In my early 30s, I was feeling really sluggish which was unusual for my high energy and normal go-go-go. And while it was a busy time of life  — I was a single, self-employed father of two rebuilding just about everything —  the progressive change in my energy levels was more than an inconvenience. I was dragging myself around everywhere and literally unable to finish things from my to-do list at home, work and as a volunteer. Not good.

It was about a year before this exhaustion really kicked in that I stopped donating blood. It was a habit I had gotten into in my early 20s and seemed like an easy way to pay it forward. It was a painless and practical way I could be helping others. The free juice and cookies were a bonus. Life was busy, however, and once I broke the habit of donating regularly, it fell off my radar.

On one of my trips to the Dr’s to solve this worrying energy issue, I naively asked if there could be a connection to no longer donating blood. I could see the literal light bulb turn on over his head and he sent me for more blood work and a DNA test to see if might have a special chromosome cocktail that would make me susceptible to something called hemochromatosis. Guess what: I won the genetic lottery!

The good news is that, while this is something to be aware of and can obviously have a real impact, hemochromatosis — which is best described as my body having an inappropriate love of iron — is easy enough to manage. Guess how you best manage it? You give blood!

It turns out that I had been unknowingly managing my hemochromatosis for years. It was when I stopped giving blood that I became aware of this disease. My attitude of giving blood to ‘help others’ was pretty arrogant and way off the mark. In serving others by giving blood, I was actually serving myself. 

This story is a great example of how being in service to others can in fact be an act of self-interest too. There is a common misconception that getting something back while helping others negates the good intentions of serving. That mindset is both foolish and wrong. In fact, our research at Four Simple Words says that the most meaningful acts of service bring direct benefit to those who are being served and those being of service. #WinWin

The motivation, courage and confidence that authentic service brings leaders allow us to better understand our own needs and motivations. Understanding what energizes me (vs what takes away my energy) is permission to look for ways where serving others empowers me. Following this natural energy is a sign of a leader who knows how to add value without depleting themselves to the point where they are of no use. It is good and natural to be tired or need recharging after serving others. That need is a natural sign we need to look internally for a while. That said, we don’t want our service to others to drain us to the point of exhaustion and we stop serving all together.

Good service starts with me knowing my strengths and what fills my heart and soul. The more I pay attention to that, the better and longer I will be able to serve you. And, it turns out myself as well. 

PS  If you are able, consider donating blood. The people, science and infrastructure behind our (post-Krever Commission) blood system is impressive and is saving lives. Find a blood clinic near you at Blood.ca Pro tip: apple juice and a Kind granola bar are the best snack combo!

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