the pitfalls of service

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PitfaallsofService2013 has been a year of service for me.

I dedicated my career to service this January, and I’ve been focused on making that the highest priority and indicator of true success.

To help myself break the “money” focused measurements and goals, I created my own little service-based tracking system.

Rather than track dollars and cents as an indication of how healthy my business was, I tracked the number of times people told me that I had helped them.

Though I knew that this metric was far from an accurate picture of how much service I was really providing, it helped me break the focus on cashflow as a guide for my business decisions.

I believed deep down, that by focusing on helping people one-on-one, on the blog, and at live events, abundance would be a natural byproduct.

However, service tracking was really just another “shiny penny.”

Perhaps a seemingly more enlightened penny? Maybe.

But as I’ve discovered over the past five months, it’s not any more satisfying when used in the wrong way.

You see, I read a passage in Power vs. Force that has stuck with me:

The ladder of success seems to have three main steps: 

(1) Initially, it’s what one “has” that counts – that is, status depends upon visible signs of material wealth.

(2) As one progresses, status is afforded by what one “does,” rather than what one has – at this level on the ladder, one’s position and activities bring significant social status, but the attraction of social roles loses glamour as one achieves mastery and matures, for it’s what one has accomplished that is important.

(3) And finally, one is concerned only with what one has “become” as a result of life’s experiences – such people have a charismatic “presence” that is the outer manifestation of the grace of their inner power.

For me, last year was a year I got a lot of the “has” parts  in level one. In doing so, I realized that it truly does not mean that happiness and peace abound. So this year I decided to move to level two. I aligned my values with the level that I’m able to contribute.

At first, it was amazing. I found that living from a place of service is deeply satisfying and leads to amazing opportunities and sustained periods of true joy.

But the fact that I remained determined to track the service I was providing started to take it’s toll.

The downside of tracking, anything really, is that it can easily lead to an outward focus on “doing,” rather than the third success level: being.

Regardless of how many people I helped, as I continued to get some element of satisfaction from the number of people that I served, I remained unsatisfied.

I was putting my sense of self-worth on the amount of service I provided.

This became clear to me as I had my biggest “service” week ever, yet I found myself miserable.

My focus went from the selfish desires of level one, to outward service in level two. And in the process I lost my sense of intrinsic worth.

Online myopia crept in.

I always knew that my service tracking was simply a tool to help me break the satisfactions of level one success. But it was not the true answer.

Heck, Gandhi was never going around worrying about tracking how many people he helped each week. He simply lived his message.

So for the past month, I’ve stopped tracking my service. I’ve stopped tracking my income as an indicator of success.

I’m just kinda “floating by” with the intention to serve and listen to my gut.

Though I’d like to say that edging closer towards that level three has felt ammmmmazinggggg (said in Oprah’s intro voice), I’m not sure I can say that honestly.

Sure, it’s been nice to break the cycles of the last two levels. And I’m probably still in the level two “doing” – but without the focus on metrics.

The scary thing about living without metrics, is that there is less for my ego to latch onto as a means to validate my worth and growth as a person or a business owner.

Our society places so much emphasis on tracking and measurable progress that I’m now kinda at a loss.

Which, though uncomfortable, is really a blessing. 

This is the deepest lesson to learn. I am not “what I have,” nor “what I do.”

Though I may have paid a lot of lip service to that truism in the past, now I’m staring at it face to face.

I’m learning to just be.


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  1. Karen

    Very powerful. Thank you for expressing this today. I think the difficult thing about learning to just be, is that we worry that we will not continue to progress. I mean, if there’s no goal, and no measuring of progress towards that goal, won’t we just stagnate? But if we could truly learn to just be – in the truest sense of being – we would continue to progress and become what we are intended to be. Very thought provoking.

    1. Agreed! I think we all fear that we won’t be progressing if we don’t measure it.

      But I’m working on having the trust that I do deeply want to serve and do what excites me. So even if I don’t put parameters on things metrically, I will still keep going. I think we worry that if we don’t measure, we’ll stop. But really, that might just be a big lie/misconception.

      For me, I’m ready to find out if it’s true or not by giving it a try!

  2. I’ve fallen into the trap of tracking every little thing from sales to pageviews to keywords. It’s really overwhelming and it just makes me dizzy and stressed. This morning I planned out my business goals for May, and I’ve decided to stop tracking so much. What do those numbers mean exactly? It’s like you said, it’s about who you’re serving.

    I’m still a little confused about what goals I should make, what I should track, and what I should just let flow.

