A volunteer is anyone who offers to help without pay. People volunteer time and resources to assist others and to promote causes. Volunteering is a form of altruism that is vital to non-profit organizations and even governments. The late President John F. Kennedy famously stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” At least part of that statement was aimed at encouraging the volunteer spirit. Many people feel they get more back from volunteering than they give. An estimated 25% or 64 million Americans volunteered in some capacity in 2009. There must be something these people enjoy about volunteering! Here are some of the unspoken benefits and life lessons you can gain from volunteering.
Get out of your rut
Volunteering often gets you out of behavioral ruts that can make life seem boring or shallow. Volunteers often get opportunities to learn new ways of doing things and think through problems never before encountered. If the volunteer work proves boring itself, sometimes that is a benefit because it can make you appreciate your so-called normal life a bit better.
Get over yourself and learn to serve
One of the key aspects of volunteering is giving your time. The unselfish act of turning yourself over to the work for the benefit of others is a good way to discover the joy of not always trying to be the most important person in the room. In that respect giving yourself over in service to others can actually be a liberating process. Without the traditional pressures found in business and other endeavors to try to matter more than everyone else in the room, you actually begin to matter more by becoming valuable to people in ways you might never even see. Inventor Buckminster Fuller discovered his purpose in life when he ceased working for himself and began thinking in terms of working for the benefit of humankind. “You do not belong to you,” Fuller said, “You belong to the universe.”
Become part of a bigger mission
It has been said that most men live lives of quiet desperation. So what is the antidote to desperation? Volunteering. By becoming part of a bigger mission through volunteering, we can give our lives meaning, purpose and focus. It is not uncommon for many people to feel their real work in life is accomplished through volunteering. The small city where I live annually honors community leaders who are usually volunteers. These are the folks who make our community a better place to live. Some of these people have been successful business leaders as well, but it is their work with the homeless, helping the environment, putting on community events and giving selflessly that has made them worthy of gratitude and honor. These people found the simple secret. Becoming part of a bigger mission is the key to enjoying life in its fullest.
Discover the pleasure of learning and working with others
Enrolling in college to learn about a field or subject is not the only way of expanding your knowledge about the world. Volunteering is another way to becoming a lifelong learner. Volunteers often travel to other countries in medical, missionary and civil projects that serve as living laboratories for human endeavors. Organizations comprised of both professionals and volunteers create the opportunity to learn and work with experts in a given field. You may even find a career you never expected through volunteer work.
Volunteers really can accomplish great things
In May and December each year, thousands of birdwatchers nationwide fan out to count birds as part of a national census to gather information on the populations of birds in North America. The challenging activity of birding requires quite a bit of knowledge, and most census groups are comprised of birders ranging from expert to novice. Volunteer birders or “citizen scientists” together strive to identify and count as many birds as possible. The census process can be rigorous and exhausting. But at the end of the day as tallies are made and recorded, everyone in the group has contributed in some way. Seeing your results combined with hundreds of other such groups nationwide makes you realize that volunteers can accomplish great things. The data from these annual censuses is being used to establish environmental management policies, monitor endangered bird populations and track global climate change. All because a few thousand volunteers decide to give their time every year.
Volunteering covers the entire range of human endeavors. More importantly, it teaches us all that giving our time can teach us more than we could even hope to teach others.