It's a big day, and I'm excited to take a pause from work with the rest of the country to watch Barack Obama give his inagural speech.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about the day of service. How Obama wants the country to come together in the name of service. And I heard MTV declare, last night, that the next generation is Generation S. For service.

So I'm thinking about service, and how all our efforts to help people, really, are aimed to make them more indepdent. And that's what work is about: Taking care of ourselves, mentally and financially.

When you mentor someone in the work arena, you are providing that service. So often we pick the superstar to mentor. Or the up-and-comer. Or the one who can help us with our own networking. But you can use your work skills to help someone pull themselves out of a bad spot. A really bad spot. Work skills are very powerful. And so is mentoring.

So when you think about service, don't' think of it as separate from work. Obama stands for all the things that we do, on this blog: Personal responsibility, transparency, honesty, change even when it's difficult. This inagural day is the beginning of meshing the public life and worklife so that we are living the values we believe in, wherever we go.

Think about how you can focus on service at work. Each of us has a lot of tools at our disposal. If we take the time to use them.

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42 replies
  1. Lobo estepario
    Lobo estepario says:

    Penelope Hello from Spain.
    If we work as we like and what we do with love, flowing, then we will be sure to help others. Especially those around us.

    Thanks and regards.

  2. Alison
    Alison says:

    Penelope, I love reading your blog and especially love the fact that you have an editor, because that means I usually don’t have typos glaring at me as I read. Today’s post had a few errors. Did someone hack your blog?

  3. Brian
    Brian says:

    From my post earlier today:
    Leadership = Influence
    Barack Obama today will become leader of one of the world’s most influential nations. Thus expanding his influence and leadership.

    Regardless of our career, we all can be great leaders and influencers.
    Through our actions, service (as you pointed out), and words, we can be a great influence to people and corporations around us. It’s taking great pride in what you do and doing it to the best of your ability.

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    More like Generation S for screwed. If Obama makes community service mandatory, like he said he wants to do, it will feel more like servitude than service. We won’t have to separate work from service because they’ll feel the same. “Service” will just be government mandated work that we’re not paid for. I volunteer at Boys and Girls Clubs, but I’ll go to jail before I participate in mandatory service.

  5. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Today I am very proud of my country – not because some great change occured these past months that suddenly allowed for the election of a multi-racial President. I’m proud because this country continues to evolve and this is just one more example of the road she has been on since inception. I think that the new President’s proposals for service on a personal level are honorable, however I would remind us all that prior Presidents fostered and honored the ongoing ‘service’ of Americans. I also remember that in those previous instances those concepts were often not respected by our media. The 1st President Bush’s message about ‘1000 Points of Light’ comes immediately to mind. My point is really to encourage everyone to look around and see for yourself what occurs and what is needed. Step back from the spin. The U.S. has alwasys and continues to be full of great citizens today – not suddenly full of potentially great citizens because of the election of a man who will help us become great.

  6. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    What if Obama used stimulous money toward creating community service-type jobs? The country could be investing in “social infrastructure,” which might do more for the country in the long run than another bridge, especially if it is to nowhere. Social infrastructure investing could help millions to “get somewhere.”

  7. Dan
    Dan says:

    Just a guess, but I’m thinking Obama’s idea of “service” requires a bit more effort and selflessness than answering emails from would-be proteges.

    As far as mandatory service, that was quickly changed to a “goal”. And college students who do 100 hours of community service a year would get a $4000 tuition credit. Darn good pay for short-term unskilled labor.

  8. Reality Check
    Reality Check says:

    President Obama just finished a very inspiring speech. I hope he does well and I hope he can help us come back to personal responsibility.

    Reality, though, tells a different story. Generation X has so far carried the irresponsible Boomer ways to new lows and it looks like Generation Y and S (for selfish) are going even lower.

    We have an avalanche coming on us that has been building for decades. The truth is, the lack of personal responsibility has finally caught up to us. The unfettered greed, the entitlement mentality, and the victim mentality collectively has buried us and there is no clear way out. All of our debts are finally having to be paid.

