Ep. #27: Service vs. Disservice

Service is a key ingredient to building wealth. It not only helps you earn money. It helps you earn money that you can feel good about. But too many of us are thinking that we’re serving others, when what we’re actually doing is a disservice. Listen to this episode to find out the differences between service and disservice, so you can put them to work in your own life.


Welcome to Rich & Thin Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is to alert every listener to the distinction between service and disservice. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and I’m glad you’re here, because many of us are running ourselves ragged thinking that we’re serving others, when what we’re actually doing is disserving them. So today we’re going to talk about how to tell the difference between service and disservice.

Why is this important? Because true service is a critical ingredient to wealth-building. I’ve known this since I was a waitress putting myself through undergraduate school. A Florida billionaire once left me a $110 tip on a $14 ticket, and let me tell you, I felt pretty wealthy when that happened. Since then, I’ve seen good service very reliably bring money into my life in everything I’ve ever done, from practicing law to managing a hedge fund to consulting with other business owners. If you truly serve someone—by solving their problems, facilitating their success, or adding beauty to their lives–that’s worth something in commerce, and it will bring money into your life.

The idea of service as a way to earn more money generally isn’t a controversial topic, but sometimes, if I tell people that service is the path to wealth, not just financial riches but real wealth, I get an eye roll. And sometimes it goes further than that. Some people come right out and say, “I’m serving everyone. I’m running myself ragged serving people, and it’s not getting me anywhere.”

So some of us don’t necessarily believe this idea about service leading to wealth, and all of us can use an occasional refresher on what it actually means to serve, because it’s a big concept and a lot can be lost in the day-to-day. So today I want to lay out some differences between service and disservice so you can see them and put them to work in your own life.

Service initially requires effort that pays off later

The first thing to notice about service is that it’s more difficult at first, but much easier later on. Disservice is the opposite. It’s easy in the moment, but makes things more difficult later on.

Consider breakfast. In the moment, it’s easier to grab a donut and coffee and maybe another donut. But if you’re anything like me, that makes for a disaster of a day. Blood sugar swings, irritation, inability to focus, and fatigue. A decent breakfast of some protein, veggies, healthy fat, and some complex carbs takes more time in the moment, but it makes everything easier all day long. A decent first-meal-of-the-day is a service, whereas the donuts are a disservice.

The same concept applies in our family lives. I don’t have kids, but I do have some kids coming to visit me tomorrow, and I know that in the moment, it will be easier to do everything for them or just let everything go and worry about cleaning it all up after they leave. But that’s a disservice. If I teach these kids how to function in my house, how to wash their feet off before they get in the hot tub, how to hang up their towels after a swim, everything will be easier the next day when they want to get up and do it all over again. And it will be easier to have them back again. Teaching them on the front end is a service—it takes some effort but it will make everything easier later on—and not showing them what to do is a disservice because it makes things more difficult later on, and maybe even would curtail their future ability to come over and swim.

This is a huge concept for everyone who has kids. In the moment, it’s easy to wait on kids hand and foot. It’s not so easy to teach them to clean their own rooms or scrub a bathroom or do laundry or prep a meal before everyone else gets home. But if you do this with your kids on the front end, if you expend that effort, what happens? Everything’s easier later. They can do a lot of their own stuff, and you don’t have to do it for them anymore.

The same thing works with employees. A few good systems and a little training can clear your calendar to focus on more important things that add a lot of value to your business.

Service is always respectful

So why don’t more of us do this? One reason is that we don’t think they can handle it. We think they can’t really do it. We can handle it, but they can’t, which brings me to the second point about service vs. disservice. Service is always respectful. When we think of the people around us—whether they’re our kids or our employees or anyone else–as less capable, less intelligent, less motivated, less able to figure things out and take care of things, what happens? We perpetuate situations where that is exactly the case. We keep doing the stuff that they could handle if we would let go of it, and they, whoever they are, are thereby limited in the contributions that they’re allowed to make.

