The Reason I Started Giving Back
Volunteerism is a lifestyle.
My first official exposure to “volunteerism” was when I started high school. All students were required to complete 40 hours of volunteer service in order to obtain a high school diploma.
As 14-15 year olds, most of us did not take this requirement very seriously. Many of us found a “volunteer role” with our former elementary school “helping out” teachers during after school hours. This essentially meant a lot of loitering around classrooms/storage rooms and fooling around with our fellow “volunteers” (aka our friends who signed up to also fulfill their volunteer hours).
Once I completed my 40 hours, I brushed off my hands, packed my bags and never stepped foot into the volunteer world again. I had one goal and that was to graduate high school. Done. Or at least that’s what I thought…
The next time I started volunteering again was in my first year of university — but again driven by personal motives and intentions. I wanted to pursue graduate studies in public administration, policy or law and I knew that extracurriculars were highly looked upon by admissions departments. I committed myself to 2–3 activities for the rest of my undergraduate career.
By the time I was in my final year, I realized the path I was pursuing didn’t feel right. I didn’t apply. Instead, I walked down the stage on convocation day and slowly sailed into the new realities of adult life. Ending up lost at sea, my brain sank into confusion and I slowly drifted into a horrifying state known as “quarter life crisis”.
Chase your passion they said. It was a strange period of time where our generation was fed with fluffy inspirational encouragement to do something we liked…a luxury and trend that some of gen x and a large amount of millennials idealized and seemingly sought to pursue at one point in time.
What did I enjoy? What sparked my interest the most? What was my calling? I spent days and days thinking hard, yet still had no answer. Two months went by and I was not even close to landing a “real” job, the voice inside my head urged me to do something — anything. As I backtracked my life, I realized what I truly enjoyed most during my time in university turned out to actually be my extracurricular activities on campus. This comprised of providing peer mentorship/leadership, youth engagement, fundraising, awareness building and community involvement.
I decided to fill up my free time with volunteering for local non-profits in my community. I wanted to explore a topic I was unfamiliar with this time. The first organization I chose to start with was a charitable national institution for the blind. The process to become a volunteer was professional and easy. In no time, I was all set up as a volunteer in their little shop at the front of the building friendlily greeting numerous elderly clients and families as they entered. I never would have considered that finding appropriate, affordable and updated aids and products would be so challenging for those with vision/hearing loss…not to mention those that experience dual sensory loss…
Soon enough, I was a few months into volunteering. My mindset shifted from trying to figure out life towards an overwhelming sense of everyday gratitude. Each week as I walked into the building to volunteer, I felt reminded of how lucky I was to have been born with sight and hearing. It reminded me to cherish the clear visuals, colors, depth and layers I saw every second I had my eyes open. Something very simple to me, that I never thought for a second, would be an important gift to have. Something I took for granted since the day I was born.
Bit by bit I began to feel thankful for being able to see the texture of the clouds, the shapes of my parents’ faces, videos through my small phone screen, images on magazines and brochures... I became thankful for the ability to hear different notes. The ability to appreciate the sound of different music genres. Appreciation for the sound of different birds chirping, wind rustling through trees, human language and speech… I became thankful for having regular access to lots of clean water. Thankful for the safe shelter I had over my head — and Grateful that my life had not been much more challenging. I started seeing life in a different way… living in a different kind of way.
This may all sound overly dramatic but growing up in a “middle class” home in an urban city within a developed country, my community was rather sheltered from the realities of life.
During the pandemic, I started to feel a void. The kind of discomfort and hollowness where you can’t pinpoint what exactly is wrong. Then I realized, with the pandemic still going on, many local non-profits had ceased or limited their volunteer opportunities…which dried up my volunteer activities over the year as well.
After browsing online for new opportunities and organizations to contribute to, I could not find something that fit my skills, interests and availability. Feeling a little discouraged, I decided to try out other hobbies to fill the void.
I tried filling my time with creating an Instagram handle…nope, nothing. Watching TV shows…nope. Reading…still nope. Writing…okay, getting warmer. Writing in a space where there is a community…ding ding ding. Turns out the secret ingredient I was looking for was contributing to something greater and connecting with others.
Hungry for contribution and connection, I began looking at other avenues. Oh, work! Employee network groups! Taking time to get to know my organization and colleagues better! Going out of my way/responsibility to help teammates and my manager! Cha-ching, I landed on a jackpot at work.
My journey of volunteerism became something that was adapted and integrated into my lifestyle, worldview and approach to everyday life.
Volunteerism was no longer a means to an end. It had creeped up into my life and found its place as a means in itself.
Volunteerism is the practice of humanity, compassion and giving.
Now, let me end off by speaking to some of the values, benefits and learnings I cultivated from volunteering my time.
As you may be aware, volunteering provides benefits such as…
- giving back
- contributing to a greater cause
- feeling good
- social interaction
- being part of a community
- building skills/knowledge
- advancing your career
Other less obvious benefits of volunteering include…
- improving overall wellbeing and mental wellbeing
- staying grounded
- expanding wisdom
- practicing gratitude and kindness
- increasing self-worth
- exercising patience and tolerance
- feeling connected to the world and others
- greater understanding for others/issues
- self-growth and personal development
- greater optimism/hopefulness
- a sense of purpose/meaning
Thank you so much for reading, being here today & for having me.
Until next time :)
The Unconventional Social Worker