Sitting at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. Maslow describes this level as the desire to reach our full potential — to do everything we can, to become the most we can be.
One way we may perceive this need is to have a strong desire to use our full powers in the service of others. Unfortunately, the reality for many people is that service is just another vehicle to make themselves feel good, not unlike the way buying a new car or a new smartphone can make you feel good.
In the age of social media, it’s really trendy to talk about wanting to serve others or to reframe things that we do as being of service. So, in today’s episode, Dylan gets down to the nitty-gritty of service. What are the ways we may reframe our desires as being of service to others? Why do we, as a culture, have an issue with service? And how do we actually be of service to others?
- [03:43] The two sides of wanting to serve others
- [12:47] Why we generally have an issue with service
- [15:46] Why broke people can’t be of service to anyone
- [19:03] Why you can’t be of service to others if you’re stressed
- [21:26] On setting yourself on fire to keep others warm
- [23:54] How you can start being of service to others
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:15] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And today, I want to tell you about one of my audit classes. It was the advanced auditing class and I’m sitting there with all of the other students as the professor shuffles in like he’s a DJ about to start a set and he looks out at the class and he locks eyes with us — all of these would-be auditors and accountants who are going through graduate school with the idea that we’re gonna be going out into financial markets and being the guardians of those financial markets, the auditors, the people who make sure that management is telling the truth. And this man who has spent his career studying the practice of audit looks at us and asks, “Why do we perform an audit?” And immediately, the class comes alive with all of these people raising their hands and shouting out answers: to protect financial markets, to make sure that the financial statements are free of material misstatements, and a thousand other answers. And the professor stands there, he locks eyes with us, and he says, “We do an audit for the fees.” And I was shocked. This was the first time that anybody had said something so obvious about the profession that we all wanted to be in. I mean, I guess it makes sense in retrospect. We are in the ivory tower of academia. But to just say it out loud like that — we do the audits for money. And the thing that bothers me the most is that he’s not wrong. He’s just honest. He’s pointing out the emperor’s clothes. And it’s in that moment that I’m beginning to understand that this is the state of play in the market. That, yes, my job involves making sure that financial statements are free of material misstatements and I function as a guardian of capital markets and I make sure that management is honest. But at the end of the day, we’re doing this for money and this is the state of play. And that if I’m going to be successful in this career, I better learn to play it well.
[00:02:26] Ladies and gentlemen, I tell that story to illustrate a point about honestly assessing the state of play. And I feel like particularly in the current society where we have Instagram and TikTok and Facebook and all the other things, Reddit included, and we live in a world where there’s a lot of incentives to not be honest, understanding the true state of play is super, super important but never more difficult. And I really think about this in terms of service and that’s what I’m gonna focus on today is talking about the state of play and the idea that we want to be of service because it’s really popular right now to talk about wanting to serve others or to reframe things that we do as being of service. And I think that this is important to start discussing simply because that’s not necessarily true. Like people will undercut what they’re doing by trying to talk about their work or their output in terms of, well, I wanna be of service or I’m being of service or this serves something else. And the reason I bring this up is because in this current year, in 2023, as we’re moving forward, I think it would do us a lot of good to actually be honest about what’s going on.
[00:03:43] So, let’s talk about the idea of wanting to serve others and reframing things that we do as being of service. And really at the core of this in a lot of ways, I think there are two sides of it. There’s the one where we reframe things and then there’s the other where we go overboard. And so, when we reframe things that we are doing as being of service, we’re not owning our own desires. And I got a couple of different examples of where we can point to where this occurs. So, I want you to think about the person who goes in and they need to buy a car and they go in and they decide to buy the bigger vehicle and they decide to buy the model that’s more luxury-like. But then they’ll tell everybody who will listen that they bought it because they need to be able to help with X, Y, or Z. It’s the guy with the pickup truck. Well, in case my friends need help moving, then I’ve got the truck to help them out. Bro, you didn’t buy the truck because you are just itching for your friends to move about the country. You bought the truck because you wanted the truck, so own your desires and don’t try to reframe you owning this truck as somehow you are this noble person, ready and willing to serve at the drop of a hat. That doesn’t make any sense. And we all know somebody like this who buys a vehicle that’s bigger than what they actually need because they want it but they’re not okay with wanting it. And so, instead they try to say, well, it’s being of service.
