“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” ~Winston Churchill
Thirty-plus years ago, when I was applying to college, one of my friends used to say regularly, “We’ve gotta get involved with more extra-currics.”
He was talking about extracurricular activities. His (and our) interest was to build our “resumes” to enhance our attractiveness to college admissions officers.
Today, kids are building their resumes at younger and younger ages, and that’s a good thing. Even if their parents have an eye on enhanced college applications, there is a huge benefit to involving young people in community service. For those kids, adult involvement in community service will come naturally.
For me, community service came later in life.
When I was starting my career, I remember hoping to one day be wealthy so that I could donate huge amounts to charitable organizations. Fortunately, rather than waiting for “someday” to come, I learned how much of a difference I could make by donating time and energy to good causes and people in need.
I’ve gotten involved in many activities in my community, and it has been an extremely enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
There are many benefits that come from giving of yourself.
One of my daughters, just before she graduated from high school, was asked to answer an essay question: “What advice you give to an incoming high school freshman?”
Among other things, she suggested that they get involved in clubs, teams, and community service activities, and among the benefits she listed was the opportunity to meet and interact with people who you would otherwise not get to know.
The same thing applies to volunteering. You can also use volunteering time to spend more time with your family and friends if you arrange to volunteer together.
Volunteering is proven to be good for your health and your happiness. Studies have shown that people who volunteer live longer.
Volunteering is also a great tool in the fight against depression because it’s easier to temporarily forget about your own problems when you shift your focus to helping others.
After a recent speaking engagement, a woman came to me and said, “I'm recently widowed, I’m retiring soon, and I hope to implement some of your ideas to be happier. My big challenge is what I’m going to do with my time.”
I told her to commit some time to volunteering—that it would get her out with other people, which would help her well-being, and that she’d enjoy the gratification that comes from helping others. She walked away excited about my suggestion.
Following your passion is key.
You’ve probably read about families who’ve been impacted by certain diseases and created a charity to help cure those diseases. Those families are passionate about finding a cure. They want something good to come out of their tragic loss, in memory of their beloved family member.
Are there particular causes that are important to you? You need to be happy with what you're doing and to work in an area where you have ability.
If you are passionate about children, for example, find an organization that helps them. If you want to work directly with children, make sure to do that. If you’d rather work behind the scenes, and your skills go in that direction, follow that instinct.
If you are not happy, don’t be reluctant to make a change. It’s not selfish to change. You will be of greatest service to the world if you spend time doing things you enjoy, that you are good at.
Like every other change you want to make in your life, start slow.
Don’t do too much, too fast. It’s easy to get caught up and soon find yourself in over your head in terms of the type of work you are doing or the time commitment. If you volunteer for too many things, or give too much time too soon, the endeavor will have backfired for you and the organizations you’re helping.
Those organizations are always looking for help and it’s up to you to tell them where you need to draw the line. Remember: you can always add more time as you get used to making time for these activities in your schedule.
At the same time, it’s good to jump in with a “just do it” spirit.
Making a commitment may be the best way to make volunteering a part of your busy schedule. Otherwise, you’re likely to say, “I would love to, but I’m too busy.”
For example, this spring I committed to a program to play baseball every Saturday morning with kids with special needs. Because I made the commitment, I made it work in my schedule.
We’re all busy with the things that we decide are priorities for us. If you make a commitment, then it instantly becomes a priority, and that is probably the best way to get started.
It's easier than ever to find ways to be of service.
- If you are a member of a church, synagogue, or other religious organization, ask there.
- Ask your friends what they do.
- If you practice yoga, ask your yoga instructor. At the risk of stereotyping (though a positive stereotype,) every yoga instructor I’ve met has been involved in service activities.
- And so much more—just start Googling!
There are many ways to get involved. You could:
- Donate clothing, furniture, and other possessions to those in need. (Side benefit: You will declutter your house/apartment.)
- Set up a collection program at your office for money and non-perishables. (Make sure you thank everyone each time you write a check from the program to charity, or deliver the filled bucket to the local pantry.)
- Ride in bike-a-thons, run or walk in 5Ks, or if you’re an ambitious athlete, participate in marathons and triathlons.
- Volunteer to help with bike-a-thons, 5Ks, etc. They always need volunteers the day of the event at registrations tables and more.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen/homeless shelter.
- Teach English as a second language as a literacy volunteer, or as a first language to kids or grown-ups who need help.
- Tutor kids in math or any other subject.
- And so much more—once again, check Google!
And here are some ideas you might not think of, despite the fact that you are a reader of blogs:
- Write a personal development blog and/or write guest posts on others' personal development blogs.
- Comment on blog posts. Your experiences will help others when they find themselves in similar circumstances.
- Write a book. It's not necessarily easy to write a book, but if you can, it's particularly easy to self-publish an e-book.
I recognize who I’m talking to today. Once again, I’ll make a positive stereotype by saying that we, the readers of this blog, are enlightened individuals. As such, I want to say this: If I'm preaching to the choir about community service and volunteerism, that's okay. In fact, it’s a good thing.
As I recently heard said (by a politician, of all people), if you preach to the choir, they will sing, and I want us to sing. I want you to tell everyone you know about the importance, and benefit, of giving to others.
And now I’ve added yet another way you can help others—by spreading the word to other potential volunteers. You can start by commenting on this post.
What has your experience been?
What are some activities you’ve been involved with? How have you benefited by your involvement?