How should I serve others?

This is a question that comes up from time to time, particularly when it comes to serving my clients.

Serving my clients comes with a tricky proposition. Globally, I serve my clients through coaching and consulting because it has been placed on my heart to serve individuals in this way. When I am in the act of serving someone, I am constantly making minute by minute decisions and judgments about what to say, the questions I should be asking, and the energy I should be directing towards the client.

And I do expect a return. Because I am in business, I ask for a financial return in exchange for the time and energy I dedicate to my clients.

This dynamic creates a certain sort of tension – How to serve egolessly (which suggests taking ME out of the center of the process), while also serving to support myself (which suggests putting at least a part of me into the process).

It’s a tension that freaked me out for a long time because I didn’t really know how to deal with it: serving, while expecting something in return. In searching for answers, I came across texts and examples that explain what it means to “serve egolessly”.

The example that has resonated with me the most is in the book The Myth of Freedom by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He has a definition of “egoless serving” that I utilize as the core of how I intend to serve. In the chapter “Working With People”, he writes:

If we learn to not make a nuisance of ourselves and then to open ourselves to other people, then we are ready for the third stage — selfless help. Usually when we help someone, we are looking for something in return. We might say to our children, “I want you to be happy, therefore I am putting all of my energy into you,” which implies that, “I want you to be happy because I want you to provide me with entertainment; bring me happiness, because I want to be happy.”

Reading this passage drove straight to the heart of the tension that I feel when I serve others in my business. It intensified the question – am I able to serve egolessly in business if I am expecting a financial return?

I read on . . .

In the third stage of selfless help, true compassion, we do not do things because it gives us pleasure but because things need to be done. Our response is selfless, noncentralized. It is not for them or for me. It is environmental generosity.

In this passage, I found a seedling of guidance. What needs to be done for the clients I serve? Can I strive to do what needs to be done, while also expecting payment?

Being the answer to this question is not easy work. I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy. It requires being honest with where I am and what I am feeling, while also striving to serve egolessly. The tension I feel does not need to be resolved, but contemplated and worked through. In fact, Rinpoche provides guidance on this very point:

But we cannot just go out and try to practice this kind of compassion. First we must learn how not to make a nuisance of ourselves. If we can make friends with ourselves, if we are willing to be what we are, without hating parts of ourselves and trying to hide them, then we can begin to open to others. And if we can begin to open without always having to protect ourselves, then perhaps we can begin to really help others.

I have come to accept the fact that I will spend my lifetime striving towards egoless serving. In other words, it’s not about waiting to be struck with a permanent sense of “egolessness” before going out and serving. I work towards this state through the process of serving others.

So what do I do particularly as part of my commitment towards serving egolessly? I do 3 things:

Intention

Before I serve my clients, I set a clear intention. My desire is to do what needs to be done for the client, and I ask for help in doing this. I ask to be opened up so that I can be a channel; saying the things that need to be said; asking the questions that need to be asked; and directing the energy that needs to be sent.

Inspiration

I also reflect on individuals who serve as models of egoless serving. Actually, it’s just one individual at the moment: Pema Chödron. Having listened to numerous talks that she’s given and read her books, I feel the energy of egoless service coming from her, and think of her whenever I feel stuck.

On this point I must emphasize that it’s not about copying Pema. Rather it’s about using her as inspiration. Reflecting on how she’s answered questions that individuals have posed to her; and how she explains her mission in life. Thinking on her and asking for help in following her example.

Integration

And then I integrate these things by serving. I serve as much as I can, understanding that egoless serving is not a “thing” to be achieved, but a process to be worked through. A concept that I can only taste and chew on by getting into the act of service.

If I go through my entire lifetime and only experience a millisecond of egoless serving, then I will consider my time well spent.

And about the “asking for money” part? It is much easier to do this, regardless of the tension I feel. I attribute this to practice and the experience I’ve gained over the years. I also attribute it to the commitment I’ve made towards egoless serving. I ask for money not because I expect individuals to keep me happy. I ask for money because it needs to be done: Serving clients by asking them to value the time and energy that I put into them. And serving them by respecting their decision: to value what I do and pay me, or to decline my offer. Again, this is where the tension lies, but I am much more at peace with it now.