It was two days after I was asked to present on legacy to the Arizona Suns Charities 88 annual review event that I sat in the car with my dad. I’ve presented on legacy to non-profits and small business groups over the past three years and held a strong belief in what legacy meant to me. I believed that a person’s legacy is the greatest measure of how they affected the world; but, my view of legacy was about to be questioned. Like any kid stoked about something, I sat in the car with my dad excitedly telling him about this amazing opportunity I was blessed with. The words out of his mouth hit me like a ton of bricks – he questioned me about what legacy means in this me-centric time of Facebook, filtered over Instagram and self serving personal branding. It shook me to my core. I had always viewed legacy as going through life doing kind and good acts for people with no conditions attached and focusing on teaching others how to leave a similar legacy.
The task was set before me – to find out if legacy in this me-centric day is broken and if so, what is this life I’m trying to lead. I took up the task and approached a number of trusted friends, family and business colleagues and I realized that my view of legacy was the one that was skewed. Almost every instance of the legacy conversation included the words “me,” “my” and “I.” Ninety five percent of the people I spoke with said how a legacy benefits the individual or the family of the person that left the “legacy.” So, if we are all this self centered, then what is it that I was trying to describe all these years? What was this “thing” I was trying to live my life by? Not only was my world turned upside down; but, I had three weeks to find my path so I could present “it” at the Charities 88 event.
The hunt began. I started scouring the internet, reading books, going back to my Audible library and feverishly listening to podcasts. It took me two weeks and I finally found the term I was looking for. The interesting twist is that it did not come from the internet or my Audible library or the podcasts I had been listening to – no, it came from the very source that questioned me – my dad. We sat over a great meal of Taco Bell philosophizing on life and we hit on a term that would be my new direction (and topic for the Charities 88 event) – leading life as a Humble Servant.
The last week before my presentation I started on my journey to learn as much about what makes up Humble Servants as I could. I kept in mind what my dad taught me when I was about 14 years old; he said – “Son, when you meet people you have a great responsibility…you can either leave behind a good piece of your soul or you can leave behind your baggage.” I think this little life lesson sparked my initial interest in legacy and profoundly directed me to create my personal motto; “Always do the right thing whether someone is watching or not.” With this in mind my journey began.
Without digging to far into the religious facets of Servant Leadership, I wanted to note the traits that could be easily describe and deployed by the people I typically serve – small businesses and non-profits. After a week long journey I placed together the following traits on what I believe makes up Humble Servants:
1. They Are Not Subservient
It’s interesting that in the culture of America today that to be a servant (or even to be of service) seems to mean you are somehow weak. I believe being Humble Servants is the polar opposite. To be Humble Servants, we must be strong and retain our power. I believe as Humble Servants we are not to leave our power at the door step. No, I believe we as Humble Servants are to become more powerful in order to serve others better and to teach others to be Humble Servants. To be Humble Servants, we must become empowered. We will see how powerful Humble Servants are as we walk through the other traits.
I think back on the older black and white movies of the past – you know the ones where everyone is dressed to the nines and has a servant (or servants). If you watch closely the servants always stayed near the back corners of the room and then moved forward and performed their acts of service in quiet, quick fashion. They were nearly invisible. Now I’m not asking you to be an invisible servant like in the old days. What I am saying is that you, as a Humble Servant, provide your kind and good acts in an invisible fashion. We should be but a faint memory; but, our acts should last a lifetime. I’m not much of a sportsman – at NAU in intramurals when I caught the football my team would start chanting “Run Forest Run!” and within a few seconds the other team would start chanting “Run Forest Run!” I never was a huge sports watcher – I always preferred to play (even if I was not that good). But, there is one sport I love to watch – boxing. In the sport of boxing there is a phenomenal example of the invisibility of a Humble Servant. In a sport of flashy personalities and over the top promotion, it’s the boxing ref that is the invisible Humble Servant. In a good boxing match the ref is there to break up slow spots in the fight, where the boxers lean on each other for rest, and they are there to stop a fight in case of possible long term negative affects on a boxer. Good boxing matches are those where the ref keeps the action going but you never know he is there. The boxing ref gets no kudos for his service and is as invisible as the boxing ring itself; but, without the ref the sport would not be the same.
3. Pure Motivations
In this me-centric world, it’s difficult to know if peoples’ motivations are pure or not. To Humble Servants constant pure motivations are part of their make up – it’s like air or water to the average person. Humble Servants understand that they are to be pure in their motivations in helping others by taking into account others before themselves. Part of the pure motivations of Humble Servants is to create more Humble Servants through the acts of service they provide. With these pure motivations Humble Servants are focused on creating a better world for everyone; not just the individual Humble Servant.
4. Destroy Ego
Since we have discussed boxing, destroying ego is the number two punch in the one-two punch combination of pure motivations and destroying ego. True Humble Servants work hard to remove all association of their “self” from their good and kind acts. Humble Servants perform their services with no focus on a benefit to themselves. There is a word for this and it’s “grace.” Grace is giving a gift to another with no expectation of anything in return. When we destroy ego and have pure motivations, there is no need for our names on buildings, no photos of ourselves with large donation checks on Instagram, no bricks with our family names on the entry walkway, etc.
