Service is our highest calling. As an academic, I serve ideas, and society. My job is to explore questions, teach, mentor and inspire students, and to share my work with the public. As a citizen, I serve on committees and boards, and do pro-bono work based on my research and creative practice. Service is also the area I found the hardest to learn. A colleague of mine once talked to me about the importance of this work. He was a good friend, and a smart guy, so I listened to him, but I could not imagine why this was important. I thought that if I just focused on my research and my teaching, that everything else would fall into place. I was wrong.
Service is what makes everything at the university work, and what makes our teaching and research better. It took me a long time, but now I watch people who are great at this kind of work and try to learn from them. It is hard work, but I am glad that I can finally see how important it is to the work that I love so much. The colleague who tried to teach me that lesson? I went back to him to thank him for trying to explain service to me, and to get more notes on how best to serve. He continues to be one of my models for this work.
What I have learned is that those who are the best at service, are also top performers. I thought that being a top performer would mean I would not have to pay attention to service. I now believe that is about as wrong as you can be about the matter. The people at my institution who are the best at service are also the top research producers and teachers. The same goes for those I work with in the community. Not sure why I was so ignorant of what seems so obvious, but fortunately for me I have mentors who help me.