At the beginning of 2019 I made a commitment with myself that I would give to the world and my community in service, and not out of servitude. What does this mean? To me it means, doing what fills UP my bucket rather than what is required of me by social norms, commitments to schedules, and “because it has always been that way.” To me, service is about giving back to my community in ways that create an upward spiral in my life.
I came to this realization after sitting in yet another long, board meeting for my children’s school. The monthly meetings committed me to 3 hours of work in a small room with other parents at the school. The work consisted of reviewing bylaws, coordinating carpet cleanings for the old, worn threads in the school, and planning Saturday community breakfasts. For some, this work is very meaningful because it directly serves their kids. For me, this work took away every ounce of precious life from me: my time, my energy and my joy. I came home from these meetings feeling not only exhausted from the day’s work at my own school serving as an assistant principal but also completely drained of all joy.
And so I asked myself, why? I am doing what is good for my community, right? I sit on three boards, 2 boards that serve special education and this board that serves my children’s school. I am doing good work. Yes, this is the mantra I told myself, over and over. I am doing good work.
That mantra didn’t stick for long.
I wasn’t feeling the good in the work. I was only feeling the work. I trudged through the days, trying to find inspiration, joy, or even fun in the service that I truly believed was a necessity to doing good in my community. And for me, this felt like servitude.
And, like so many other turning points in my life, I found the reigns and made a turn – a sharp turn in fact. I knew that staying on this particular board would take years of work to get it to the place that felt organized, productive and joy-filled. I also knew that there were lots of other parents who had the time and energy to do this very work. It didn’t have to be me. So, my sharp turn to the right was actually me saying, “I’m not your person for this work.”
When these words came from my mouth, I felt as though heavy shackles were unbuckled from my ankles. The air around me finally swirled and there was light in my life, again. Yes, this tiny shift, removed me from servitude and allowed me to focus on the areas where I could serve, allowing me to be present and joy-filled with my own children and loved ones.
So, what does it mean to do something in service? For me, doing something in service is the time I give to others because I truly believe in the cause. The awe-inspiring work. The people. Service lifts me up and allows me to sing to the world that I believe in something worthy. Service is that feeling you have in your heart, the thump-thump-beat, that also feels likes glitter being tossed into a gentle wind. Doing something in service actually fills ME up and brings more energy into my life. Doing something in service means shoveling my neighbors’ driveways and sidewalks; it means making a cup of tea for a colleague; it looks like advising my home state of Colorado about what impacts special education. Doing something in service still allows me to come home at night and play with my kids, create that simple meal, and take time to just be.
And, like any mom or parent with a child on the autism spectrum, coming home at night requires all the energy and love and joy you can find in your deep well. In fact, by coming home depleted from this particular board meeting, my parenting began to feel like servitude. My son immediately sensed my exhaustion and my lack of, well, everything, and he cycled into meltdowns. And this, my friends, is not what this journey is about.
So, as 2020 approaches, I encourage you to think about all the ways you give forward to your communities and to our world. I encourage you to think about how it makes you feel. If you discover you feel depleted, then ask yourself if what you are truly giving is worth it. In 2020, I will continue to ask myself if the service I give truly brings me joy. Because if your service is joy-filled then the energy it provides others will also be joy-filled. And, on the flip side, if your service depletes you of energy and brings out negative vibes, then this is also the energy it gives to others.
What will your shift into joy look like for 2020?