    Lately, Penny’s articles are getting better (likely do to investors comments) but she generally promotes very selfish behavior. For all of you Gen-Yers who seem to buy into this type of thinking, do yourselves a favor: be grateful, work hard, help your teammates, and deliver what you promise. This never gets old and you will likely stay employed much longer otherwise.

    Us Gen-Xers aren’t dead by a long shot, but we sure did our part in dragging down the country. Let’s hope Obama is at least able to inspire a few of us to get over ourselves.

  9. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    It’s great that people are getting inspired to serve, help and mentor. I think people typically want to help each other, but we’re now aware of so many worthy causes that it’s hard to know where to start or how to focus our energy. A homeless shelter? Cancer fundraiser? Literacy training? Child slavery? Darfur?

    On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Seth Godin wrote a post listing 18 ideas for service “that you can do online or in your community, with time, not so much with money.” One of Seth’s ideas: “Write a great Wikipedia article every day about a person who is changing the world for the better.”

    It’s a great list because there’s an entry point for almost anyone and many of these ideas can be pursued independently. You can take one of these ideas and run with it now, rather than having to go through a volunteer application process just to get started.

  10. Jamie Varon
    Jamie Varon says:

    I’ve always felt like we can do our service in all different ways, not just the cookie-cutter volunteer at a homeless shelter way (which is great, too!).

    By setting examples of integrity and honesty and just generally living life with meaning and dignity is service to mankind in of itself.

    I like this post a lot Penelope. Thanks!

    Jamie @

  11. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    The biggest obstacle I see to Obama’s success is that many of the problems he has to tackle are now deeply entrenched in American culture.
    Fear of socialism, rugged individualism at the expense of others, fear of regulation, expectations of wealth (and poverty), fear of the poor, religious fundamentalism and expectations of religious power, and entrenchment of private sector interests in public goods. Those are formidable barriers to his success.
    I’d be pessimistic except for the success of the campaign he ran, just walking over obstacles as if they weren’t even there.
    What a guy.

  12. Sam
    Sam says:

    It is snowing over here, but once it gets warm again, I will probably go back out and do some Habitat for Humanity over the summer. It is kinda fun.
    I felt bad for Obama when he messed up the swearing in part. :)

    • Joselle
      Joselle says:

      Actually, the judge swearing him in mixed up the wording of the oath and Obama caught it and stumbled. Not that he can’t make mistakes but this wasn’t one of them. And I thought it was human that the oath wasn’t spoken perfectly. Who needs to when you’re going to deliver a speech like he did afterwards.

  13. JeremiahJ
    JeremiahJ says:

    “Obama stands for all the things that we do, on this blog: Personal responsibility, transparency, honesty, change even when it's difficult.”

    Dearest Penelope

    It’s time for an agonizing reappraisal of the whole scene..

  14. B.Yip
    B.Yip says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I have been watching the inauguration ceremony on TV in London. I am so impressed and feel slightly jealous that as an European, I feel that we are probably decades behind in electing someone like Obama into our offices.

    congratulations on your new president.

  15. Nathan
    Nathan says:

    Like the concept of service. I believe that’s something we can all get into.

    Kept feeling like the word “inaguration” was staring me in the face when it’s “inauguration” if my dictionary is correct… no spellcheck for your posts??

  16. The Opinionator
    The Opinionator says:

    Just curious, where was all this calling to service during the Bush administration? Certainly one does not need to wait for an administration that you vote for to perform service. In fact, service by individuals and faith-based organizations was a cornerstone of his politics. Waiting until you have a president with whom you agree to assist others is selfish. Should I take the next 4-8 years off from doing good works because I am not an Obama supporter and do not think that he is all about change, honesty and responsibility?

  17. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
    Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says:

    Every time we can help a co-worker become stronger, it makes us stronger. It also makes us feel good.

    It’s a win/win. So why don’t we do more of it? Because we get too caught up in our own lives. We (I really mean I) need to give back to the people at work. Thanks Penelope.

