Serving others is our life purpose, Martin Luther King taught us.
I used to believe it and repeated that moral position to leaders in my coaching work, even though serving others never felt like my own primary purpose, I recognize now. Serving others seemed, at the time, to be a desirable life purpose for me, one that was in alignment with the values I learned growing up in the First Baptist Church. Serving others as a life purpose followed logically from believing that I must love others as myself.
If I simply examine my own relationships with other people over a long lifetime, however, I have to conclude that I haven’t met many people who were clear that their life purpose is serving other people. Lots of people do, in fact, serve other people; it’s just not their top priority.
As a coach to leaders in government, business, religious institutions, and philanthropic organizations , I worked with some leaders who are devoted to serving others as their top value. They were usually, I admit, the best leaders I observed—least likely among leaders to be arrogant, ego-driven, or operating out of a cloudy consciousness. But most leaders I coached and partnered with seemed motivated by lots of other things—power, money, personal ambition, or doing a good job. I didn’t hear them talking about serving others as their key interest.
I have served others all of my life and still do, but not because I think it’s my life purpose. I simply like to serve others. I like to give people love and support. Generally, I’m a do-gooder.
But I think now that I can’t hook my fate to the fate of the people I serve. The people I serve may or may not grow and develop. The people I serve may go down any number of paths that I will not want to share with them. In that sense, serving others is folly: my service may help or do harm. Those I serve may live a loving and aware life, or they may not. I’ll serve others, but I need to control my folly and keep my urge to help (too often it’s to rescue) in check.
I want to have a life purpose that is unquestionably likely to produce the best life possible for me and for others whose lives I touch.
My warrior path, a loving path, sets me on a course of learning.
Learning—growing my awareness—is my life purpose and everything else is subordinate to that purpose.
Expanding our consciousness is the life purpose for all of us in the human species, even though most have not evolved enough to recognize it.
Serving others may do harm if we don’t learn.
Thoreau said if he knew that someone was headed his way to help him he would run away as fast as possible. He recognized that he didn’t need anyone to improve him. He saw that people who claim to be devoted to serving others are often not primarily generous, but simply serving their own needs to proselytize or take over someone else’s life.
It is obviously possible to claim a life devoted to service to others at the same time being locked into behaviors and thinking that make real service impossible. All sorts of despots throughout history pronounced their great desire to help their societies or tribes, only to stumble because they never learned anything significant about themselves. The last thing they wanted to tell us was that they had something to learn. Not learning anything, not seeking better and better explanations for reality, they inevitably ended in ruin.
Political leaders, uniformly claiming that their lives are devoted to service, are very careful to avoid admitting error or mistakes. They feel too vulnerable to admit that they have lots to learn, just like the rest of us—even though we know that is true. If we say that our life is devoted to learning, we probably will not get elected to any office. If we want to run for office, we’d better claim that our life is devoted to serving others.
All kinds of people want to “serve” us. They want to sell us something—in the name of helping us, of course. Their service often is merely a thin cover for their real purpose—to earn a living or to do better than that—to get rich. Thus, we are bombarded day and night with messages from people who want to “serve” us.
Missionaries come to my rural door, driving a half-mile up our dusty road, in order to serve me. They have some truth to share with me, they always say, usually before they even ask my name or give me theirs. They are devoted to serving the Lord and their fellow human beings. They want to save me. The trouble is that they stopped learning long ago, if they ever did.
They believe that all of life’s questions are answered in the Bible, so expanding one’s consciousness, for them, is reading the Bible over and over. Service to others, then, takes the form of telling others about God’s word. This kind of service does not require conversation or even knowing anything about the person they hope to rescue from sin. They haven’t learned anything significant for a long time and that’s why they seem so childlike and self-absorbed. They are actually unable to expand their consciousness because they think there’s only one way to do that—obey the Lord’s word. Other religions also discourage real learning, which requires discovering flaws in the current bad explanation to discover better explanations for reality—and seeing a larger life.
All life goals or missions require learning to be manifested
Lots of people—maybe most—don’t have much clarity about their life purpose, but instead drift through life without a guiding framework.
I asked a friend the other day about his life purpose. He said, “To enjoy life.”
The trouble is that enjoying life cannot be our life purpose. Even if you think that enjoying life is your life purpose, you can’t achieve it without becoming more conscious, without learning and becoming more aware. Our life purpose is what we think we are on this earth to do. Our life purpose doesn’t go away over time. Our life purpose gives us clarity and direction for everything we do. Enjoying life every day, every hour, requires that you become a master of awareness.
To become a master of awareness, we must devote our life to learning. Learning is always primary: any other difficult goal—like enjoying life no matter what is happening—must be subordinate to growing and developing, become more self-aware.
Another friend told me that his life purpose is to protect his family. I was surprised at the modesty of his purpose: his family was his wife and two daughters. And what happens to his life purpose if they disappear somehow? If we have a life purpose, it will provide a framework for our entire lifetime no matter what happens in the external world.
But let’s suppose that he actually wants to achieve his stated life purpose. He will have to learn how to protect his family. He will have to learn to love them in the most healthy way if they are to be safe and thriving . He might claim that he knows how to protect them, but protecting other people can be a tricky business, complicated and nuanced. What happens when the kids grow up and don’t need or want his protection anymore ? What if his wife’s potential is suffocated by his “protection”? My friend will have to make learning his life purpose if he wants to protect his family.
Or what if you think your life purpose is to build an empire? You had better subordinate that goal to learning, or you will create a lot of trouble for yourself and others.
What if you think your life purpose is to create art? You will achieve your goal best if you subordinate that goal to learning—expanding your consciousness, becoming more aware.
And if you think that your life purpose is loving God with all your heart and soul, chances are great that you don’t really know how to do that very well, and you have a lot to learn.
Learning has to be our life purpose. All of our other dreams, goals, and objectives will fail if don’t become more conscious.
Learning will produce the best life
Once we are clear that we must become more conscious as our life purpose—learn to become more awake, more self-aware—we can accept more easily life’s challenges. We begin to see that all of our challenges are simply doors into what we must learn next that will expand our life.
And what we must learn next is always about love: every challenge before me demands that I be more loving.
I must learn to more fully embrace other people.
I must learn to more fully embrace this magnificent earth that gives birth to us and sustains us.
I must learn to be impeccable about the value of my own life as a laboratory for growing consciousness.
I pioneer on the frontiers of human emergence, looking, looking, breathlessly. I’m here to learn.