Work to be in service, not servitude

Decades after his burial, I stood at my dad’s grave reading the words etched into the simple gravestone: Service to others before self. I thought, “Yeah, and we buried him in the ground way before what should have been his time.”

My dad died from a brain tumour at the untimely age of 46. Although it was complications from cancer that ended his life, I contend he had lost his will to live long before that. My dad gave everything he had to us, his family. So when our family unit shattered, he was devastated. I never saw him recover.

I was 19 years old when he passed away. Even though technically I was an adult, it was still too young for a daughter to lose her father, especially because for many years prior, we had had a strained relationship. At his burial, I remember watching my uncles lower the casket into the ground and thinking, “I will not sacrifice myself in the way that he did.”

And then I did, anyway. It didn’t serve me very well, either.


Serving to prove worthiness

As a result of our childhood wounding, most of us unknowingly embark on a path of attempting to prove ourselves through our work. For myself, because I have shunned convention much of my professional life, my career choices were constantly questioned by those around me, even belittled. I forever seemed to be justifying my decisions to others. And even though I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in the work I do now, I still spent a lot of my early years in this business trying to substantiate my value in the opinion of others. But it wasn’t them who needed convincing. There’s a difference between believing in your work and believing in yourself.

When we don’t claim our birthright as a worthy being, we will believe we have to earn it. One of the typical ways we go about doing this is through achieving “success” in our work, primarily as how it is defined by society, i.e. by gaining notoriety and/or making lots of money. (Note, there is nothing wrong with either of those things, except when we are using them to compensate for our perceived lack of worthiness.)

When we don’t claim our birthright as a worthy being, we will believe we have to earn it.

If we are working from a state of trying to prove our worth, we will make decisions that are out of alignment with our values and out of integrity with our true being. We end up locked into a track that moves us away from who we really are. Our work loses meaning. Our efforts become wasted. We enslave ourselves for some measly external validation, working more so from an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to others rather than a pure desire to be in service.

Other-centred service

We are often told that one of the most noble ways to earn our good human “merit badge” is by prioritizing the needs of others. I term this “other-centred” service. It is considered virtuous to devote ourselves to another’s well-being with unselfish regard, however, we have to be conscious of whose needs we are actually trying to meet. Is it “them” or “us” whom we are wanting to make feel good?

If someone else has to transform in order for us to gain satisfaction, then we are operating with an agenda, and lacking in compassion. To regard others as “needing to change” is diminishing them in order to build our own sense of self. We are actually being selfish. The other problem with this approach is that we disconnect from our energy source within. We are serving to “get” energy in the form of validation, money, acknowledgement, or happiness from others. We all know how that feels. Yuck.

To resolve our own internal lack of self-worth, sometimes we will unwittingly set up a system where we energetically feed off of those very people we are trying to serve. This is hard to admit, but I also did this for many years. My particular device was playing the martyr. In the past, I used to make a lot of sacrifices to my own detriment in the name of “service to others”. This behaviour reinforced my “poor me” mindset. Subsequently, I would feed off of the indignation and self-pity that raged within me. Double yuck.

When we work from a place of “serving others before self”, we will never truly be fulfilled nor will we realize our own sense of self-worth because our work is not sourced from within. We will end up burned out, and come to resent our work and those we serve. Only when we fulfill our desires from within are we able to be in true service.


Serving to express worthiness

All those years I railed against others judgements was because I was not yet standing centred in my own truth. A part of me was was still energetically feeding off the “fight”. To connect with my internal source of energy required me to take the emphasis off anything or anyone outside of myself and put it back on what actually mattered – me. I recognized that I did not need to earn my worthiness through my work, I simply had to fall in love with who I had always been. I was already worthy.

I wish I could say this happened overnight. It didn’t. It was a slow integration. It took many years to release the notion I had anything to prove to anyone – not even to myself. But coming to that realization was when I liberated myself from my old patterning of playing the victim. Now I am able to companion others who are on a similar journey. Together, we can laugh through the inevitable peaks and valleys of our work. The result is that we can delight in what is co-created when we are together.

I had to release the notion I had anything to prove to anyone – not even to myself.

Once we stop needing to prove our worth, we are freed to be in service simply because it is a reflection of the love we feel for ourselves. We honour our values and act in integrity with our own truth, and we use our work as an expression of our total being. We work not because we have to, but because we choose to.

Self-centred service

One of my offerings is to help people clarify their vision. What makes a vision inspiring is when it is derived from the truth within ourselves. To embody our truth, we must stand at the centre of our vision and radiate it out into the world. This is “self-centred” service – to place ourselves at the centre of our work, but not in a self-absorbed way, in the way that we prioritize our internal connection.

We can invite others to join us on the journey of realizing our vision, but our worth is not measured in who or how many join us. Our identity is no longer defined by needing “them” to change. We release the others from this burden, and they are free to be exactly who they are. Then we are free to serve with compassion and without agenda. We simply avail ourselves to those who have already made a decision within themselves to make their own changes.

By opening to receive our source of energy within, we truly have something to give. This is what it is to be inspired. When we focus on maintaining this state of connection, we have access to an endless supply of energy. We can translate this energy into the form of ideas, creations, and offerings. These are the basis of our inspired work.

To live your inspired work is to be in joyful service. To stand centred in knowing your worthiness and giving of yourself wholly is all you need to do. Now you’re working for the right reasons – for you.


Given the choice, I’m not sure my dad would have selected those particular words for his gravestone. I don’t know which he would have chosen, actually. Probably none. He wasn’t much for words, he demonstrated his intentions through his actions. He believed in true service.

I am now seven years older than he was when he passed away. It’s difficult to imagine my dad as younger than myself. He will always be my “dad”. And I will always be his daughter. I am similar to him in personality and in my approach to life. It’s a shame we couldn’t find common ground while he was still alive, however, there was just too much pain. Nevertheless, my dad’s life, and early death, taught me something valuable: Service to self before others.

Service to self before others.

In honour of my dad, I have dedicated my work to knowing, realizing, and loving my true self so that I can stand centred in my own being. When I seek to gain nothing from another and endeavour to give everything I need to myself, then I am able to be in true service.


If you’d like to stand centred in your vision for your work, learn more about the Vision Program here.
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