Advice to my daughters: Serve

I didn’t know what to do next.  As a young adult, having just completed my first round of post-secondary education, I had reached one of the first transitions in life where it was really up to me to decide the way forward.  What was I going to do with the education I had just acquired?  Was I to continue further down the same general path of learning or strike out into something completely different?  Should I look for a full-time job, or combine work with more schooling?  These sorts of questions occupied my mind for weeks.

Confiding in an older friend, I was given some of the best wisdom I have ever received: “Find someone whose vision and work resonates with you, and commit yourself to serving them.  Just serve, and learn.”

And that is exactly what I did, several times over, well into my own career.  I looked around and identified leaders whom I thought I could learn from and joined their team.  Did I always agree with them?  No, of course not.  But I did my best to remain loyal, trustworthy and faithful in my service.  And from each one I have learned – slowly – many valuable lessons about leadership and finding ways to “put legs” on ideas.

One of the temptations in life is believing that having a theoretical framework is actually possessing knowledge.  It isn’t.  The education one gets from books and the classroom is at once wonderful, interesting, challenging, and a privilege.  Yet it is not knowledge until it is mingled with experience.  Anyone can regurgitate the ideas they pick up, partially processing and restating what has already been said by others.  But the world is not so much in need of more vacuous commentators as it is of those who will roll up their sleeves and get to work serving others.

Wasn’t this the basic complaint Jesus had about the Pharisees?  They had plenty of ideas about godliness, but no experience of it.  Jesus could “teach as one with authority” because he had genuine personal experience backing up what he said.  (I find some politicians to be fine examples of modern-day Pharisees: self-proclaimed experts on social justice, finances, foreign relations, or whatever, without ever having served the poor, run a business, or lived overseas.)

As a young adult one of the greatest challenges is acquiring experience.  I would suggest that the best way to look at it is not in terms of “finding a job”, but rather “finding whom to serve”.  It may be that this will be at your place of employment, but it could be otherwise.  Find a mentor and a vision you can give yourself to, someone who is building something worthy and who could use a dependable assistant.

And when the time comes when you feel you have learned all that you can or will from this person, gracefully bow out and look for a new mentor.  No servant is greater than his master; you can only learn as much from someone as they themselves know.

One thought on “Advice to my daughters: Serve

  1. one of the best pieces of career advice i rec’d – “Serve the Gift”. i have failed to find many human mentors on my past career path, and it would be a good exercise in humility to be able to serve one, with pleasure, but I have always been happy to serve the gift. thanks for this! it should be distributed to all career centers at high schools in the universe.

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