Service Above Self

“I believe that rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.”

~John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
(Service is #8 of his family’s 10 principles that he shared with the United Services Organizations, New York, 8 July 1941)


When I was the training director of a local search & rescue team I interacted regularly with the new, probationary members. Even though they couldn’t go on real searches for real missing people yet, they were often privy to how the searches ended; the good AND the bad endings.

Often hearing the macabre details of a search was enough to change their mind about participating which saved us all a great deal of time and wasted effort.

Then there were the two hard chargers that just couldn’t get enough. One of their questions caught me off guard: “why do people do this (i.e. search in cold, dark woods for a decomposing body)?”

“Because if you can, you should.”

And while I pulled that out of my keister back then, I believe it more than ever now.

There have been a couple of separate instances recently that made me revisit this statement. In brief, there are some people I share an orbit with that are second guessing their role in their chosen profession.

My consult usually first addresses resiliency, well-oriented objectives, improvement and so on … but hard jobs sometimes also require hardened people before the other needs can be met.

And even the hardest among us benefit from revisiting why we do things.

For me, I usually find that an outward expression of service to something bigger than me helps to center me (red wine and chocolate has been known to do the same!).

Whether you’re ruminating over your role or whether you’re just trying to be a little better at something today than you were yesterday … you no doubt do something real, something effective and something that not a lot of other people can do quite like you.

In your idle moments I’d challenge you to identify a few of those activities and measure them against Rockefeller’s eloquent credo or through my simple one. You might find that nudge you need to do more of one thing or less of something else.

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