  18. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Not work-related, but we had a pre-Inaug party on Saturday and brought money for our local food bank, as well as canned goods, warm coats and blankets. We’re taking Obama at his word regarding service and plan to do this on an ongoing basis. Economic crisis or not, we are still wealthier than most people in the world. This is the time to extend ourselves and build our community.

  19. Dale
    Dale says:

    Despite the emphasis on tech, money, and other “stuff”, our greatest strength and the future of our world depends on investment in people.
    It is so glaringly obvious that when we give unselfishly without a thought about what’s in it for me, we are all at our best. Trust is highest, and we like ourselves more. I hope this era is the beginning of something bigger than 15 second sound bites or image management – and I think it is.
    Thanks for this post Penny!

  20. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    I’ve always known this at some level, but, I think this post helped underscore for me why I do all the Gen X stuff on my blog. I’m trying to pull the slacker out of a really bad spot – the pressed down, disaffected, unvalidated would-be success that became a slacker b/c there were no good jobs and too many times, there was nothing else to do but stop caring – b/c having passion for accomplishing SOMETHING was a real threat to many a Boomer. Thus, many a GenXer set in many an office staring off into space – for a decade or more. But, really, it does feel like it’s all changing. I hope it’s not superficial optimism.

    Most of your posts remind me of the Proverb that says that it is better to hear an admonition or truth from a friend than kind words from an enemy. This post about mentoring someone in a bad spot reminded me of the words of Paul the Apostle who wrote that G_d was no respecter or persons.

  21. Cinthia
    Cinthia says:

    Penelope, please. You have never represented yourself as someone who would ever help anyone with anything…and now, because of one day of inspirational speech writing and good delivery you are all ready to help. I’ll believe all this service nonsense from your generation when and if I see it.

  22. hutchie
    hutchie says:

    Matt is not being selfish. He said he volunteers- by choice. Mandated, obligatory volunteer service is a stepping stone to conscription.

  23. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:


    Thank you for taking time to highlight the inauguration of President Obama and for writing about the call to service. As a Federal government employee, and manager of a global voluntary search and rescue system, I am reminded of the good nature of mariners call to serve and assist those in distress. On a more personal side I am heartened by the call to service by President Obama and take the challenge seriously. I serve the State of Connecticut as a member of the Special Education Advisory Council. I have a son with Down syndrome and believe in volunteering to ensure he can grow up in a more tolerant world with a solid education.

    We live in a time when service is, more than ever, necessary for our country to grow and adapt to this new world.

    I believe we can each contribute in a meaningful way. There are many ways for people to serve and I encourage everyone to take up the challenge, take advantage of the benefits that may accompany service, and serve.

  24. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Mandatory community service kind of takes all of the joy out of it, if you ask me. I learned volunteerism by watching my elders. I know my daughter will become a service oriented person because she watches us volunteer and has even tried to help us from time to time even though she is only five.

  25. professor godwin
    professor godwin says:

    Thanks Penelope. I enjoyed how you tailored Obama's message to your own life and audience. Great extension of Obama's theme: think about how you can best help contribute to a responsible, sustainably, and healthy America, and live it.

    Each person has unique ways to contribute. As a writer with a wide audience, your time is certainly not best utilized by building homes. Alternatively, a 20-year-old who needs education can probably spare a couple years retrofitting homes and building the solar, wind, digital infrastructure that will enable a smart-energy grid.

    We've got a lot of work ahead to create the digital networks that will enable us to reform health care, education, energy, and citizenship. We can all do our part by sharing our own vision, whether be it through mentorship, blogging, community service etc.

    As one commenter pointed out, Obama used inspirational leadership, management, and technology, to run a successful campaign. To meet our challenges, I expect Obama will, with the greatest resources on earth at his disposal, extend these methods.

    I applaud your attempt to change minds on such an intractable subject.

