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Service Is Not Your Purpose in Life

Or maybe it is. But it doesn't have to be.

Source: Asierromero / AdobeStock

Most conversations about purpose these days revolve around the concept of service.

If you’re an artist, you serve your community by creating beauty.

If you’re a barber, you serve others by making them feel good about their appearance.

Few people tout the service inherent in investment banking or real estate development, but you can make the argument there as well.

Rich people need bankers, and everyone needs buildings. Voila! If you’re out in the world to make money, your purpose, ultimately, is still to serve others.

But why twist a perfectly good hot dog bun into a pretzel? A hot dog bun is a hot dog bun. It’s not a pretzel and it doesn’t need to be—unless you think pretzels are valid and hot dog buns aren’t.

Service to others is perfectly valid as a life purpose. I’m partial to it myself. But making art, or money, or engines, or socio-political movements—those are valid purposes, too.

They’re different from service. Let’s let them be different.

Service By Accident

The fact that art, music, writing and other creative pursuits sometimes please others is a coincidence. The purpose of creativity is never to serve. It’s to create.

Wealthy people give millions to charity every year. It doesn’t mean that giving is their purpose.

Service to others isn’t the only motivation for performing the socially desirable act of “giving back.” It boosts your reputation. It also makes you feel like a million bucks. So to speak.

Are there true philanthropists whose sole and genuine purpose is giving? Of course there are.

But if you got seriously rich by skill rather than birth, let’s not kid ourselves...

Philanthropy is a hobby. Your aptitude for turning money into more money points to a calling. What’s a purpose but a calling answered?

Your Purpose Is What You Do

Take your purpose off the hook. Forget about being of service if service itself is not your bag. Just do your thing, whether it’s playing music, studying frogs, making a fortune or making pies.

Let your aptitudes reveal your purpose. The philosopher-poet Rumi said, “Each of us has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”

Your aptitudes are the talents you were born with. They constitute your desire for a particular work and they shine a light on your purpose.

Your "work" can be paid or unpaid. It’s just another word for purpose.

Your work might involve child-rearing, cross-cultural communication, or building birdhouses.

Maybe it’s radio announcing. Or coding. Or writing mysteries.

Tending a garden, understanding an ancient civilization, and predicting the weather are three more examples of valid purposes.

If any of these provide service to others, call it a happy coincidence.

What About Meaning?

Wherever purpose goes, meaning wants to follow.

Meaning answers the question, "Why do I do what I do?” It’s hard to answer that question without knowing what your “work” is.

Get clear on your purpose first. Even a purpose that seems selfish is valid if it’s based on your aptitudes.

Don’t try to make a hot dog bun into a pretzel by insisting on a purpose that overtly serves others.

What you're here to do probably does serve others in some way, but you don’t have to figure out how and, anyway, it doesn’t matter.

The real service types in this world have got it covered, I promise. So get out there and stick a wiener on that bun.

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