This week’s inauguration ceremonies got me thinking back to previous inauguration addresses, most notably newly-elected President John F. Kennedy’s address delivered some fifty-one years ago this week on the mall in Washington DC. While I wasn’t around at the time (and wouldn’t be for quite some time), I have read about and heard bits and pieces of the speech over the years. This is the speech where Kennedy spoke the now-famous words, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
What has always struck me about this speech is its focus on “service,” which runs throughout as a general theme, as though “service” is a duty of every American, as though America—and ultimately the world—could be and would be so much more if people were simply to focus on how they could serve their neighbors, their communities, their country.
If we were to apply the Pareto principle to service, we would conclude that 80% of the service contributions in this country come from just 20% of the population. Are you one of the 20%? What might this country be capable of if the number of contributors was 30%, 40% . . . more? The results might truly astound us.
What do I mean by service?
Service can come in many forms, including donating time, expertise, goods, and even money. Many serve by volunteering in their churches, schools, hospitals, and other community hotspots. Others serve by organizing events, such as races, walks for charity, bake sales, craft fairs, or facilitating support and mentoring groups of all kinds.
You name it, there is no lack of ways to serve, only those willing to serve.
Why would someone serve?
While some undoubtedly serve to get something in return (recognition, a pat on the back, the possibility of some future monetary gain), at its heart, serving is really more about giving back to the community. It’s about contributing to something that’s bigger than yourself, that’s more than right here, right now. It’s about paying it forward (see my related blogs, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize & Occupy Your Community: Charity Begins at Home) and (while this might sound hokey to some) it’s about doing the right thing.
How do people serve?
Big effort or small, everyone CAN serve. In fact, some of you may be serving already and not even realize it! Every time you coach a colleague or dispense advice to a friend, family member, or co-worker you are serving. You see “serving” isn’t only about contributing to community causes or donating money, it’s about being there for other people, the young and the old, and giving of yourself.
In addition to volunteering in traditional church, school, and community settings, here are examples of other ways you can serve:
- Be a mentor to up-and-comers in your field of expertise. Sharing your knowledge and lessons learned is a great way to pay it forward.
- Be active in networking groups. Truly give of yourself and your wealth of knowledge to help others find new jobs, new careers, new opportunities. You’ll be amazed at how being generous with your time spurs such behavior in others.
- Arrange an event, such as a 5K run, walk, or school career day. Not only will the effort be cathartic for you, but you will get to know a great deal more about others and about your community in general.
- Participate in your local school or city government. Instead of complaining about the state of affairs, do something about it by offering solutions.
- Coach a sports or academic team, especially if your son or daughter is participating. Not only is this great community service, but a fantastic opportunity for some parent-child bonding.
- Volunteer at your local animal shelter. There is something good for the soul about helping abused, sick, and abandoned animals get well and find loving homes.
- Be a big brother/big sister. What better way to contribute to the future than to be there for a child? Whether it’s through the actual Big Brother/Big Sister program or other such programs, makes no difference—you taking the time to be there for a young person does.
- Be a companion to elders at a nursing home, retirement community, veterans’ home, or private home. Too often, when it comes to service, we forget about those who served us. Many of our seniors wind up alone and neglected. Here’s a great way to be a friend and companion while also getting to bask in the wisdom of someone who’s been there and done it. Who knows, you might even learn something!
As you can see, the list of “service” opportunities could be endless. What I’ve found is that for those of us who think about serving but never get around to it, doing so is usually just a matter of overcoming inertia and making something happen rather than lack of desire. If nothing above, stirs your interest, talk to a friend, colleague, or someone you know who is active in the community. Be creative and curious. You’ll find something eventually. The important thing is that you do something.
Some of the ways I serve include working with San Diego Sports Innovators (http://www.sdsportinnovators.org) as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) mentoring three start-up companies, participation on the Board of Directors for Huntington’s Disease Society of America of San Diego (http://www.hdsasandiego.org), and participation on the Board of North County Alumni Association for the “War of the Roses” Valentine’s Volleyball Tournament to benefit HDSA-SD (http://www.facebook.com/events/117821341724301).
Like ever-expanding ripples that result from a pebble dropped in a pond (for related reading, see my “Pebbles” blog), when people serve, they make things better for their communities, their schools, their churches, and for everyone around them.
Many thanks and shout outs to some of the people who have shown me what it means to serve, who have helped me serve, and who routinely go above and beyond to help others:
- Ron Eckhardt (Run Free Networking Group for Execs in Transition)
- Sam Ross (Speaker on Cancer)
- Lisa Freedman (Heads up SDSI)
- Richard Knapp (Donates time with Boxer Rescue)
- Ron Snow (Helps with elderly)
People who serve make a difference. How can you step up and make a difference in 2013 . . . and beyond?