Service is our highest calling.

Academics serve two masters: ideas and society. Our job is to explore, teach, mentor students, and share our work with the world. As a citizen, I serve on committees and boards, and do pro-bono work based on my research and creative practice. Service is central to everything I do, but it was not always that way.

I thought service meant going to meetings. It was something I had to do, but not something that made a positive contribution. I thought that if I focused on research and teaching, everything would fall into place. I was wrong. It took me a long time to learn, but now I see that service is the central part of our work. Doing it well serves everyone.

Service is the conduit for discovery.

Service is an invisible art. When you first encounter someone who excels at service, you might not notice what they are doing. I now watch people who are great it so I can learn. It is hard to learn something so subtle, but I now understand how important it is to the work I love.

People who can run a meeting, lead a team, or navigate interpersonal conflicts impacting our work are rare. In many ways, it is a thankless task, but it is the single most important part of our work. Without it, there would be no teaching or research. 

Those good at service are top performers.

I thought being a top performer meant not having to pay attention to service. I figured that taking time for service would cut into the areas I love: teaching and research. I now believe the opposite. The people at my institution who are the best at service are also the top researchers and teachers. The same goes for those I work with in the community, and in the professional world. Not everyone will be great at service, but focusing on it improves all areas of our work. I like to think of it this way: if someone is willing to serve, my job is to ask, “how can I serve the person who is giving their time and energy to help others?”

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