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Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

The Joy of Making a Contribution

It may sound paradoxical, but it’s hard to be happy and fulfilled if you’re living a life without meaning, and it’s hard to have a life with meaning if you’re not serving someone other than yourself. Fulfillment and aliveness never come through self-gratification. If you really want to experience the joy of being alive at work, devote yourself to serving others.

As a competitive water-skier in college, Kevin and a team of nationally-ranked athletes competed for San Diego State University in the National Intercollegiate Water Ski Championships. As the tournament drew to an end the competition was so close that any one of three schools might have captured the title. The last event of the tournament was the men’s jump competition. Kevin remembers going into this event with adrenaline pumping and everything on the line. The last thing he wanted to do was let his teammates down. Every member of the team was passionately engaged, focused on turning in a spectacular individual performance, not for themselves, but for the sake of the team.

San Diego State won by an extremely narrow margin and Kevin had the longest jump of the tournament. Winning the men’s jump title was thrilling, but the profound part of the experience was witnessing the synergistic power that explodes when individuals put their personal needs behind the needs of the team. Much more than an individual victory, the ability to make a contribution that brought joy and excitement to his teammates was, for Kevin, the far greater reward.

Ask any member of that championship ski team what had the most impact on them and what they remember most and few would say “winning.” The more profound memory was the DNA that made this team special—being connected to people who looked out for each other. It feels good to serve. It satisfies a deep yearning to make a difference that resides in all of us. When we fulfill this longing and transcend our selfish tendencies we find meaning in our lives. The powerful take-away from this experience was that team spirit comes out of individuals’ desires to serve one another in the pursuit of something bigger than themselves—in this case a national title.

When we work directly to do good for others, meaning expands in our own lives. Basketball coaching-great Pat Riley says, “When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort, its ready to climb.” And climb our team did.

When we truly believe in the positive impact we can have on others, serving them becomes more important than our own needs. Knowing this type of happiness and enjoyment leads us to experience something very special: servanthood as a source of meaning, joy, and fulfillment instead of something oppressive, dehumanizing, or taxing.

Do you have a spirit of service? Find out.