Service or servitude — are you a superhero or a slave?

Carlos Saba
The Happy Startup School
4 min readOct 13, 2016


When you’re on a mission to do something positive in the world are you behaving like a superhero or a slave?

This thought came to me while spinning around on my ergonomic office chair listening to two friends discuss the idea of “service vs servitude”.

When you’re in service to others you come from a position of power. Superhero.

When you’re in servitude to others you come from a position of weakness. Slave.

It’s a fascinating discussion.

I’m dizzied by what it all means in terms of doing purposeful work (or maybe I should stop spinning on my chair). What does it take to make sustainable impact?

Here are my thoughts.

I was brought up a good Catholic boy. My mother is from the Philippines and my father is Italian. So I really didn’t have a choice.

The idea of being of service to others was ingrained in me from an early age (as well as guilt and not being able to eat chocolate during Lent). It felt natural to me that we should be helping others.

But what if serving others comes at the cost to yourself?

What if making other people happy comes at the cost of your own happiness?

Whether you run a startup, social enterprise or charity it will only survive or thrive if you have the energy and endurance to keep at it.

Even if you’re serving a higher purpose or have an inspiring vision it’s highly probable that you’ll burn out if you’re not serving yourself as well. Your work should make you stronger not weaker.

How can we serve ourselves while serving others?

We need to be honest about what really motivates us and what gives us energy, enjoyment and strength.

By working at the intersection of what we enjoy, what we do well and what the world needs we tap into a virtuous circle of limitless power.

  • You do work that you love.
  • You do it to the best of your ability.
  • You provide value and service to others.
  • You get enjoyment and energy from it.
  • You do it more because it makes you feel good.
  • You get even better at it.
  • You’re a powerful superhero!

This is what I believe it means to be of service to others. You use your superpowers to serve the world.

Imagine if everyone worked like that? Work would become effortless because it becomes a joy. We’d happily do it for free. But because we’re so successful at it we can actually make a living from it. That’s where I want to be!

Now let’s flip the script.

Let’s think of a more common scenario.

You find a cause that you strongly believe in but you don’t have the skills to contribute to it. Or you work in a job that pays the bills but doesn’t fulfil you. You work hard to cultivate the necessary skills. But because this work doesn’t service all your needs it becomes an effort. The work drains you of energy.

Because you have less energy to do the work you don’t do it well. You’re less effective and so need to work harder. More effort means you become more drained. You become weak.

You’re unlikely to make any effective impact if you spend too much time in this weakening cycle. Your work will ultimately drain you of all energy and you’ll be left feeling hollowed out. Your power has been taken away from you. You feel trapped and can’t escape. You’ve become a slave.

So do you want to be a superhero or a slave?

Are you working to your ultimate potential and helping others?

Or are you struggling to make an impact and make ends meet?

I believe to serve a higher purpose you need to also serve yourself. You need to do the inner work in order for the outer work to matter.

Know yourself.

Know your superpowers.

Know how you can make a change in the world.

And then take the first step to make that change happen.



Carlos Saba
The Happy Startup School

Co–founder of The Happy Startup School. Lover of learning and using that learning to help others.