Volunteering was something I never particularly wanted to do. Who has the time??? Sounds awful of me doesn’t it? I’m not alone though right?
“Would anyone like to volunteer?”. Often meant with the best of intentions, this question has been known to have grown-adults running for the door, feigning hearing loss or just employing ninja-like skills to avoid eye contact at all costs. Why does the notion of volunteering for something cause our stomachs to flip & make us want to throw a ‘you’re a hero’ party for the poor person who caved and raised their hand?
I was very much of the notion that I would like to help, but that if I did, it would open a non-closable doorway through which I would always be stuck in a volunteering loop, lose any and all precious time I had to myself and make me curse the day I ever picked up a charity bucket and uttered the question, spare any change please? whilst wearing a chicken-suit.
Of course, this is not the reality of volunteering.
It’s ultimately a positive experience, which rarely involves throwing on a costume and parading up & down your local shopping centre – unless this is your idea of fun!
In fact, volunteering has been proven to not only be good for the people we’re helping, but also good for ourselves.
As mentalhealth.org.uk points out – when you help others, it promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. These rushes are often followed by longer periods of calm and can eventually lead to better well-being.
What made me start volunteering?
For years I had taken part in Race For Life. It was my way of helping a charity close to my heart. Then one year, due to injury, I couldn’t take part. I happened to notice a call for volunteers and felt like this was an alternative way for me to help. So I signed up. I spent the day as a race marshall, or as I like to call it – runners cheerleader. Yes, there was a lot of standing around, a decent amount of self-confidence required and an element of stepping out of my comfort zone but ultimately I walked away from the experience feeling really positive.
It was nice to feel good about doing good.
It wasn’t that I got a thank you parade or even a pat on the back, it was just enough for me to know that I did my bit. It made me realise that I had been viewing volunteering all wrong and encouraged me to continue.
It also gave me a lot of perspective
During the day, I got to meet other race marshalls, who kindly shared their stories with me. One volunteer’s wife had taken part the previous year whilst battling cancer. This year he was volunteering as she had sadly passed away only two months before. Another lady pointed to a bench near a lake we passed on our walk back. The bench had a memorial plaque on it that was dedicated to her late husband who lost his fight to the disease. She preferred volunteering to taking part, as she felt this was a crucial role in allowing the events to continue. How strong they were! It made me put so much into perspective. My problems felt minimised in an instant.
What motivates you to volunteer may be very different from what motivates others, but whatever the reason I would urge you to consider giving it a try. Standing up for what you believe in can be a really empowering experience.
There are so many options out there. You can pick something that is a one-off event or something that requires a regular commitment. There are all different types of tasks, some are physical, maybe administration based, there are loads of options. It’s about picking what’s right for you.
Earlier this month, I spoke about involvement & our sense of belonging. Volunteering is a great way to increase these.
Volunteering can really be a two-way process. It’s a process where we all stand to benefit. We meet new people, we learn new skills, we build confidence & increase our self-esteem and that’s just to start.
If you pick something you resonate with, you’ll have access to people with similar interests & passions. You’ll strengthen your sense of purpose and quite often get to have a lot of fun – all whilst doing good & helping people. That’s got to make you feel happier right!
I read that when people see you doing good – be it towards them or others – it encourages them to do good too, contributing to a more positive community.
Getting the balance right…
As with all good things, there comes a point where a positive experience can tip into a negative one. When it comes to volunteering, you don’t want to wear yourself thin. Be clear about what you’re prepared to do and the amount of time you’ll able to commit to it. This should be something where you walk away energised & positive and not burnt-out & deflated.
Want to start but don’t know how?
Firstly start by brainstorming what you would like to support. Is it a charity? A community initiative? A local school? Or even a historical home that relies on volunteer staff? Search online to see what they require – what fits best with the time you have to offer and your interests & abilities? I volunteered at Race for Life and physical activities at my kids’ school – such as a sponsored walk around a lake because fitness volunteering appeals to me. But what appeals to you?
Just take the first step and see what’s out there. Give it a go and see how happy not only you’ll make others but also yourself!
Need some extra support in putting yourself forward? Read: I’m new here: 10 ways to feel more confident in new situations
Do you volunteer? What do you volunteer for? Were you aware of all the positive benefits not just for society but also for yourself that can be gained from volunteering? How do you feel about volunteering? What type of thing would you ideally volunteer for? Whatever you’d like to say (or ask), I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch via the comments box below.