When You Really Serve, Every Skill Implemented is Universal

Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many conversations I’ve had serving people with successful professional lives that felt compelled to talk about their time working in one service role or another. They tend to say a similar combination of things: “I had a lot of fun” and “I learned a lot of really important skills.” Wow sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. It’s not too often that you hear of jobs that offer both fun and valuable skill development. When people say these things, I often wonder, “How many restaurants or retail stores have they walked into or how many call centers have they been patched over to where they were swept away into such reminiscence?” And then I wonder, “Did they feel this way about the job when they were actually working it?” Perhaps. But even if they did, they didn’t consider it “important” enough work to absorb them into a career and pull them away from their studies in biochemical engineering or international business. 

Understandably so. Even if they saw the value of their work, they probably didn’t have a single employer that nurtured any sense of the value of service-oriented work and the transformative power their role can have on people’s lives. And I bet a small percentage of the people they served showed a true appreciation for their work. So no matter how fun and skill-enriching the work can be, it’s not collectively taken seriously enough to give its professionals a sense of ownership. So of course these people I spoke with chose not to be service lifers and put their energy into a more respected tradition. I would’ve done the same if…wait, why didn’t I do the same? (Oh right, I’m a service junkie).

Here’s the thing: the value of what you cultivate in a service role doesn’t need to be appreciated from the comfortable distance of years-later reflection. No work you do will be fulfilling if you don’t understand and experience its value as you are doing it. This is the importance of mindful work – you need this awareness for anything you do to be fulfilling. And you need this connection to everything you do. Because not every role and task will fit some paradigm of “important work.” So much of life is annoying little tasks. 

And today’s pandemic climate is our opportunity to witness how tenuous and impermanent our ideas of “important” are. Crisis situations are times when the simplest of actions can be transformative. Providing a meal, a smile, a hand-sewn protective mask can have more significance than acquiring 1,000 new followers, closing a big client, or whatever other metrics of success you’ve found yourself committed.

So now we get a chance to look at essential skills at work. Let’s look at everything you learned in a service role that can be applied to being a really valuable member of a crisis situation:

  1. Calm, cheerfulness and positivity during high-intensity situations. 
  2. Willingness to accommodate others even when you are struggling internally (whether juggling too much demand, carrying exhaustion, shaking off a recent dose of verbal abuse from clients or employers).
  3. Finely-tuned radar for human need.
  4. Clear, confident communication.
  5. The willingness to help others.

Where will these skills be needed in the ever-unfolding new pandemic reality we live in? Who knows. But regardless of what the answer turns out to be, the answer is: everywhereEvery service skill is translatable and relevant to every other situation. Everything is practice for the next level you wish to take your life to. In moments of crisis (i.e. now), don’t worry, you’ve been training for it your whole life as a person of service (be it professionally or otherwise) – through every opportunity you’ve taken to pay attention, be compassionate, understand things better, and choose to de-escalate rather than react. And if you don’t see where your service skills can be applied, then refer to one I just mentioned (one you’ve been developing your whole life whether you know it or not): pay attention.