[00:05:07] Let me give you another example of where we can see this. We all know people who insist on taking on something to help somebody else when really they’re just doing something that they want. And I think after the holiday season we can totally see this, where the person who says, well, I’m having the Christmas party. I’m doing this because I wanna be of service to my friends. I wanna be of service to my family. And really at the end of the day, they didn’t throw the Christmas party for their friends and families. They threw the Christmas party for themselves because they wanted to see those people and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I do think that energetically, there’s something misaligned when we say, oh, I did this because I was trying to do that for them, rather than just being honest about it and saying I did this because I wanted to do this; because I wanted to see people.
[00:05:55] And if you stop and think about it, the holiday season I think is where a lot of those types of things occur. But you also see it with people going off overseas. What they really wanna do is they really wanna go overseas and have an adventure and see something, but they can’t bring themselves to just like go on vacation, so they go on some sort of service mission. And then when you talk to them about it, like yeah, about like 25% of it was on service but like the other half of the time, twom three quarters of the time, they’re out doing vacation-like things. What they did is they went on vacation, but they didn’t bother to like just own the fact that that’s what they wanted to do. And to be entirely clear, there’s nothing wrong with somebody saying I wanna go out on this trip. Just own it. Just own your desires.
[00:06:43] And you also see this in people’s jobs. And when I was in graduate school, I saw this a ton. And it was, I’m sitting in these classes with young men and young women. I was emphatically most of the time one of the oldest people in the room because I was a nontraditional student. but I heard this frame over and over and over again where they said, well, yeah, I’m gonna be an accountant and it’s a well paid position and I’m gonna go get my CPA but I really wanna work with nonprofits, you know? I really wanna work with those nonprofits. And it was always like they’re trying to convince me that they’re doing this thing. They’re getting this degree. They’re becoming a high-value individual within the economy because they’re trying to serve these nonprofits. But like my audit professor said at the top of the show, I don’t audit for free. I don’t audit because I absolutely love auditing. But I mean, that’s actually not necessarily true ’cause I really do enjoy my job. But if it wasn’t paying me, I wouldn’t continue to do it. And that’s just how jobs work. I became a CPA for the money; to get in the room where it happens. And I would made no bones about the idea that I wanted to shoot for the most profitable opportunities. I was owning my desires while everyone else was trying to convince me that they’re not in this for the money. And I will be the first one to tell you. There is nobody who takes the CPA exam for altruistic reasons. That exam sucks. And if you got somebody who said, well, I just thought it was the right thing to do, run away from that person. Don’t walk. Run because they’re just not honest.
[00:08:19] The flip side to this entire system is the people who feel like they have to serve or they’re doing something wrong. We all know these people. There’s basically like four different archetypes that fit into this. But what you’re seeing in that particular case is this person has been coerced into this feeling. No humans out of the box have the idea that they should be completely and utterly self-sacrificing at all times. Otherwise, they are bad, naughty, and wrong. This is coercion and they have been coerced into thinking that their entire existence should be at the behest of somebody else’s desires. And if they’re not, then somehow the world’s not gonna be okay. This is a classic example of they need you to be okay and they will do whatever it is that they think you need in order for you to be okay so that they can be okay. This is a coercive and extractive relationship, but people dress it up as service all the time.
