Finding Fulfillment Through Service

Do you hate Mondays? Does the dread begin on Sunday night when you realize that tomorrow you have to go to work again? Do you see your job as a series of problems and frustrations, or as something boring and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things?

Well, not me! I love my job, and I’ve loved most jobs I’ve had. Most have been quite fulfilling. Does that sound surprising? From what I’ve just said, you might think I’ve had a series of perfect jobs, making scads of money, with wonderful bosses and coworkers. You’d be wrong.

Cook, busboy, paperboy, ditch digger, grocery clerk, door-to-door salesman, gas station attendant . . . I’ve held all of these positions at some point in my life, and some of them more than once. None of these jobs paid much, but most, with the exception of the door-to-door bit, were extremely satisfying. And not all of them were in my teenage years.

Don’t get me wrong; I like making a decent living and appreciate being able to support a nice lifestyle. But as many will tell you, more dollars don’t translate into more fulfillment. I also like challenging work that’s mentally stimulating, but sometimes the challenge lies in creating your own stimuli within the context of the job you’re doing.

So what’s my secret when it comes to job fulfillment? Service — to my employer, my coworkers, my customers. I have consistently found fulfillment through service, starting as a child mowing lawns for the neighbors, and I’m sure I’ll continue to for as long as I work.

It is better to give than to receive. At work, that’s my motto. My father taught me that if I’d give more to an employer than was expected of me, I would always have a job. That may have been one of the few things he told me as a teenager that I actually listened to, and I’m thankful that I did. When the “gas crisis” of the mid-70s caused the owner of our local station to lay off most of his crew of kids, I was the only one kept on who wasn’t a relative. I never forgot that.

Later, I learned to apply the same ethic to coworkers and customers, actively seeking ways to give more than they expected. As a result, most coworkers spoke well of me, and my supervisors wrote positive reviews and rewarded me with raises. My customers were loyal and also vocal in their praise. Again, this translated into rewards.

Get what you want by helping others get what they want.
— Modern proverb

Would it shock you to know that, after being a successful musician, business consultant, and writer, I then worked behind the seafood counter of the local grocery store? You might wonder why I’d choose to take such a job. There were two reasons. First, I had recently moved and was in the process of getting acclimated to a new town. And second, it gave me something to do while I considered my options, and afforded me the opportunity to get to know my community.

In that job, many of my duties were what I call “grunt work” — hauling out the trash, cleaning the freezers and counters each night, and putting away hundreds of pounds of seafood every week. Other tasks were repetitive: making the seafood salads and rings of cocktail shrimp, filling the counters with tons of ice, and weighing out five-pound batches of crab legs every day. Where’s the fulfillment in that?

It wasn’t the dull, boring work that was fulfilling. It was helping people. I learned dozens of recipes for my products so I could help a customer figure out what to do with them. My crab and mushroom omelet is now famous in that part of Richmond! Want a great recipe for salmon? Here you go, and don’t forget to pick up some lemons.

I got my first raise after the store manager recorded my tenth customer compliment — two weeks into my job. I got my second raise a few weeks later when statistics showed that I was selling 50 percent more product on my shifts than anyone else. I helped myself by helping others.

I even found ways to make those hated in-store announcements sound fun and exciting. None of the usual bored-and-depressed, “wish I was anywhere but here” stuff for me. I had fun with it! Eventually I was giving announcements for every department, combining the specials I advertised into a complete menu. Customers would go from place to place putting their dinner or barbecue together. My coworkers liked it as much as the customers did, because it meant they didn’t have to give the announcements. In my book, that’s a two-for-one special!

Here are some other jobs I’ve held over the years, along with the extras I provided and the rewards I received as a result of my efforts:

Paperboy driving a 135-mile rural route at age 39. (Following another cross-country move.) Took time to visit with several elderly subscribers, filled water dishes for dogs and brought biscuits, made deliveries between neighbors. Rewards: was offered opportunity to write for the paper, editor gave personal recommendation to write for three others, received several requests for consulting services, was given a car when mine broke down, and made dozens of friends.

Middle-aged gas station attendant. Treated all customers like royalty, brought lunch for mechanics often. Rewards: free work on my car after hours, and I later returned as customer service consultant to train crew.

Wardrobe consultant for The Men’s Wearhouse. Provided ultimate customer service, helped teammates do the same by offering advice and training whenever asked, treated customers and teammates with utmost respect. Rewards: was offered management position in less than three months, and entire store team was acknowledged as one of the finest examples of service-driven sales in the company, winning Top Store Team in its region that year.

Writer for MW’s new Web site, initially hired to write sales copy. Looked for ways to expand writing duties into other areas, actively sought ways to improve efficiency and team-building as a telecommuter, offered assistance to other departments. Rewards: constantly challenged by new and sometimes difficult assignments, and received high-quality mentoring from numerous sources, which has improved my writing skills. Was ultimately offered a position concentrating on Common Threads, which allows me to focus on issues about which I am very passionate.

Remember the saying “Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.” Sometimes you have to create your own fulfillment. You have to carefully consider each aspect of your job, looking for ways to transform it, bringing your reality closer to your dream.

Most of us will never have our dream job handed to us on a silver platter with a huge paycheck attached. We have to accept the responsibility of making it happen. Rather than griping about not having the job you really want, make the best of the job you have, and — if need be — plan out what you’ll do to improve your chances of getting your dream job later on.

My greatest reward has always been in knowing that I can do things that have a positive impact on others’ lives. I leave work contented, knowing I’ve done my best. And even when times have been financially tight, I’ve maintained the sense of fulfillment that I find through service.

We cannot all do great things,
but we can do small things with great love.
— Mother Teresa

Doing your best and making a positive contribution to someone else brings a satisfaction that money can’t buy. To look back on your day and know that you’ve served others brings a peace that’s priceless. And this peace is not dependent on your job.

It’s loving others and being loved in return that creates fulfillment . . . being content with the world and your own place in it . . . knowing you’ve done your best and contributed, even in small ways, to a better world. In the context of the work environment, acting from love shows up as doing your best and serving others. And the workplace manifestation of being loved back is the appreciation received for your efforts

It’s simple, but not simplistic. A little sappy? Well, maybe. But have you tried it? Have you given of yourself freely at work without worrying about getting something in return? I have, and it’s always worked for me. Oh yes, and one more thing: I do look forward to Mondays.

©2001 – Lane Baldwin

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