In 1998 I had an experience that had a deep and lasting effect on me. Erin and I were eating lunch at a local soup and salad place, and I noticed a woman cleaning the tables nearby. She looked very sad and depressed, as if she’d just been chastised by her supervisor or had gotten some bad news.
Erin and I didn’t have a lot of money at the time — even eating this cheap meal was a stretch for our budget — but as we were getting up to leave, I walked up to this woman, handed her a $5 bill and said, “I know you’re probably not appreciated for the work you do, but I want you to know that we think you’re doing a great job.”
The woman’s facial expression changed instantly, from sadness to genuine gratitude. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thank you soooo much.” She did her best to hold back tears but with only partial success. I don’t recall what else she said to me, but I’ll always remember the look on her face. In that moment we really connected –human being to human being. I doubt it was the $5 that mattered to her — it was the fact that someone acknowledged her as a real person. Erin and I were both deeply moved by the experience.
That event taught me that even when I’m not in a great place myself, I still have the capacity to make a positive difference for someone else. I don’t have to do something extraordinary — 30 seconds to offer a kind word to a stranger is all it takes.
Doing that small service for this woman popped me out of my own worries. At least temporarily I entered a higher state of consciousness… shooting right up to the state of joy. I didn’t maintain that state for long, but I had a powerful reference experience that left me a different person.
In my adult life, I’ve experienced two primary forms of motivation. The first kind is self-centered or ego-driven. That’s the motivation to achieve, to do my best, to succeed. The second kind is other-centered or service-driven. That’s the motivation to give, to help, to contribute.
Self-centered motivation launched my computer games business in 1994. It was what I wanted to do. That motivation worked OK for many years. It took me to a decent place in my life, but I eventually saw that it was a dead end. I knew I’d never be truly fulfilled no matter how successful I became at achieving my personal goals.
When I started StevePavlina.com in 2004, I shifted my primary motivational fuel from serving myself to serving others. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to do, I focused on what I wanted to give. This helped me to start pushing past my ego and stop fussing over my problems. I knew I was focusing on something more important. I’m nowhere near perfect at this, and I still oscillate between both of these forms of motivation, but the desire to contribute has always been the stronger of the two. Whenever I notice myself getting sucked into ego-driven motivation, I feel much less inspired and more overwhelmed. That’s when I call a timeout to reconnect with what truly matters, such as by meditating or journaling.
I wish I could adequately express in words the tremendous joy that comes from service-based motivation. When I’m in this state of joy, I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, regardless of my circumstances. Over the past two years, I’ve often said to myself, “Whatever happens to me during the course of my life — physically, socially, or financially — I can always choose to focus on giving. When I’m in that state, nothing else matters. I cease to exist as a separate being and merge into an expression of divine oneness.”
When I focus on serving myself, I feel like I’m drawing upon my own energy reserves. But when I focus on serving others, it’s like I’m plugging into a much more powerful battery. Energy flows through me instead of from me. I become a conduit instead of a terminal node. I feel totally inspired and fulfilled.
Give yourself the opportunity to experience this state of joy for yourself. Sometime within the next couple days, I ask you to perform one small act of kindness for someone you don’t know. The reason I suggest it be someone you don’t know is so you’ll experience the power of stepping outside your comfort zone… and also so you’ll recognize that you have the power to give no matter where you are. Do something that isn’t a big sacrifice for you but which will make a positive difference for someone else. Offer a few words of praise, an encouraging letter, a small gift, a little favor. Center yourself in your heart as you do this; feel the desire to do something that is genuinely selfless. Don’t be concerned with how the other person may react.
Right now take a moment to put out the intention for this opportunity to present itself. Phrase your intention however you wish, and say it aloud. Here’s a simple suggestion: “I am now performing a simple, heart-centered act of service that will make a positive difference in someone’s life.”
If everyone who visits this website today follows this simple suggestion, we’ll collectively perform thousands of acts of service. Even one kind gesture makes a difference. What will you do to help make life just a little better for someone else today?