Ten Lifelong Benefits of Volunteering, Part 2

Are you volunteering?Are you volunteering?

Last week I introduced the first five of the ten lifelong benefits you can gain from volunteering your time and talents to your community. Here are my concluding points:

6. You can try things you never have before.

Have you ever wondered how effective you might be at:

  • Public speaking?
  • Writing a brochure or an advertisement?
  • Looking after a half-dozen toddlers for a morning?
  • Listening to troubled, traumatized individuals?
  • Cooking for large groups?
  • Managing other individuals?
  • Driving large vehicles?
  • Teaching English or tutoring math?

The list can go on and on. There is virtually no limit to the service opportunities and experience that volunteering can offer you!

This is a chance to discover the gold mine within yourself—to really find out what you are capable of. I’m not trying to be warm and fuzzy here; I’m telling you the truth. Despite whatever weaknesses you may see in yourself, you most certainly are qualified to perform certain tasks, and the opportunity is there.

In Columbus, Ohio, we have a local organization known as Hands On Central Ohio. It serves as a clearing house for those who wish to volunteer. You contact their office, give your name and address, interests, and the time levels you are able and willing to commit.

The people at Hands On enter your answers into a computer database. Then, over the telephone and often in a matter of minutes, they give you a list of all the service opportunities that match your interests. They will also provide a complete list of names and phone numbers. The point is, if you have an interest, you really have nothing to lose by giving it a try. In many organizations, free volunteer training sessions exist to teach new skills that you can apply to your service, and to your career.

7. You will improve your self-esteem and be appreciated.

Employees often become disillusioned with their work when they do not think they are appreciated. Their employers don’t make them feel as though they are needed. Sure, most companies brag that their employees are “their greatest resource,” but that attitude usually doesn’t get past the lip service.

Most people’s work has some bearing on the lives of others. How apparent that is to the employee varies greatly. But service work can offer a variety of opportunities for you to see the difference you make in people’s lives.

Have you ever seen the Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey, at a moment of severe personal adversity, wishes he had never lived? He states in anguish that the world would be a whole lot better had he never been born.

An angel gives him that opportunity: to see a world in which he had never been born. The result is a dark picture, where people he had known and loved had led entirely different and less meaningful lives.

At the risk of being overly sentimental, the message of this movie is very clear: in the most subtle way, you have the potential to greatly improve your own life and the lives of others. As a result you will, as George Bailey found out at the end of the film, be paid back in multitudes.

By seeing the difference you make for other people, by hearing how much you are appreciated, your self-esteem will thrive. Your self-esteem is very important. It affects your relationships, and your relationships have a great bearing on your success in life, in both work and family.

8. You may take on greater challenges than you will in an entry-level job.

Often, especially in smaller non-profit organizations, fewer people assume more responsibility. (Okay, so that’s true everywhere nowadays, but even more so for non-profit companies!) When groups are tight on resources, they are eager to give a qualified person willing to take on a compelling project or responsibility a chance.

Years ago, I met with some people who were serving in a local chapter of UNICEF. As you may know, UNICEF is a well-known, worldwide relief organization focused on the needs of children.

This local chapter was a small group with many responsibilities, primarily raising money through fund-raising events, school projects involving local children, and running a card and stationary store. This was almost entirely accomplished through the help of volunteers. When I met them, they were eager to have someone volunteer to serve as a public relations chair. This was because, despite their many successful efforts in fund-raising, they still did not have the “public” presence they deemed necessary to advance the cause of helping impoverished children around the globe.

In our conversations, I asked if they would be open to having a college student come in and help the group with publicity. Their response was positive—they would be delighted to work with a young person who was willing to make a commitment to help them achieve their goal.

What an opportunity! This is a small chapter of a huge organization, with plenty of support and name recognition. And it offered a lot more responsibilities and challenges than what you would typically find in an entry-level job!

9. Service can help you choose your vocation.

Many students and experienced professionals alike face choices and changes when it comes to their profession and vocation. Change is natural and isn’t necessarily a bad thing–but it can be difficult. It’s important that your lifelong career be one that challenges and suits you.

As I mentioned earlier, service work can help you try new things. In the same manner, it can help you reaffirm or reconsider a decision regarding your vocation. It may not give you the opportunity to actually work that job you are hoping to get, but it may allow you to gain insight on how you might handle that type of occupation.

For instance, Connie, a long-time friend of my sister originally enrolled in college as a nursing student. She rationalized that since she was always the one who cared for other people, then nursing would be a good occupation for her. While in school Connie started volunteering at a local hospital, working alongside many of the nurses whom she hoped to join professionally in a couple of years. In doing so she made some very startling discoveries about herself. It turned out Connie couldn’t stand the sight of blood, nor was she able to cope very well with people who were experiencing intense physical pain.

That’s kind of significant if you plan to be a nurse, isn’t it?

Connie thought so. Her service gave her the opportunity to see her own limitations. And she felt fortunate to have discovered these limitations early on.

The important thing to remember is that even if you may not be able to perform the exact functions you would in a professional position, service work can still allow you to decide whether or not a particular vocation is right for you. There are countless ways to serve. Find something that best suits what you think you might want to do for a living and give it a try.

Also realize that it is as equally important to understand your own weaknesses, as it is to know your strengths and true ambitions.

10. You see the world from a different perspective.

We have all had times in our lives when we’ve felt sorry for ourselves. I know I have. Often I would respond to myself by thinking, “No matter how bad things get for me, there is always someone else who’s got it worse.”

This may not always be comforting, but it is true.

Depending upon your areas of service, you may encounter people whose immense problems make yours seem insignificant. I know that I did. At a time when I was unemployed, I often felt sorry for myself, thinking that my problems were about as bad as they could get. But my experience volunteering through my church to help homeless families allowed me to meet and work with people who had it far worse than I ever did. These were families who had no homes. These people had so much less than I had. They came in from the streets carrying everything they owned in a few bags.

Many of you reading these words may now or will in the future experience hardships of some kind, be they personal problems with relationships, employment or finances. Some of you might grapple with substance abuse, or mental or physical ailments. You should also know, intellectually at least, that no matter how hard your problems, you are not alone. I am not a trained counselor or therapist, but I do know from experience that serving others—some of whom may have similar problems to ones you might have (and in many cases far worse)—is some of the best therapy you can prescribe for yourself. You may even come across a person who can help you.

Overcoming personal adversity is something we all must at one time or another face to varying degrees. I believe that by working with others who might be less fortunate, you can learn to put your own problems in perspective and not let them prevent you from taking action to help others and yourself.

Volunteering will help you improve your attitude and overall emotional well-being. You will come to appreciate what you have, as well as what you can offer. You will become a better person, with a stronger idea of what you want out of your life.

This idea was best described by the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. As he observed in his book, The Power of the Plus Factor, by taking the time to care for other people, you will, in his words, “…discover the key that unlocks the door to real happiness.”

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