Before You Go And Serve The World, Ask Yourself What Shadows You Hide

We’ve all been there. Or perhaps, is currently there. The soul-searching. When we ask if there is something bigger than this? If we can make the world better? Make a difference. The times when we want to be unselfish. When we want to give back what we’ve taken. When we want to be happy doing what we do.

Yet the truth is, most of us never get there. Because most of us will not know nor come to terms with our deep motivation. The something that sits within our being. Our primal driver for success. Our shadow self.

Throughout the years, I have had to counsel friends and co-workers searching for reasons to keep on doing, perhaps unhappily, the things they are doing. To make them believe there are reasons behind their actions. To make them discover what is it about themselves that will make them choose the right next course of action.

Here’s a thought. When you’re feeling bored at work, whining about life, procrastinating about things; maybe try telling yourself to stop with the “I can do it”, or that “Think positive” mantra. And instead ask yourself; “What will make me satisfied doing this?”.

Let’s say you answer “A holiday or a break from work”. Good. Finish it quickly then go on that break.

Or you answer “Money”. Good too. Make sure the work is good enough to give a promotion or a bonus.

Or “I want to be promoted/win something/get famous”, then go back to what you are doing and look at it as a tool to get you there. If you find yourself too lazy to do anything about these, then perhaps you have not found your real shadow self. That real stimulus.

If you “hate your job because it does nothing to the soul”; then ask your shadow self what is the real stimulus? Nobody ever does anything for nothing. Identify that something that you want, embrace it and work on it.

No answer is wrong. Because the answer you have is Is your shadow self. That inspiration to love what you do and become great doing it. Even if the inspiration to love work is something as material as money. Or recognition (fame) by peers and friends like working on something that is as soul-enriching as doing social work or the less privileged. There’s always the shadow self that is the motive for doing them.

So before you go and serve the world, find your shadow self and let that be the deep motivator for happiness.

Note: This article piece was inspired by Cary Tennis‘s advice column on The Salon titled How Can I Serve The World. His insightful advice has been excerpted below. Do go to the source to read in full.

Something tells me you will not be happy and effective until you identify your deep motivation, and you will not be safe until you identify your shadow self…

What does the world need? The world needs wise resource allocation and new patterns of industrial production that require less energy. The world needs better, cheaper, wiser food distribution. The world needs 10 million more psychotherapists. The world needs fewer warlords. The world needs individuals who can inspire the masses to slow down their consumption. The world needs better cookstoves. The world needs a reordering of social and family hierarchies. The world needs to change centuries-old methods of conferring social status. The world needs emerging countries to not repeat the resource-hungry mistakes of developed countries. The world needs to reroute its emotions and beliefs into modes of conflict resolution. The world needs to defeat malaria. The world needs China to develop more wisely than the United States did. The world needs more yoga teachers. The world needs a massive effort to understand how family and environment create fanaticism. The world needs more rational resource sharing. The world needs for no one to starve to death.

Any one of these goals could provide the rationale for a lifetime of good work.

But what will make you happy? What do you need for your personal happiness? And where are your blind spots?

Let’s play a slightly unsavory game called What Is the Worst Thing About You? Since we don’t know each other, I will do some guessing. Perhaps, since you have amassed wealth, you have a secretly selfish, greedy, egotistical side. There is nothing wrong with admitting that. We all have shadows. I have a shadow self that is mean, cold, selfish and arrogant. I have a death wish. I suppress my anger, and I am not good with people in authority. I become sullen and withdrawn when I’m not expressing my anger. We could go on. But you get the idea. I’m just suggesting that, in this crucial time, you look into your dark side and get to know it. Maybe your dark side is something surprising. I am only guessing, and being quite literal about it….

Early family life, married life and organizational life can mirror one another. Business organizations tend to be hierarchical structures, like family. If you have succeeded in such organizations, it may be because you move easily in such realms. The hierarchical realm is also the realm of secrets and betrayal, of hidden power secretly wielded… Where in your working life and family life have you been required to keep secrets? Where have you been trained not to ask for the truth, not to challenge the silence of a superior?

It would be good to think about such things before entering an area of service such as a nonprofit, because outwardly selfless leaders have shadow sides, too.

In fact, when leaders of social movements act in self-destructive ways, I often suspect it’s the work of the shadow. Were they espousing asceticism while repressing hedonism? Were they espousing peace while craving power? Such inner contradictions represent the attempt to balance competing energies.

So that’s a lot to chew on. You have your desire to do good in the world. You have your desire for a happy and productive life. You have freedom.

Plumb the depths of your own soul. Choose wisely.


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