I remember reading, 10 or 15 years ago, maybe it was even longer than that, about a charitable effort in New York. I think the woman running it was a nun, and I recall that she started some kind of soup kitchen or housing facility to help homeless people. And her approach was that everyone who benefits from the facility also should work in the facility. And people were outraged. Not the people who the facility was designed to serve, but other people who were running similar types of charities. Those in opposition were hostile to this woman’s approach because they were thinking, “These people are homeless. They can’t handle that.”

And my thought about that was, what a disservice. The idea that a homeless person can’t handle working in the facility that they frequent, without some individual analysis of each person and what they’re actually capable of, is patently offensive. It says that the people who are giving the handout are more capable than the people who are accepting it. This is a very damaging and dangerous message. It’s not a good thing to think, and it’s certainly not a good thing to communicate, and with her approach, this woman in my mind was communicating the exact opposite. She was saying to her fellow human beings, “You are capable of something. You are capable of serving yourself and others. You are capable of working for the things you need and want.” I think this is a very empowering and respectful message, and from respect we cultivate strength, which brings me to my third point about service.

Service makes everyone stronger

True service is designed to make everyone stronger– the recipient of the service, as well as the person who is serving, and it has that effect. Disservice does the opposite. It makes people weaker.

Parents who teach their children valuable skills to care for themselves and their homes and fixing their own food raise strong kids, and they also give themselves a little break, which makes for stronger parents. Service makes everyone stronger. Parents who wait on their kids hand and foot exhaust themselves, and their kids don’t learn things they need to know. They become dependent. Everyone’s weaker when disservice rules the day.

Why do we allow this to happen? It’s largely because we are worried about ourselves and what we can handle. If we keep doing the things that others could do, if we cling to tasks that we could delegate without a whole lot of effort, then what happens? We get to stay small and we never have to step into our zones of genius and stare our big things in the face—the big things that if we did them would take our lives and our businesses to the next level and blow the lid off of our earnings. This is where the real terror lies.

So what happens? All too often, in the face of that terror, we cling to minutiae. We organize the shelves and follow up on the purchase orders and do the data entry and fold the laundry and monitor every little thing, while the big things, the life-changing things, completely escape our attention.

Service means solving the bigger problem

This brings me to my fourth point about service. No one is served by you staying small. Not you, or the people around you, or the public at large. We don’t need the genius in our midst chained to the photocopier, unless of course you are a genius at fixing photocopiers, in which case, by all means, step up and help out with that. The point is that if you’re spending your time solving smaller problems than you’re capable of solving, if you’re fixated on small, then you’re holding the people around you back, by inhibiting their growth. You’re doing work they could be doing and growing and learning from. And you’re doing everyone on the planet a disservice because the world has big problems that you could help to solve. And you’re doing yourself and your family a disservice, in terms of your financial position and your level of frustration, because a racehorse will never feel happy when they’re strapped to a pony ride.

I can’t tell you how often I talk to frustrated people who are playing small—much smaller than they’re capable of—and when I suggest there’s a bigger problem that they could solve, they say, “I don’t even want to think about the bigger problem. It’s just not worth it.”

So much is revealed in this sentiment I can’t even tell you. The assumption here is, “I’m always going to earn the same amount. Don’t bother me with the big stuff, because for what I get paid, I’ll just keep focusing on this little piddly stuff.”

Service Requires Payment

This brings me to my fifth point about service: No one is served by you not getting paid.

One of my friends graduated from law school about the same time that I did. And she interviewed at a firm where everyone made the same amount. They took the firm’s income at the end of each month and divided it equally among the staff members: attorneys, secretaries, janitors, everyone. And to this, my friend the attorney said, “Great. I’ll be the secretary.”

An attorney doing secretarial work is a disservice. Not that secretaries don’t perform valuable functions. They definitely do. But attorneys can do things that no one else is legally allowed to do, and if they aren’t doing those things because of some wacky compensation scheme that discounts the value of what they do and the significant investment they’ve made in law school, then fewer people who need legal help are going to get it.

That compensation scheme was a disservice because it motivated attorneys to stay small instead of doing their big work, and as wacky as it sounds, it’s not an isolated incident. How many of us have set a mental ceiling on what we’re going to earn—it’s the amount that we’re comfortable with, to earn more than that seems too huge to even think about—and so we’re confining our activities to what’s reasonable within that compensation scheme? At that income level? Too many of us to count are doing this. And that is the ultimate disservice. It is a disservice for you not to charge what your solutions are worth, because what happens when you don’t? You stop doing your big work and you recline back into the smaller stuff.