[00:09:18] Let me give you some examples. How many of us know martyrs? These are people who are always at service and they want everyone to know it. They’re seeking status within the social group. Pure and simple, that’s what martyrs are doing. They’re seeking status by being of service. They’re not actually being of service. In fact, the service they’re providing is extractive because they’re doing it for the status, not because they actually want to serve. The other type of thing you see — this would be number two — would be the inner child wounds. These are people who are desperately seeking approval. They think that they can’t be okay until you are oversated oversatisfied with whatever it is they’ve dreamed up that they think you need. And so, they’re constantly gonna be of service. They’re constantly trying to do something. They can’t sleep. They can’t rest. They’re always seeking this approval and they never get enough of approval. And that’s because you can never get enough of what you don’t need and they don’t need your approval. They’re playing out inner child wounds and therefore, they can’t rest because if you go back to how humans develop, somewhere along in their line, their parents convinced them or their caretakers convinced them that if they weren’t serving those parents’ needs, then they were going to be abandoned. And this is all too common within our current world. The third one would be people who are meshed, right? An enmeshment is a psychological term. And I’m an accountant, not a psychologist, so if I get it wrong, I sincerely apologize. But enmeshment is where they have poorest boundaries, so they take on everyone else’s needs as if it is their own needs. And so, they’re now playing this game where they’ve taken their own needs and superimposed them over the top of whoever it is they think they’re serving, whether it’s students, whether it’s spouses, whether it’s their own children, whether it’s their family of origin, whether it’s their political party. The list is literally infinite. And you can see this all over the place. Like just go watch a political rally. That’s just a bunch of people who are horribly enmeshed with each other, okay? We also see this with the people who are like the true believers in any organization are typically enmeshed with the organization.
[00:11:36] And then the last one, and I have to give credit to where credit is due, the first time I heard of this concept was in a book called No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. And this is the idea of covert contracts. There are people who are constantly serving and serving and serving and serving and serving because they believe they’re owed something; and that once they’ve served enough, they’ll get the thing that they’re owed. We see this at people who kill themselves for their job with the idea that they’re gonna get a promotion. So, they’re constantly slaving themselves to the job. Their sense of well-being is tied to their job performance. They’re working too much extra hours. Their boss is always able to give them extra project and they’ll never say no because in their mind somewhere, they’re owed something and when they don’t get it, they’re gonna act out. You see this in relationships, too. It’s really easy to see with guys. When guys do things like, well, they did the dishes and they got the flowers and now, they want their, you know, significant other to go to bed with them but they didn’t bother to tell anybody that. And so now, when they’re in their mind rebuffed, well, then they get angry about it, okay? And these are the people who serve and serve and serve and then explode because there’s a covert contract. In their head, they’re owed something.
[00:12:47] And as a culture, we really have an issue with service. But really, it’s an issue with honesty because we’re not honest about the state of play. We’re either not owning our desires and saying we’re trusting it up as, oh, we’re doing this for somebody else or we’re not honest with the wounds that we need other people to be okay. And so, we’re gonna coerce them with our service into being okay so we can feel okay. It’s not a service issue. Service is an amazing thing. It’s what makes humans human on so many different levels. But our issues with service are rooted in honesty issues. There is a fine line between greed and self-service and that’s what it really comes down to, people don’t wanna say I wanted the big truck because they don’t wanna appear like they’re greedy or somehow they’re consuming more resources than are reasonable. There’s a lot of reasons we do this, some evolutionary, right? An example of you’ve got a tribe of cavemen sitting there, living together. And if somebody starts to consume more than their share of resources, you can bet your bottom dollar that all the cavemen are gonna come together and, you know, persuade that individual from continuing to do that. So, when I feel guilty about buying the big truck, I’m gonna tell everybody and their brother that no, no, I’m really gonna serve everybody with it because we’re playing with that and our society has interwoven that idea into it. But really, we wanna serve ourselves by buying the thing we want, don’t we? And so, understand that there’s a fine line between greed, which is the overconsumption of resources, and just owning our desires and fulfilling them. And on the flip side of these things, we can see this, too, because you have this idea of the martyr or the inner child wounds or the enmeshment or the covert contracts. They’re being greedy but for attachment versus the self-service to say, yes, I wish to serve because I wish to serve or hey, I just need you to really be okay for a second or any other number of different things.