    1. Yes, I totally understand.

      It’s funny- I fall in this trap with my career, but in the Life with Intention workshop I’m really good about applying this principle to the other areas of my life… gotta work on getting that intentional point of view in my career.

      Just work on serving and doing what excites you.

  3. Really, really great insight. I always appreciate your blogs and thoughts, and this one hits home more than most (for many people, not just me, I’m sure). Just Be. Yes!

  4. eunice

    thanks for this. i’m facing some difficult decisions and everyday i look forward to reading your posts to see if it’ll help me move in any direction a little. i think some of us constantly need to keep ‘moving’ and ‘progressing’ and it’s really hard to just let go and be as you have said. it always seems as if after reaching a certain destination, things are not what they seem. perhaps it is to enjoy the journey along the way, and not worry about whatever destination we end up at. at least that’s what i’m trying to tell myself.

    1. Exactly. I kinda feel like the mouse who was running around in the maze and kept hitting dead ends. I finally just decided to sit and rest for a bit. Right where I was. And let that be enough.

      Not what I *thought* would lead to peace, it actually works.

  5. Maureen

    Jess this is great advice (as I’m sure you’ve noticed by how many tweets I gave it)!
    I struggle with the same things daily and it’s hard. You want to know that you are doing a good job and often I feel like I’m not unless someone tells me I am. How silly though, we know what feels right for ourselves.
    It’s nice to know you are trusting that for yourself!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Maureen! I’m happy you enjoyed this post and it’s great to know you are working on this in your own life, too!

  6. Jess – I know your reading list is probably super long, but you should consider reading Brene Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”. It’s a short read and talks a lot about what you’ve outlined in this post – that self-worth needs to come from inside (accepting that you are enough) and not from external validation (metrics, feedback from others, possessions, etc.). But it also goes much deeper than that. The book was hugely transformational for me – I think you’d like it, too.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation, Leslie! I will add it to the list. It’s great to know that it could help me with this- I am putting it on the list!

  7. stef

    Jess, I hesitate to bring this up because I worry it will sound judgmental and you aren’t obligated to share your entire life with us. I realize and respect that. I admire that you are working to define success around achievements instead of money earned, but that’s a luxurious position to be in, no? You removed the Jess LC revenue stream and removed ads from the blog so the money is coming from consultation and Mr. Lively’s income, I assume. You’re dedicating yourself to service, but you still have to get the bills paid. Could you have taken this perspective before you were married? I know we’re getting into the grimy details of your personal family funds and I absolutely don’t want to go there. I guess… having the ability to *not* stress about money or use it as a metric for success sort of implies that you’re already successful, right?

    I guess it’s a discussion more than a question. I essentially cut my pay in half to leave a marketing job in Detroit and move cross country to own a small business. We’ve worked hard to improve the health of the business and I suppose we could pay ourselves more, but we’d just be removing cash that could be used to further improve. It’s tough to shift my thinking from “ugh, I make so much less at 30 than I did at 25” to “we’ve really improved the reputation, people are happy, therefore we’re succeeding.” We also left behind a house and we’re living in my parents vacation home now. Clearly I’m in a position of privilege to even be *able* to do this, so should that be “enough”?

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your situation! I’m happy to hear you are thinking about these things as well.

      Though I will not get into any nitty-gritty details about my financial situation – as that is not the scope of this blog, I will say that my financial obligation to my family is exactly the same as it was when I was single and growing Jess LC. So truly, nothing has changed in the area of what I “need to earn.”

      Earning more would be great, but earning less than before would be very irresponsible, financially speaking.

      That financial number has also remained constant while I have moved through these levels of “having,” “doing,” and “being” as well.

      So though a dual income household often provides more stability; we have increased our lifestyle *to include* what I earned with Jess LC and as a single person going forward.

      Simply put: without my steady income, our family could not live the way we do. To meet our obligations, my income must remain constant – or increase.

      Is it as crazy stressful as it was when I was having anxiety attacks when I was 23 right out of school with a small business full-time? No.

      And perhaps there is some level of stability that allows me to move forward in the steps mentioned above. That progression might actually be quite common for most people, too. But I don’t believe that is truly the only way possible.

      I did not “skip” any steps though. I “had,” then “did,” and now I’m working on “be.”

      Wherever you are in your journey, it’s about your own story, journey, and acceptance of what truly matters and serves you best.

      Live where you are and do what feels right for you.

      This is simply my story and journey so far.

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