  26. Philip
    Philip says:

    Entire cultures are based on service, but ours doesn’t happen to be one of them. Instead, look at Japan: the word samurai means “one who serves”. No other group of people has ever been respected more, and for good reason. Their selfless dedication and willingness to sacrifice in service set them apart.

    There are people here in the US that know what it means to serve their community, to volunteer and work hard in service to others. I don’t think you can pass a law that requires people to serve, any more than you could pass a law mandating people to be “good”, however you might define that. How about instead we each find something that inspires us to be better citizens, and find ways of contributing to our communities? We don’t need our new president to tell us we need to do that, but it’s nice to know that he understands the importance. For the selfish people out there: don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything. Just pay attention, though, and you’ll learn something.

  27. Jennifer SD
    Jennifer SD says:

    I agree that mandatory volunteering is not going to work. We should want to help people who are less fortunate or help an organization that we believe in to help it grow.

    However, we have become a nation of things. We need more and more two cars is not enough we need three. Bigger TV’s, Bigger houses, Bigger computers and more money. It seems absurd that anyone needs to earn even a million dollars to perform a job but how many people earn more money then I will ever see in a lifetime. Those sports players and presidents of large companies have inflated what we think we should be earning. There is an awful sense of entitlement. Some of this I believe started when mothers went back to work. I work full time but we tend to want to buy the kids love or for reasons of guilt.

    Right now I work in a not-for-profit that has a mission of improving peoples lives. We are financially hurting and in the 30+ years of its existance had to lay-off a person. We have clientele that use excuses “we only earn $200,000 a year we can’t afford to pay for speech therapy” and then we see them driving off in a Mercedes SUV. Ha!!! As a Gen-Xer I think going back a few years in time will be good for us. A time when families spent time together and everyone didn’t have everything! Will Obama be our “savior”? no but he may be a good start at a rude awakening for the United States. I am not surprised that other countries don’t like us. We like new and shiny and revere what is old and beautiful.

  28. Erin
    Erin says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I also really enjoyed this brief post but noticed that there were still some typos and misspellings like “indepdent” and “don’t'” in the last paragraph. It’s a blog though so a more casual and conversational tone is allowed.

    I appreciate the topic of this post and it’s actually something that came up today during a board meeting I attended where I work. I work at a non-profit and service is almost inherent in this type of job. For those of you who work for for-profits, service could also be defined as reaching out to those in your community and examining what opportunities there might be for volunteer service, both as an individual and maybe as a company. I work for United Way and am a bit biased regarding charity, particularly charitable giving through the workplace; but as a Gen Y-er with a smaller disposable income, I appreciate opportunities for volunteer service rather than just financial contributions.

  29. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Evidently no (fail) whales were spotted on Twitter on inauguration day even with all the traffic. The following text was reported on their blog –

    “It was a big day at Twitter HQ today and it’s not even noon yet. We saw 5x normal tweets-per-second and about 4x tweets-per-minute as this chart illustrates. Overall, Twitter sailed smoothly through the inauguration but at the peak, some folks did experience a 2-5 minute delay receiving updates. We’ll be analyzing this later today so that during the next massively shared global event there is no appreciable delay. Exciting!”

    I think they’re getting the hang of it. :)

  30. deepali
    deepali says:

    I find we talk a lot about service, but I fail to see people actively participating. I think, Penelope, that one way you can “walk the talk” is to write a series of posts on some of the service you are engaging in. I would love to read it, and hope that it would inspire others.

  31. Patrice Beverly
    Patrice Beverly says:

    Great post no matter what! Service doesn’t have to come in a big package. It can be simple deeds done in our everyday lives. My work focuses on getting people involved in National Service, and that is an amazing commitment, but not for everyone. I think you are on the right track here, just getting out there and doing something.

    Patrice Beverly
    Volunteer Maryland

  32. Nitpicky
    Nitpicky says:

    Hey Penelope,

    I saw someone commented on the old typos, but did you notice that the font is off? I don’t know why but the font on this one post is different from all your others, and it doesn’t look intentional…

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