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Meaning of 'service before self'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffery Casey
  • 379th Expeditionary Medical Squadron
Every day in the Air Force we are reminded of our core values. Each time someone talks about them, we try to give different definitions for each one and different examples for what they mean. Integrity is usually defined as doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Excellence in all we do is somewhat self-explanatory. Service before self never seems to get its due.

In 11 years in the Air Force, I've never heard a good definition of service before self. I recently came across a story that gives, in my opinion, not only a great definition of this core value, but shows how one person can embody all our core values, and this person wasn't even in the Air Force.

Ryne Sandberg is a former second baseman in Major League Baseball who spent nearly his entire career with the Chicago Cubs. Sandberg was formally inducted into the Major League Hall of Fame July 31, 2005. Sandberg made 10 consecutive All-Star appearances and won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1983 to 1991. His career .989 fielding percentage is a major league record at second base. Hall of Fame speeches tend to be "all about me." Not Mr. Sandberg. Listen to what he said about his career:

"A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn't work hard for validation. I didn't play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that's what you're supposed to do; play it right and with respect. If this validates anything, it's the guys who taught me the game, who did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do. I dreamed of this as a child but I had too much respect for baseball to think this was ever possible. I believe it is because I had so much respect for the game and respect for getting the most out of my ability that I stand here today."

All too often today, we seem to have a sense of entitlement. We get caught up in "what is owed to me" and forget about "when do I start paying it back?" We get so concerned about our potential rewards, we forget about the simple satisfaction of a job well done. Not Mr. Sandberg. When his style of play was compared to some of the greats in baseball he said, "That was my job. When did it become okay for someone to hit home runs and forget how to play the rest of the game?" His ideas were so simple, yet so profound. Be the best you can at everything you do, not because you'll get a reward, but because that is what you are supposed to do. Sounds a lot like integrity first, excellence in all we do, and service before self.

My father has told me all my life, "anything worth doing is worth doing right." He never mentioned a reward. Not because they weren't possible, but because my integrity should compel me to do my best at anything I do. My definition of service before self: doing your duty with respect, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and relinquishing your stake in the outcome.

My challenge to you is to make the commitment to go through life doing what you do the best you can do it and never look back. The rewards will come. And if they don't, you can hold your head high and know you played the game how it was meant to be played.