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The Service Card

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”— Leo Tolstoy In January 1996, Sven Atterhed, chair of the Foresight Group in Sweden, met Mother Teresa at her Mission in Calcutta. Upon learning of my meeting with her in Istanbul later that year, he wrote me of his profound experience: “I was told that there was a slim chance I would see her. Visitors were welcome, but her work always came first. She traveled a lot (about 500 missions around the world) and worked from about 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. I went anyway.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”
— Leo Tolstoy

In January 1996, Sven Atterhed, chair of the Foresight Group in Sweden, met Mother Teresa at her Mission in Calcutta. Upon learning of my meeting with her in Istanbul later that year, he wrote me of his profound experience:

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“I was told that there was a slim chance I would see her. Visitors were welcome, but her work always came first. She traveled a lot (about 500 missions around the world) and worked from about 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. I went anyway.

I was greeted by a smiling sister who showed me to the Mission’s waiting room. Some people had been waiting as much as a week.

When the Mother appeared, she surprised me with a great laugh, lots of humor, and a talent for storytelling. She shared one story, in particular, about how she negotiated a lease with the local authorities for the Mission and several other sites in Calcutta. ‘We don’t accept gifts from governments or local authorities, you see, but the lease is one Rupee per year,’ she explained with a wink and a giggle. We loved the story.

We, of course, gave her all the money we had. We gave her our business cards, too, and asked for autographs. Then the Mother said to one of the Sisters, ‘Go and get my business cards, please.'”

“The fruit of SILENCE is Prayer
The fruit of PRAYER is Faith
The fruit of FAITH is Love
The fruit of LOVE is Service
The fruit of SERVICE is Peace”
— Mother Teresa’s Business Card

“I carry the card with me everywhere. I knew when the Mother bid us farewell with a blessing that I had been in the presence of a saint. Not a distant saint, but an intensely practical and entrepreneurial spirit. I alternately felt awe and joy, stillness and a smile, a lump in my throat and a tear in my eyes — all with a gentle laugh inside. I have met many entrepreneurs and I know one when I see one. That I would ever meet an entrepreneurial saint was something I had never expected, least of all in a convent.”

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“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

Brand Lifeline: Build Your Brand on the Power of Service

“The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service.” — Paul Hawken

What should your “business” card read? What would you like it to read? What if you thought of it more as a “service” card?

You might consider an inner picture of yourself, the values and loyalties that inspire you, and the ways you hope to invest your time. You might consider a card that communicates the promise of who you are and what you can do for others.

None of us will become another Mother Teresa. We live in the business world, which hardly requires a vow of poverty … It’s difficult to demonstrate faith in the power of service — to believe that you could receive unimaginable rewards bythinking of others and giving to them selflessly. In truth what really differentiates you in any marketplace is how you uniquely serve the needs of others and, in so doing, serve yourself.

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“When altruism is selfish, it becomes sustainable — perhaps forever.” — Bill Shore, executive director of Share our Strength

On May 21 I met a carpenter named Charlie whose life is a testament to the power of service and its impact on one’s career and self-esteem.

By the time Charlie was 20, he was already divorced with a child. When Sharon got pregnant, the young couple married and Charlie dropped out of school. Soon after the baby was born, they split up. Without a college degree or much work experience, he was forced to choose between paying child-support and giving up his rights to see the baby. Charlie chose the latter.

Sharon met a wonderful man and remarried. Charlie kept in touch sporadically. As time went on, he called less often and Sharon’s new husband became the “real” father.

Charlie became a carpenter and met a woman he planned to marry. A few months before their nuptials, he found her in bed with another man. Soon after, Charlie’s life fell apart. He lost his job, his house, his car, his tools — and his self-esteem. He found alcohol.

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“If a living system is suffering from ill-health, the remedy is to connect it to more of itself.” — Francisco Varella, biologist

In despair, Charlie talked to his pastor, who gave this advice: To get, you first must give. The pastor put Charlie in touch with Habitat for Humanity. Charlie gave, and then gave more. And he received, and then received more.

Today, Charlie is a beacon of happiness with a fulfilling life that grows daily. His “wealth” has multiplied since he began working with Habitat for Humanity and began supervising a development project on the south shore of Boston two years ago: “I get incredible amounts of energy from the new volunteers that come each week and from my relationship with these families whose homes we are building. But that’s not all I get,” counsels Charlie.

Charlie’s carpentry work is back — somehow, better than ever. For reasons he says he doesn’t understand, Charlie is now getting work he never got before, is attracting clients who never selected him before. He is not financially rich, but for the first time in a long time, all the bills are getting paid on time without stress.

Most important, Charlie feels good about Charlie.

“The money just seems to be taking care of itself. And friends? I don’t have many, but for the first time I have some really great friends. Wonderful people.” He has been in touch with his 15-year-old daughter, Leona, as well. The situation remains a bit complicated, but it appears that Sharon’s family of three is slowly integrating a new parent.

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“We are not here merely to make a living. We are here to enrich the world.” — Woodrow Wilson

My moment with Mother Teresa in June 1996 gave me the permission to lead a life of service to others — without concern for recompense. I have tried and made some dramatic changes, too. But it’s a struggle. I still have one corporate gray business card that says “You & Company: Attract, Develop and Retain MBAs” and one card with tropical fish on it (I love to scuba dive) that reads “dr. Mark: Making a Life, Making a Living.”

Money and meaning, I guess. Maybe Charlie’s given me the strength to build my brand on meaning, on the power of service. Thanks, Charlie. And the Mother, too, for inspiring me to re-examine my calling card.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” — Muhammad Ali

To learn more about Mother Teresa, see ML2 E-Newsletter #38. Find out more about Habitat for Humanity. My personal meeting with Mother Teresa is discussed in Chapter 1 of the New York Times best-selling book, Making a Life, Making a Living.

Copyright © 2000 Dr. Mark S. Albion. All rights reserved.

Read more columns by Mark Albion.

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