[00:14:45] Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want you to hear that I’m knocking on being of service to people. As a man, as a husband, a father, and community leader, being of service is something that is near and dear to my heart. It’s something that is absolutely core to my mission on this planet. But I wanna be clear. We need to be very honest about the state of play. Being of service, if you wish to be of service, starts with being of service to yourself first and foremost. Because if you don’t, you’re gonna fall into one of these other categories. If you want the truck and it makes you feel better and therefore, you’re more effective at everything you do, well, maybe go buy the truck. It’s not that hard. And if you’re sitting there and going, I just want the status, well, then find a way to get the status that doesn’t involve extracting everyone else’s attention. That type of negative side of it comes from us not serving ourselves, not finding the places that serve us.
[00:15:46] Then, I wanna just spend the rest of our time on this particular episode talking about being of service. And I wanna point out a couple of things, basically three things. Number one, I wanna point out broke people cannot be of service to anyone. And I really think that this is probably the first place that a lot of people make their mistakes. People believe that they cannot be of service and be paid for that service. Go back to auditing. Am I providing a needed service within the economy? Yeah, it’s a very needed service and if you have a 401(k), an IRA, or you’re invested in the stock or bond market in any way, shape, or form, all of the information, whether it’s you or it’s a financial advisor or it’s a mutual fund company, all of that information that they rely on, that your retirement relies on, is entirely built up and certified by auditors. And so, do you want to have good information or not? And if you said, well, of course, I want good information, well, then yes, my service is absolutely needed and you’re going to pay me for it.
[00:16:51] But if you look at it and say, well, no, I’m not gonna talk about a job, I want to talk about volunteering. Well, if you’re broke, you can’t volunteer effectively. Because really if you’re broke, you need to be working to earn money so that you’re not broke anymore because the more resources you have, the greater impact you’re gonna have. The objections to when I say, hey, like broke people can’t be of service and therefore, if you wish to be of service, you must increase your financial footprint in this world. You must attain financial sovereignty so you can be of service. People then say something that really shows wounds around greed or the assumption that money is ill-earned or earned through sneaky means. That’s not true. Money operates on the money equation. We’ve talked about this on this show before. The money you earn is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. And yes, there are people who have ill-earned income. And yes, there are people who took the sneaky way around. That happens. But in the vast majority of the time, it’s going to function on that equation. You are playing a game and it behooves you to know the rules of that game. And part of the rules of the game is the money you earn is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. And the more money you have, the more you can show up on the board. The more moves you get, the more rules of the dice you get, the more you can risk on a role of the dice and not lose everything. You’re playing a game. Play it well.
[00:18:16] And while I’m talking about this, the get-rich schemes you see on YouTube all the time with their wrapped cars, like this is probably like the side note here. This is one way you can tell it’s a get-rich scheme is if they show you a wrapped car. I don’t know why this is, but like always they show you a car. Anyway, back to the story. So, these get-rich schemes give this idea that somehow there’s like secret knowledge or there’s a sneaky way to get around it. So, when we see people with money or have financial sovereignty, we make this assumption. But it’s not that. That was a scheme. But people who are wealthy tend to be very boring individuals who didn’t take a sneaky way around. They just focused on what they wanted to do in life.
[00:19:03] Alright. Number two, a life on fire does not light the way home. Your stress will stress other people out. If your life is a dumpster fire, you’re not hiding anything, everybody knows about it. Why? Because you show up to these situations with desperate energy. You want everyone to like you. If your life is on fire, you want everyone to like you because it makes you feel like, oh, in this place, I’m okay, so I’m gonna sit here and be of service and therefore, the people will like me and that I will feel better about myself. But in reality, that desperation, the stress you carry into every situation you’re in because the rest of your life is a dumpster fire because your financial house is not in order, everyone else can feel it. And I’ve said this before. I’ll say this again. When I was a teacher on welfare, I had 99 problems and money would’ve solved like 98 of them. And really that’s what it comes down to. I couldn’t effectively be a teacher, working two additional jobs and being on welfare and having to constantly go into the office and constantly renew the welfare and constantly convince these people. But yes, I still need the money because they’re not paying me anymore month over month over month. And so, because my life was on fire, I didn’t show up fully in the way that I could have. And the objection to this when I tell people like, hey, if you wanna be of service, you gotta put out the fire in your life. You gotta go take the dumpster fire. You gotta hose it down and you gotta start getting your shit together. They say, but focusing on me is selfish. And it always just hurt because I know, oh, man, I know how that one feels. Your attention cannot be given when your body knows it’s in danger, though. If your life is a dumpster fire, if you don’t have your shit together, trying to serve other people is a loser’s game because you can’t give the literal, most precious thing you have in your life, which is your attention, because your body knows it’s in danger. Because it knows when the soup kitchen closes that you’re volunteering at; it knows when you come home from your mission; it knows that when you are done for the day doing whatever it is, that you are undertaking a service. It knows that it’s going back to a not-safe environment. And you’re not really in service to anyone at that point.
[00:21:26] So, let’s go to number three. And number three is another one that I feel really, I feel it a lot, and that is the idea of lighting yourself on fire just so that others can be warm is not a kind thing to do. It’s not kind to you. It’s not kind to them. Why? Because when you burn out and you will burn out, you will leave them with nothing and you will have nothing and everyone will be worse off for it. It might seem like a loving thing to do, to sacrifice yourself, to sacrifice your well-being so that this other person can feel warmth, even if it is for a short period of time. But the reality is you’re burning yourself out and you’re leaving them with nothing when you finally can no longer maintain the fire. And the objection to this one, and I said this a lot when I was a teacher, but if not me, then who? And we see this in inspirational crap all the time. We hear this from preachers. We hear this from managers. We hear this from school teachers. If not me, who? If you had the idea that somebody should do something about that, that somebody is you. And there’s some truth to that. That’s why it’s so alluring. Because you can recognize, yes, that is exactly the type of attitude that will make the world a better place. Unfortunately, if you’re gonna try to answer that call from a place of scarcity, all you’re going to do is allow your overperformance to enable the underperformance of other people because you’re burning yourself out. You’re not adding value. Because when you extract from yourself, it’s not any better than when other people extract from you or you extract from other people. It’s still extractive. They can earn more because you provided them with free energy. They are enabled to do whatever it is they’re doing because you’re backfilling something in their life. You’re not edifying it. You’re not helping them stand up. You’re not leaving them in better condition. You’re extracting from yourself. You’re objectifying yourself. And so, when you be of service to yourself first, you have to start going back and taking a look at these things and asking yourself: Am I lighting myself on fire so just other people can be warm? Is my life a dumpster fire and I’m just hoping that that will help us light the way? Or am I thinking there’s something really noble in being broke and constantly under threat because of my lack of resources?
[00:23:54] If you wish to be of service, ladies and gentlemen, the service is gonna start by serving yourself first. And once you’ve done that, once you’ve raised your own level, then and only then will you be able to help raise the level of anyone else. And I know exactly how this feels when you finally get to this realization because I remember a time when I’m sitting working with students and it’s the weekend. It’s a Saturday and I’ve opened up the school so they can come in and work on their homework and it doesn’t even matter what they bring. I’m gonna help them out. One of my students is asking me a question about Algebra 1, a very simple form of mathematics that I should know. But when they’ve put the words on the whiteboard, they’re not making sense. I can’t even comprehend what this mathematical equation for lines is. And it’s hard because I’m trying to get my brain to work while my stomach is rumbling and I’m feeling exhausted, like there’s sand behind my eyes because I’ve gotten maybe five hours of sleep in the last 48. And I’m suddenly realizing as I’m working with this student, I’m not useful to them. I am of no use to my students. Poor and under threat, overworked and underpaid. And I’m beginning to understand as I’m sitting there that the teachers in my school that had staying power, that had the 20-year long careers, were either one of two formations. Those teachers who had no other choice but to continue to teach and those teachers who had married money, whether it be doctors, engineers, or people who were independently wealthy. And in that moment, I’m promising myself that I’m going to build a foundation financially so that the next time I reach out to serve anyone in my community, I will be able to show up completely and fully and serve them to the utmost of my abilities.
[00:26:08] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.