Be of Service


If you’ve lost a job or a business after many years, you may well feel completely adrift, but to be of service to others at this challenging time may be a way to find yourself and to get re-inspired.

Even after the requisite amount of time grieving over the loss, there is likely a period of complete blankness, when you have no sense of direction, purpose, or meaning. This is a natural and understandable phenomenon. Where we once had a place to go and people we knew and worked with for many years, we’re now stuck at home with just ourselves. Unfortunately, the sense of loss and void can lead to depression and a feeling of low self-worth if it goes unchecked.

For a lot of us, one of the most therapeutic activities we can undertake at a time like this is to be of service to others. This Strategy is part of the Boomer Reinvention Listening step because being of service is a great opportunity to be on the receiving end of new perceptions, new perspectives, and new information.  Indeed the Listening step is the compilation of four Strategies to look at your career and your life from a different set of viewpoints. And to be of service is just one of them.

Strategy #9. Be of Service

Taking on a regular service project can be immensely gratifying. It could involve volunteering with a school or a clinic or another social services organization. If you’ve been moping around following a layoff, or having a hard time focusing and figuring out what your second-act career is going to be, you might want to consider having a place to go to once or twice a month where you don’t have to think about any of that. All you have to do is show up and be there for the people who need you and the work that you can do for them. You don’t have to run anything. You don’t have to make any long-term decisions.

You could also benefit from a one-off service experience—for example, responding to a natural disaster by volunteering with the Red Cross or a local charity. Participating in a single project away from home—in another city, state, or country—can be a great refresher, completely changing your perspective while you lose yourself in the project. When you return, you may find yourself much more motivated, energized, and clearer about what you’re going to do about your career.  But be careful: the experience may also completely change your life.  This happened to David Campbell, one of the boomers I interviewed for my Huffington Post series on reinvented boomers, and a winner of the AARP/ Purpose Prize.  He started the volunteer relief organization All Hands Volunteers after, on what was essentially a whim, he decided to travel to Phuket, Thailand to help out after the devastating tsunami hit in 2004.

The irony of service is that once you start doing it, it often begins to feel like the most selfishly rewarding experience imaginable. People who do service work often report that the benefit that they get from doing the work feels much more valuable than the contribution they are making. The experience of gratitude—both in terms of the positive appreciation they receive for doing the work and the gratitude they feel for the opportunity to have made a difference in someone else’s life—is extremely powerful.

My experience with service work is that it lets my mind relax, and while I’m not trying to think about what’s going on in my life and the problems I’ve got to solve, new ideas somehow appear. On the service project I’ve been involved in for the past few years, I spend about a day and a half over a weekend, once a month. When I wake up the morning after the project, I usually feel rested in a special way, as if I’ve had a kind of spiritual spa day. I feel more balanced, more grounded, and ready to get back into my agenda and move forward.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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