5. Lifelong Passion and Commitment
Did you ever watch old movies of knights? There is one in particular that I love to watch – A Knight’s Tale. In the movie there is a scene where William (a poor boy that assumes his old masters role as a jouster) brings Geoffrey (a destitute man with a gambling problem) with him on his quest towards glory and to “change their stars” and Geoffrey pledges his allegiance to William. See in those days when a knight saved someone from a horrific death (or a really bad situation), the person being saved would pledge themselves as a servant to the knight for the righteous deed. Now I’m not asking you to pledge yourself to someone; but, to be Humble Servants we must pledge our lives to living as Humble Servants. This means that all acts of good and kindness must be framed within the boundaries of the traits of being a Humble Servant. If we do not live by this lifelong code, our motivations cannot be pure. We become Humble Servants with the purpose to enrich others’ lives and we take on the mantle of teaching others how to be Humble Servants.
6. They Are Leaders and Give Credit To Others
One of the traits of Humble Servants is that they are good leaders. Humble Servants understand that to live with pure motivations and to destroy ego they must give credit to others. Instead of looking for the spotlight to stand in, Humble Servants prefer to prop up others in the spot light. Humble Servants understand that they are there to empower others to enable those they serve to be empowered. Humble Servants shine their light on the path; but they give the credit of arriving at the destination to those they serve.
7. They Are Mindful of Their Talents and Skills
Looking back into times past, servants had particular skill sets. There was the servant that tended the horses, there was the servant that made the tea and there were servants for pretty much all facets of life. My wife’s particularly favorite servant was the fan boys in Egypt; but I don’t look as good as they do when fanning her at the pool. Today, when Humble Servants understand their talents and skills they learn best how to be of service. Not only do masterful Humble Servants understand their talents and skills, they constantly hone them to be a better servant to others. I have learned over the years that my talent and skill is connecting people for greater opportunities. As a Humble Servant, I am constantly focusing on this talent and honing it so that I can better serve my community of small business owners and non-profits. Ask yourself “what are the talents and skills I possess that can serve others more than just myself?”
8. They Give Where Needed
Once Humble Servants are mindful of their talents and skills they take the journey of understanding where they are needed. It’s easy to open the door for someone carrying a heavy box or to make sure that the man is on the outside of the woman closest to the street when walking on the sidewalk; these are simple acts of service that don’t require the use of our talents and skills. However, it’s not always easy to understand how our talents and skills can be best utilized to help others. Good Humble Servants take time to assess their talents and skills and matches them up with the world around them. They take time to list their talents and skills and find places where they can best be utilized. In this broken world we live in, there are many opportunities for us to serve. However, to be the best Humble Servants we can be, we must serve where the greatest need matches our talents and skills.
9. They Are Self Reflective
It’s one thing to take break during the day and reflect on the events of the day; but it’s another to take a break and reflect on how we have served others throughout the day. Good Humble Servants will consistently be pondering how they can serve better, hone their talents and skills and develop other Humble Servants from the people they serve. They reflect on how they can better recognize opportunities to help others. Where most peoples’ reflection time is on “self,” a Humble Servant’s reflection time is focused on others.
10. They Are Extremely Strong
A Humble Servant’s strengths comes from the nine traits we have looked at. But, beyond these traits, Humble Servants carry a greater understanding of emotional intelligence and practice living a life of significance. To be good Humble Servants requires that we must be mentally and physically strong. We as Humble Servants are to take care of our minds, spirits and bodies so that we are ready at any time to serve others. When we board a plane the stewardesses always address the doors (you know with that little hand gesture to the back, middle and front) and then they discuss the oxygen masks “Always place the mask on you before assisting a child.” This is how we as Humble Servants need to live our lives. As Humble Servants we should mindfully strengthen ourselves so we are empowered to help others. As Humble Servants we will need every ounce of strength we have. See, in this broken world where “me” (and my selfish 15 seconds of fame) is more important than “we” (and a lifetime of happiness for those around us), we as Humble Servants will be tested, ridiculed, will be taken advantage of and called weak. But, since we have taken the lifelong commitment to be Humble Servants, we will stand up strong and continue on our way to light the path and serve others.
Cars have rear view mirrors. Many people think that a rear view mirror is there to see what is coming up on them. I have a different take. I believe that the rear view mirror of life is there to see where we have already been. I find that many people in today’s world are the “accident causers” – you know the ones that cause an accident but are not in the accident themselves. They are the ones that look in their rear view mirror of life and see carnage and destruction from their me-centric view (as my dad so eloquently put it “they left their baggage” with everyone). I like to think that we should all be prepared to look in the rear view mirror of life and see a great many smiling faces on the Humble Servants we have served and in turn created.
I will leave you with this question to ponder – Who are five people that you are serving and profoundly affecting their life with no benefit to yourself (no monetary value, no posts on Facebook, etc.)? – Here’s the kicker; they cannot be your friends or family members.