaders may tell you about the importance of valuing your time, which I agree is crucial, but not to the point of making your time a function of your ego. As soon as you think your time is too “valuable” to engage in simple acts of service and that you’re too important to do a humble job, you’re lost. You’ll never find fulfillment.

There is something so bittersweet about this journey that I am on. On the one hand, we always need to grow, challenge ourselves in new ways, and find new outlets to export what we have to offer to the world. And on the other hand, we don’t. 

This is the paradox of service. I will explain. 

If someone is an intelligent, hardworking, and conscientious individual that brings a lot of positive, creative energy into what they do, but their job profile feels “too lowly” to allow all of their shining capability to flower (let’s say they work in a retail space, service department, food and beverage outlet, etc), then they may feel frustrated, deadened or disgruntled.

One could blame the job, the work culture, or the brutality of the clientele, but the most worthwhile place anyone can look for answers is inward. Like anyone else, people want to feel important – like their work has value and impact. Millennials have become known for demanding this sense of purpose in their work and it’s what has resulted in both higher work culture standards and less long term reliability from an increasing fickle workforce. 

My experience in the hospitality industry allowed me to witness restaurant employees in their natural habitat, notoriously bouncing from one job to another at sometimes dizzying rates. Especially when that person was so often myself. What’s happening here? You can’t just boil that down to toxic work cultures. Simply blaming externalities is not an empowered place to be in (and a sense of powerlessness is one of the great banes of service professionals). Plainly it’s not as effective, nor as easy to change, looking at whatever conditioning we’re holding around service work.

We need to also be able to live our potential doing whatever it is we’re doing right now. Not what we’re working toward doing. Not some future place we imagine ourselves where we’re somehow fulfilled because we have everything we think we want. Right now, serving a customer that fiercely needs our guidance (more than they’re admitting) or performing a simple cleaning task. If we depend on some paradigm of “importance” (that someone else created, not us), then we are surrendering our own value to some story outside of us. If we truly understand our value, then we don’t need to be doing something grandly satisfying to the ego to feel satisfied. Mindful service is a matter of breaking this conditioning – and will be discussed more in Pt. II.