Service from AbundanceDec 17, 2023
The process of getting into medical school can be arduous. When I went through it 20 years ago, it required my high school ranking (HSC/ATAR/VCE etc) plus performance in the UMAT which is a different style of test that looks at things like non-verbal reasoning and finally- the interview stage. Only a small percentage of applicants ever make it to the interview stage, which then cuts the field down to the final successful applicants. It's a tough process and every medical student knows that if you're lucky enough to get to the interview stage, you should have some idea of an answer to one question in particular... "Why do you want to study medicine?".
I remember answering this question by talking about how much I wanted to be of service to people in their times of need. I spoke of having a strong pull to being with people, to caring for them and helping them to navigate life with health and wellbeing. Having also sat on the panel as an interviewer now as well, it's a common response. Being of service to others is something that draws many of us in the health & healing professions to our work.
As I look back on my path to this very point in my life, I can see that the desire to be of service to others has very much been a guiding light for me, so much so that it eventually formed a huge part of my self identity. I was a helper, a healer, a giver to others... I didn't need helping, healing or service from anyone else, I did that for others. So when I experienced burnout, one of the biggest issues that I needed to work through was that not only was my self worth tied complicatedly with my ability to serve others, but also, I had used the act of serving others as an excuse for many, many years to disregard the important acts of service that I needed to show myself. Things like- building my self awareness, prioritising my own self care and learning how to sit with the discomfort of my own humanity with kindness & compassion.
As I emerged from the haze of burnout, what I could see was that while being of service to others is very much a noble path, that when it is used as an excuse to disregard our own needs it isn't in fact altruism as I had often told my self in the past. It is self sacrifice.
Whether you're a healthcare professional, teacher, business owner or even a parent, in order to serve others sustainably, we must first learn how to meet ourselves with kindness & compassion. In order to do this, we must feel connected to ourselves. We must learn how to sit with the discomfort that arises within everyone from simply being human- from making mistakes, from not always being able to help others even when we want to, from needing to place and hold boundaries around our time & energy, from witnessing injustice and sometimes not being able to do anything about it.
Being human is hard.
And if we constantly focus outwardly on always serving others without balancing this commitment to service with the commitment to self awareness as well then we will burn out. Because in the absence of a deep and compassionate connection with ourselves, we are giving from a bucket without a source of replenishment. We must measure out our energy as we know deep down that it comes from an ever depleting reserve. This is Service from Scarcity.
For me, I know that I am acting of service from a scarcity mindset when someone asks for something of me and whether I realise it consciously or not, that withdrawal from my 'Bank of Service' will tip me into debit. My body and mind often automatically responding out of self preservation with tinges of passive aggressive undertones... "How dare they ask that of me!" Don't they realise I'm already doing so much?!". I only have so much energy or time left, I simply must meter it out in ever valuable aliquots as I watch my own needs fall by the wayside. Often, I don't realise this until I look back in hindsight at my actions and responses. I can see that I am becoming shorter with people, more reactive. While I'll still be performing as expected out in the world (after all, I am still being of service) it is my inner landscape that most clearly shows that I am serving from scarcity.
So you might be wondering what is the alternative to this?
Perhaps some of the above rings uncomfortably true for you too?
You might be wondering how you do things differently?
How can you serve others and be truely replenished by that?
Service from Abundance starts exactly the same way- with a deep seated desire to be of service to the world. You are the same person- one who is dedicated, compassionate and altruistic.
The difference is in that very next step... you commit to the process of building your self awareness and discovering how to meet your needs as a person. You learn how to sit with the uncomfortable emotions that inevitably arise in the process of being human. You seek support- be that via formal mental health support (psychology, counselling or coaching), that of a spiritual guide or mentor (meditation teachers, life coaches, religious leaders) or that of your own personal support networks and connections (friends, family and like minded people). And while this can of course occur concurrently with the act of serving others, it does in my experience take a large commitment of time and energy- so it is OK if you need to step back from your commitment to others for a little bit as you embark upon this journey. It is not forever, and it is through this process that you unlock the ability to serve others more sustainably.
For someone like me, who used to determine my worth by how much I could help others- this process of withdrawal and reflection felt selfish. It was actually a painful process to go through. Although the fact that I had burnt out and had nothing left to give in some ways helped me because at that moment in my life I literally couldn't do anything else other than learn how to attend to my own self care- like regular exercise, eating a diverse, whole foods diet, prioritising my sleep and nurturing my social connections. As I got those basics under control, I committed to a lot of long needed work on my headspace, including processing my family of origin dynamics (if that is you too, these are definitely things best done with a registered mental health professional!). What I began to see was that I had used my desire to help and be of service to others for a very long time as an excuse not to engage in this work earlier. It was an uncomfortable realisation.
The process of recovery from burnout often comes with many uncomfortable realisations.
What came from this process however was the ability to finally look towards myself and my experiences with kindness. Despite many years of meditation & mindfulness practice prior to burning out, this was the much needed key to unlock the practice of self compassion for me. With it came a deeper and more authentic understanding of myself, something that has been even more profoundly augmented by my ongoing meditation practice in recent years. While I don't think that everyone needs to meditate in order to be of sustainable service to others, I do think that the awareness of self and state that comes from sustained meditation practice does certainly act as a wonderful adjunct to the cycle. I also know that meditation comes in many forms, not just that of sitting in silence.
So, learning how to serve from a place that replenishes you rather than simply depleting you is as much a skill as any other that you will learn in your life time. Just as you dedicate time and energy to the mastering of any other skill, this one also deserves your commitment and ongoing focus. It is not selfish and it is not unkind to dedicate some of your precious time and energy to yourself. In fact, it is the most selfless act you can commit to because it is this that allows you to continue to serve others sustainably.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and how you can begin the process of learning how to serve from a place of abundance check out my FREE 7 Days of Mindful Self Care course. Or to learn how you can work with me in 2024 to master the skill of serving from a place of abundance then check out the services I offer.
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