Friday, August 29, 2008

Volunteering: It's About Service

As the volunteer coordinator for the Maui film Festival, each year (since 2001) I’ve had the unique privilege to study how 250-300 volunteers respond to the opportunity to put their passion for service to work on behalf of the whole community. Even though volunteers have access to generous perks, the majority put their time into assuring the festival’s success, even over their own preferences, comfort and movie watching experience.

One of the central themes of the 2006 festival opener, Peaceful Warrior (based on Dan Millman’s bestseller, Way of the Peaceful Warrior) is that service is the highest path. We all strive to discover our talents, both obvious and hidden, and to bring them to the workplace for recognition and remuneration. When we finally arrive at that place of knowing that it’s really all about being of selfless service, it completely changes the quality and quantity of passion we apply to everything.

My ha nai daughter used to work for a local Maui company that sets up events. She was often sorting equipment in a warehouse when she wasn’t driving a truck or setting up or tearing down events. She was complaining one day about a veteran co-worker who said “it isn’t our job to make it easier for the warehouse people to do their job”. This “unenlightened” co-worker didn’t realize that she was talking to someone who also works in the warehouse…

Being of service is being present to the entire chain of events that results in a positive customer experience. It’s recognizing that we’ve moved beyond a commodity economy to an experience economy. Your customer is everyone from the person buying from you to the people who work with you or supervise you.

Your gifts are unique to you. Nurtured and cultivated, they will find their place in the world. Your commitment to being of selfless service is your gift to humanity. The person who’s job it is to empty the trash is the person who encounters the full trash can.

Just the other day I was filling out an information form that requested my occupation. I can never quite fit “somatic awareness trainer, media producer, volunteer coordinator, writer, musician” in the space provided. After seeing that one scene in Peaceful Warrior, I simply wrote: “service”.

The next time you’re struggling with your identity around “right livelihood”, take a new look around you with a service attitude and experience how good it feels to simply be of service. It’s OK to make the warehouse job easier. In fact, in doing so, your co-worker may bend over backward to make your job easier too. Then everybody wins.

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