Service Requires Honesty

Another thing I want to share about service is that it requires honesty. Here’s an example from my own life. I often get calls from people who think they need to start a hedge fund. The legal fees for doing that generally are between $80,000 and $100,000. It’s not a small project, and it’s definitely not inexpensive. But often these folks don’t actually need a hedge fund. What they need is a simple agreement that I have on my computer and in about two hours’ time I can modify it for their use and then they’re good to go.

So the first thing I do when someone calls me up and says, “I need a hedge fund,” is play devil’s advocate. Do they really need this? Because if the answer is no, I can save them somewhere between $75,000 and $95,000, and a whole lot of trouble.

That is an example of service. It’s honest, but an important thing to notice is that this kind of honesty pays in the long run. Because if I’m the one advisor who sets someone straight, who tells them that they don’t really need to spend all of that money and that they would be a whole a lot happier if they don’t spend the money, who are they going to trust? Who are they going to refer people to later on? Who will they call when they need something the time?

The answers, of course, are me, me, and me. The payoff in being honest is enormous. Aside from the fact that this type of honesty is just the right thing to do, it’s also very fun, when I least expect it, to get a surprise phone call completely out of the blue from someone in Zürich or Sydney or San Francisco, who says, “You know, we’ve never spoken and you don’t know me, but I need some help, and so-and-so said I could trust you to be straight with me.”

This is what happens when you serve people. You get word-of-mouth referrals. People talk you up instead of talking you down, and you can’t buy this kind of advertising at any price. It’s the way to build wealth. You don’t just get money. You get money you can feel good about earning.

Service Requires Growth

The last point I’d like to make today is how to put this all together. We’ve talked about six points so far:

  • To truly serve, to step out of disservice and into true service, means to put some effort in on the front end to make everything better later on. It means foregoing what’s easy now, and making an investment in future ease.
  • Service is respectful. If you’re looking at people around you and thinking they’re less capable or motivated than you, or that they can’t handle what you can, and you’re running yourself ragged taking care of them, you’re not in service. You’re in disservice.
  • Service makes those around you stronger. If what you’re doing is resulting in whining and weakness and entitlement, that’s definitely not service. It’s disservice.
  • Service means solving the bigger problem. It means letting go of the things that you can delegate, the problems you already know how to solve, and going deeper into your important work and further into your zone of genius. No one is served by you playing small.
  • Service means charging for the value you provide. If you don’t do this, your brain is very reasonably going to get tired and want to go back to solving the smaller problems.
  • Last point: Service requires honesty. It means foregoing what’s easy, and doing what’s right.

How do you put all of this together? You grow. You develop a bigger vision. The essential ingredient to service is thinking more highly of your own capability and stepping into a bigger role. It’s respecting yourself and what you’re capable of. Just as you can’t look down on other people and minimize in your mind what they’re capable of, to serve you must also extend that same respect towards yourself. To do anything less is a disservice to yourself, your earnings, and to everyone around you who could be helped by you, but who is instead bumbling along on their own without your very valuable assistance.

This kind of growth, by the way, isn’t easy to envision on your own. Yesterday I was working with a client who’s on the verge of earning some truly rock star income, and we were talking a very easy and logical way to reposition what she’s doing so she can start serving in a bigger way, and earning in a bigger way. She said, “I could have never come up with this. It’s like I was blind.” But once she saw it, she also said that now she can see the path, it’s obvious and she knows that she can definitely achieve it. It’s not that the skill and experience weren’t there. It’s that just couldn’t see how to capitalize on it, and all she needed was someone else to paint that picture of it for her.

This, my friends, is where great business coaching comes in. If you’re not growing, if you’re not earning the income you want and are capable of, it’s because you can’t see the path to your own growth, and a great coach can help you do this. Let me know if I can help you. kelly@richandthin.com.

I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to help you if you need some help. And I hope you have a terrific week. I’ll talk to you next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.