When I was in high school, I took part in a zillion organized community service events. I served as the school's Habitat for Humanity vice-chair. I led a fundraising campaign for Adoption Option. I swept litter off the streets in low-income neighborhoods. I went on summer volunteer trips to rural Appalachia and rural Pennsylvania.
But I never felt like I was producing something meaningful. Sure, I'd pick up litter, but the next day there would be more. I'd pound nails into a house, but the underlying factors that caused a family to rely on charity were still present. I wanted to create sustainable change, the kind of change that persists independent of my time and effort.
In college I joined a group that studied the feasibility of powering my university with renewable energy. Through that project, I learned two things: First, for change to be sustainable, it MUST be economically efficient. Money drives decision-making. Second, the average person has never been taught about how to control his or her own financial destiny. Fewer people would fall on hard times and be forced to ask for help if they harnessed the power of savings and investments during the good times.
Today I teach people how to take control of their money. I write about financial planning, budgeting, investing and growing wealth.
The cynical see this as the pursuit of greed. "Money's not important," they say. Au contraire. Money is the only thing that separates the middle-class from the impoverished. And who wants to set themselves and their children on a path to poverty?
On the contrary, every time I get an email from a reader that says, "you've inspired me to max out my IRA," "you've helped me pay off my debt," or "you've taught me how to create a stream of passive income," I feel like I've made a sustainable change.
It's not service in the traditional sense of the word. I'm no longer taking mission trips to Appalachia. But service isn't confined to such a narrow definition. Anything you can do to help someone help themselves – whether its offering advice, guidance, education, mentoring, or even a smile – is a form of service.
In my view, service is also how you respond to the outside world. Turning the other cheek when someone wrongs you is a type of service. Being the bigger, more noble person is a form of service.
When I was young, I thought service was something you did on Sunday. Now I see that it's a 24/7 way of life.
by Paula Pant