In Oct 2009, I started Twit Cleaner. This business has been through some ups & downs, but over the last year or so I noticed myself disconnecting almost completely. I’d lost all motivation for it, and for life in general. I’ve kept working, of course, but my heart just hasn’t been in it.
I knew (some how) that it was still the right thing for me to be doing, but I had lost that initial zest. It was still bringing in (a little) money; It suited my skillset, interests and desired lifestyle perfectly; I just couldn’t figure out why I was doing it.
And that ‘why’ is critical.
If you don’t know why you’re doing something, you’re not going to keep pushing forward through its vicissitudes, no matter what it is (and no, “for the money” isn’t a strong enough motivator).
In the back of my mind through all this, and indeed my whole life has been something I haven’t been able to connect to at all – the idea of ‘service’. I learned about this from quotes I first read decades ago:
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
– Albert Einstein
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
– Mahatma Gandhi
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.
– Rabindranath Tagore
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
– Albert Schweitzer
I figured these guys might know what they’re talking about.
Serving others though? Does that mean I should be, I dunno, a janitor? Also, doesn’t it all sound just a little menial? A little gruelling? A complete waste of my talent/skills/life?
Expanding or Contracting?
Now, the last year or so for me has been pretty tough. Some of the crap I’ve been through I wouldn’t wish on anyone (the details aren’t really important).
As I’ve tried to figure things out and work my way through it all, I’ve noticed my energy getting smaller and smaller. This is hardly surprising really, if all I’m thinking about is the problems in my life, of course my energy is going inwards. I’m looking inwards, not outwards.
As so often happens, I’ve watched it all play out through my Aikido.
I’m currently 2nd dan, working towards my 3rd. As part of this growth, my Sensei has been pushing me to be more expansive, more embracing of my attackers – essentially, to expand my energy field (which of course is mirrored in my posture, movement, inner weight, composure & unshakability while under attack).
As with everything in this universe of ours, things are always moving one way or another. Growing or shrinking. Expanding or contracting. Life is endlessly in motion.
So here I’ve been, shrinking, in my personal life, my Aikido and my work (it’s also why I haven’t been posting here very much). Simultaneously, I’ve been working as hard as I can to sort it all out – and making good internal progress, but still not really seeing much of that progress externally.
It’s been confusing as hell (and not a little stressful) but I’ve been persevering. I’m nothing if not tenacious.
The thing I realised this morning though, the thing that pulls all of this together, is this:
Joy, and the value of a life
Ultimately (and you’re welcome to disagree with me here, of course) the value of a life is simply whether the world, on balance, is better off through your being here.
Some people achieve this by raising beautiful families. Some by saving the whales, creating art, writing books and so on. Every person is born with a unique set of interests, skills and proclivities.
A great question for figuring out where you’re meant to be is – “What brings you the most joy?” (note: not enjoyment, joy)
We feel this joy because we’re either already really good at something (so can achieve things at a high enough level to satisfy our intuitive understanding of “the way things should be“) or what we’re doing speaks to us profoundly enough that we’ll persevere until we do become excellent.
The way we contribute to the world is through the effect we have on the people around us. We bring love into the world through our actions, through our work.
The areas we feel most drawn to and most passionate about are where we’re going to be bringing the most love into existence.
The way I figure it, if I’m lying on my deathbed, the ultimate question I want to ask myself is this: “Was the world a better place for having me in it?”
How this affects our lives
As I start to think and feel in terms of expressing love for the world – How can I help these people? How can I make their lives, even a little bit better? How can I best use the skills I have to achieve this? – I immediately notice the following:
- My energy shifts from contracting to expanding
- My head empties of any and all of ‘my’ nonsense
- I feel super motivated and connected to Get Stuff Done
- I feel (for lack of a better description) bigger, like, city-block bigger.
Ie, it puts me straight into flow. Straight into the highest, clearest, most powerful state of being. The state where, if I’m doing Aikido, my attackers somehow go flying in all directions with zero effort from me. The state where, if I’m coding, I look up after a couple of hours and I’ve suddenly completed dozens of tasks, many of which I may have been struggling with for weeks.
By focussing on loving those around me and using my skills and my joy to express that love, I detach completely from “the little me”, my ego, all that negative internal noise. I connect fully and completely to the most perfect, capable and highest part of myself.
Now, finally, I understand why the greatest minds have always stressed service so strongly. What people mean by “follow your bliss.” Until now I’ve never understood the ‘how’, or even the ‘why.’ Now, finally, I get it.
.. and as a bonus, I see exactly why having my skills and working to improve the lives – in a small but real way – of the 200 million people on Twitter, is exactly the right place for me to be.
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
– Muhammad Ali
A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.
– Henry Ford
The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.
– Lee Iacocca
Happiness… consists in giving, and in serving others.
– Henry Drummond
He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson