Serve Others

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

—Proverbs 11:25

What if the secret to a joyful, prosperous life is taking the focus off of yourself and putting it on how you can serve and help other people?

It's an intriguing idea, yet it may seem counterintuitive, especially when you may be in your lowest moments and feel you need the most help yourself. When you're in a transition period, and you're looking for your next chapter in life, you might say, “How does serving others help me here?” It's hard to see past your situation when you're in the middle of it.

What if using our unique gifts to go out and have an impact on others brings us the most clarity and satisfaction in life? And what if serving others inevitably makes us more wildly joyful and prosperous than we could imagine? And what if finding your unique way to serve others and bring value to them was the secret to bringing you financial success as well?

I believe serving others is the ultimate secret to success. I feel I am living proof of that. Yet, it took quite a journey for me to come to that conclusion.

How I Came to Adopt a Serving Others Mentality

In 2012 I was having lunch with a good friend of mine, Ronnie Cordrey. Ronnie is the head of Men's Ministry at Southeast Christian Church, one of the largest churches in the United States. Here's the thing about Ronnie—he lived with more joy than anybody I had ever seen. It just permeates out of his body. So when I peeled back the layers on that (and I know everybody, including Ronnie, has their struggles in life), I felt like he modeled joy better than anyone I had ever seen. I asked him what the secret to all of his joy was.

He said he tried to live by Proverbs 11:25, which states, “a generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” He said someone challenged him to live by this, and he challenged me to do the same. Ronnie explained just to try and be as generous as possible in life, and, ultimately, I would always be rewarded back.

After that fateful lunch, I went home and wrote it down. I studied it and committed it to memory. And each day since, that's been my philosophy in life. I look to build others up. I've committed myself to deepening my generosity, and I strive to be more generous with my time, talent, and treasure. As a result, we've seen so many blessings come back to us—sometimes in the form of tangible gifts or financial blessings and other times it's simply feeling joy and fulfillment that I've helped someone else with something I had to offer.

It's been 10 years since that meeting. I felt a big switch back then, and I'm still talking about that meeting because it was a pivotal moment for me, and made everything just click. Honestly, Ronnie's whole personality was full of so much joy it made it easy to stick with. I wanted to live like that, too! It was amazing to watch how resilient he was and his impact on so many men in our community and our church. It made me want to make an impact through the platforms I had available and the gifts God gave me.

I started to become a better leader within our team. I began to feel like I was more of an asset to my family. I suddenly felt like I was a better friend, and it changed my whole mindset on generosity.

It's good that the idea was so branded into my brain because I would be tested when I lost my football career. It took some powerful reminders that, even during adversity, generosity and serving others was the right path.

My Challenges with Serving Others After My Pivot Point

I was so grateful for the job I had with the Bills, my family, my salary, my friends, and so much more. Then, after my injury, my career was gone.

So there was a new uncomfortable question I had to ask myself: “You were making more money than you thought possible, and it seemed easier to be generous then. Now, can you live by it? When football is taken away?”

It was a confusing time, and I truly felt I was probably not focused on serving others as much as I should have been because I was so concerned with what would come next for me. About this time, when I first started the podcast, one of my first guests was Chris Burke, a former Major League baseball player from Louisville, Kentucky. Chris had already blazed a trail transitioning from professional baseball to his retired life and shared incredible insight.

At some point during the podcast interview, Chris said something I would never forget: “Focus on serving others, and it will make this transition to your next chapter so much easier.” When I heard him speak those words so clearly, it was as if Proverbs 11:25 lived inside of me again, and it hit home. My mind shifted from “What am I going to do next to prove to other people that I'm worthwhile on this earth now that my football career is gone?” to “How can I use my gifts to serve others?”

Thinking about all the lives I could affect positively and all the people I could serve helped everything I was doing be about something much more important than just my career.

The Long‐Term Benefits of Generosity and Serving Others

It's a nice thing to think that generosity often comes back to you. The ironic thing is that a generous heart isn't doing it for the benefit. The giving itself should be its own reward. Nonetheless, pure altruism and serving others almost always yield other rewards, too. Long‐term studies have shown time and again the tremendous benefits of being generous with your friends, family, colleagues, and the larger community.

Some studies suggest that generosity and service in the form of volunteerism may extend one's life. For example, the John Templeton Center at UC Berkeley produced a research paper in May 2018 entitled “The Science of Generosity.” In it, they note the surprisingly positive impact of generosity on mortality:

The same research paper found that giving social support is more beneficial to your mortality than receiving it:

Serving others doesn't have to look like volunteerism or even grand gestures of social support. Sometimes it is smaller, simple acts such as giving emotional support to your spouse or helping out with the housework. Altruistic acts like these are also a service and great for extending your life. The study explains:

In our work lives, multiple studies confirm that generosity is essential to retaining happiness at work. For example, the University of Wisconsin–Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs had their research summarized in their 2013 in‐house article “Virtue Rewarded: Helping Other People at Work Makes People Happier” in 2013:

Being generous and serving others is also good for our mental health and immune systems and helps us build a social network and a meaningful place in our community. In a 2010 Psychology Today article titled “Generosity: What's in It for You?” author Lisa Firestone first describes how acts of altruism are good for our overall health:

She also explains that generosity causes others to return the favor, with generous gestures acting as a multiplier that connects the community at large:

Study after study confirm the measurably positive impacts of serving others and how it's great for your health, your work life, and the health and strength of the community at large. Let's run through those benefits again:

  • Generosity toward others increases measurable feelings of happiness.
  • Generosity in the form of volunteerism can extend your life.
  • Giving social support is more beneficial to your mortality than receiving it.
  • Small acts of emotional support and altruism also extend your life.
  • Generosity is essential to retaining happiness at work.
  • Being generous and serving others is good for your mental health, your immune system, and helps you build a meaningful place in your community.
  • Being generous is contagious and has a positive snowball effect on others who want to pay it forward.

There is no downside to helping others, and science seems to confirm that. It's not just wishful thinking or new age sentiment. Start focusing on others if you want to enjoy the finer things in life and a more fulfilling existence. It can only come back to you in return.

The Unexpected Benefits of Serving Even When You Are at a Pivot Point

Culturally, it is challenging because we live in a Western society, and there tends to be a selfish tendency in our attitude toward success. As a result, many of us want to see tangible returns. Yet, unlike traditional investments, which pay you tangible returns over a finite amount of time, your investment in service to other people often gets repaid in intangibles over your entire lifetime. Some of these intangibles you will never see on a balance sheet, but their positive impact on you are real and measurable.

Your relationships become incredibly enriched. If you pour your energy into others, especially your spouse or significant other, the benefits become immediate and exponential. And the two of you as a couple can only grow stronger. There's an amazing book that expands on the service mentality in successful relationships called What Radical Husbands Do by Regi Campbell. It's all about serving your spouse and how, with service, your relationship will prosper physically and emotionally like you never thought possible.

I've also found through serving others, I have become calmer, at peace, and satisfied with the good I was helping to become a reality. It also just feels right. I've been incredibly blessed, and I think it is only appropriate to help other people when I can.

If you are picking up this book in the middle of a transition period, and you're looking to make the next chapter in your life your best chapter, trust me on this point. Take the focus off yourself and pour your gifts and efforts into serving the world. Find ways to serve people within your chosen profession. At the very least, pour service and love into your friends, significant other, or spouse. The benefits will come back to you tenfold.

Once you see everything through the lens of service, the quality of your relationships will vastly improve. You will see all kinds of little opportunities to serve every day. I'll give a simple example in my own life. Every morning I prepare all the fixings for coffee on the counter so my wife Leslie can enjoy a hot cup of coffee. I don't do it out of expectation. I'm doing it because it's a little thing I can do every day to serve her. Inevitably, she'll do something sweet back in return to me, which just makes our relationship tighter.

All of these tiny acts of service inside a relationship add up into something much greater than the whole. When you start living like that every day, you're not going to have to pound Proverbs 11:25 into your head to remind you to be of service. It's just going to be there, like anything else you practice. It will become an innate routine and part of the way you see and interpret the world.

Anything you do repetitively that shows positive fruit in your life, you're going to want to keep doing. It becomes part of your DNA.

Finding Ways to Serve in All the Buckets of Your Life

Sometimes it's important to step back and see how you are already serving in the world. Ask yourself the question, “What good are you doing? How does your profession help people?” If you're having trouble figuring it out, remember that you wouldn't be getting paid for any job if it wasn't valuable or of service to somebody.

We have all lived through unprecedented times, when we are finally starting to recognize the importance of people who sell us groceries as essential workers, literally vital to keeping civilization fed and operative. Our context also changed to include many other professions as essential, such as delivery and mail people, garbage collectors, and janitors as essential workers alongside doctors and scientists. We literally cannot run society without them.

Similarly, anything you do, any task that you are paid for or is helpful to anyone, is a way to serve. If you get behind the mindset and intentional about that service, you'll find both your satisfaction and impact increase.

In order to light someone up and make a positive impact on them, you'll have to use your gifts. That's why one of the first chapters in this book is about recognizing your gifts. You'll need to have a clear idea of how you can contribute to be of service and maximize your impact on others. You'll have a certain clarity about where you belong and how you can be useful. Whatever your skill, you have an opportunity to serve.

There's a men's group that I serve each week at our church. I get to practice some of the leadership skills I learned in football, as well as my connecting ability, because I've always been social. I love working with them, seeing their relationships affected and their lives enriched with more joy. I get such tremendous gratification from that, knowing that I can help others around me who are trying to improve their lives. I just wanted to serve—the rewarding feelings just happened as a result.

I've had a similar experience with my podcast. At first, my guests were mainly other athletes with similar experiences to mine. As the show went forward, the focus shifted to learning from high performers in various industries. I wanted to create content that would uplift and have an impact on others. I've heard countless stories of people who have adapted something that they heard on the podcast.

In turn, every guest served me in some fashion. Even if it was a reciprocal deal where I would do something on one of their shows afterward, they still served my listeners and me with their time and knowledge.

Even with my sports broadcasting work, I like to feel motivated by how it serves other people. I know that people work hard all week, and they get to watch this football game. They love this game, just like I do, and I like to deepen their enjoyment by offering my analysis and giving them practical knowledge to get smarter about the game. I'm trying to project positive energy to enrich their experience.

I'm not one to hide my faith, so I like to point people to Christ when appropriate and when I can. As a result, I've brought many people to my church and have benefited from watching people deepen their relationship with God and their greater community. That is incredibly rewarding because I know I helped them start on a journey they'll be on for the rest of their lives.

Internal Challenges of a Serving Mentality

Being in service takes humility. That alone can be the biggest challenge for some people, especially those who have been successful for a long time and have been in the spotlight.

That humble posture is deceptive. To some people, it might appear they are lowering themselves, that it takes something away from their platform of influence. They're worried that humility and service might diminish them somehow. We can all take a page out of Jesus's playbook, credited as being the most influential person in history by many nonreligious publications, when he said that he “came to serve and not be served.”

Sometimes people have a scarcity mentality, meaning they are afraid of losing status or wealth because there may not be enough to go around. They may also feel that uplifting others will come at a high personal cost, either in time or treasure, that they are not willing to part with.

Another objection is that people feel serving others might be inconvenient. And you know what? Sometimes it is inconvenient. Sometimes service puts you out of your comfort zone and puts you in situations in which you are entirely unfamiliar. However, I don't think that's a bad thing. On the contrary, I believe that the only times you truly grow are when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Through that discomfort, you can find all sorts of discoveries and new ideas about how you can contribute and where you belong.

You'll always be glad that you did push yourself out of your comfort zone. It's in that area that you'll find a lot of those butterfly moments, those moments that are so enriching and where it's exciting to be alive. Butterfly moments may make you feel uneasy before they occur because you know you're stretching yourself, but you push through that uneasiness because you're going to love the feeling on the other side of it.

Servant Leadership

I've met many amazing people who model a servant's heart, and those who make service a priority in their lives make the best leaders. Servant leadership is a relatively new concept in the business world, the term gaining popularity in the last few decades. The idea is simple: a servant leader serves their followers and leads by example. A popular Christian example is that a shepherd serves his flock, much like a pastor serves his congregation.

In the business world, a servant leader serves the employees and is concerned with their personal welfare and growth as a priority. Servant leaders lead by example and strive to build strong relationships with everyone they work with. Such organizations usually have excellent retention because employees feel taken care of and thus have greater commitment. When servant leaders go out of their way to help their employees succeed, the employees are usually willing to return the favor for the organization.

I have found so many servant leaders in the sports world. Sean McDermott, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, is a prime example. He would never expect his players or assistant coach to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself, including getting up early in the morning and going to work out, which seems like a tiny thing. But as a player, I can't tell you how impressive it is to see your head coach model the behavior he's asking from you by showing up before five in the morning to get a workout in first thing.

In the NFL, you end up having lots of paid assistants to help support you in getting into top form. You have physical and massage therapists, doctors, nutrition coaches, and a small army of people that help you take care of your equipment and even clean up after you. If you always have an assistant who does everything for you, it's easy to get lazy and forget about a service mentality.

When I first started at the Bills, we would take our tape off after practice and just sort of throw it on the floor or leave it lying around. I'm ashamed to say that I knew there were people whose job was to clean up the locker room, so I didn't think about it. And we would leave our tape, food, all kinds of trash in there for them to deal with.

Sean McDermott came into the building, shook his head, and said, “No, no, no. You guys put your own trash in the garbage. We clean up after ourselves. That's what we do.” And then he told the equipment guys not to throw away our trash anymore. If their job was to handle the equipment, then Sean wanted them just to handle the equipment and not enable us to be lazy about trash. In retrospect, it's kind of a no‐brainer and a little embarrassing to have to be told that. Yet, it goes to show you that we can get into lazy habits that get in the way of having a servant's heart.

When I entered the NFL, there was a practice that had been around for decades of hazing the incoming rookies. This could range from having them carry in your pads after practice to spending tens of thousands of dollars on a meal for their position group. In my rookie year, most, but not all, of the veterans made sure they had their fun with their first‐round offensive lineman. Many of the ones who treated me like a teammate and not a subordinate I'm still friends with to this day.

I once heard of an NFC team that will remain nameless that the veterans would march the rookies around the dorms in the middle of the night so they were sure to wake up exhausted for two‐a‐day practices the next day. They would also throw guys in ice tubs with their wrists and ankles taped so they couldn't quickly get out. This team also competed for Super Bowls, so maybe there was a good method to their madness, but I wasn't comfortable doing those things.

Midway through my career, I sought to change the way we treated rookies. I was finding that as a leader of the team, the rookies were not responding well to me during games because they either didn't like me, didn't trust me, or had no relationship with me because of the hazing. We continued to do a big meal together once a year that the rookies would buy, but I would always tell the veterans not to order anything off the menu that they wouldn't get if they were buying, and I knew which cheapskates to call out quickly!

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Instead of separating myself from the rookies, I would build relationships with them, and their performance and our performance as a team saw the benefit of that. I have friendships to this day that are a direct result of treating rookies better than they were traditionally treated in the NFL.

In my religious life, I've experienced servant leadership from David Stone and his wife, who have hosted us at a couples Bible study nearly every other week for at least six years now. They're constantly opening up their house to us and serving young couples. They'll talk about how they're refreshed by helping young couples. They know they have to walk the walk, and they enjoy doing it. They've been a game‐changer in my life, helping me grow to become a better husband and father for my family. So I had them both on my podcast. I thought they had a lot to offer people about taking ownership of their lives and their marriage—they've been happily married for over 35 years.

Then there was Chris Burke, who originally served me in Men's Ministry at Southeast. I got to see this former professional athlete, a fantastic baseball player, being a dad and a husband living in Louisville, Kentucky. I constantly got to see that he modeled what it looked like to serve his family and his community through his church.

At the bottom of my stationery is a quote from Jackie Robinson, which reads, “A life is not important except for in the impact it has on others.” I have always loved that quote. Servant leaders intuitively understand the importance of having an impact and seek to uplift others more than they do to aggrandize themselves.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways about serving others and approaching your life with a servant's heart:

  • One of the secrets to a joyful, prosperous life is taking the focus off yourself and serving others.
  • Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” The idea is any good you do will come back to you in some way.
  • Service to others makes weathering personally difficult times more manageable and more meaningful.
  • Numerous studies have indicated that generosity and service are good for your physical and emotional health, relationships, work life, community, social standing, and long‐term mortality.
  • You can make service part of your DNA by practicing it often. Then, over time, its positive fruits will reinforce your behavior to keep the practice.
  • Look for ways to serve in all the buckets of your life.
  • There are challenges to a service state of mind; it requires humility and the willingness to extend beyond your comfort zone. You also must overcome a scarcity mentality that there is not enough time or treasure to go around.
  • Servant leaders make the best leaders. Common traits of service leaders are leading by example, putting their follower's needs and welfares above their own, and building strong relationships and partnerships based on the greater good of their community or organization.
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