“I became the Dalai Lama not on a volunteer basis.”
Toothy pumpkins wanted to eat other pumpkins. Spoons were sick and tired of being in people’s mouths. I used to teach creative writing in women’s shelters, and this particular woman wrote about deaf and hard-of-hearing things, not people. Things like pumpkins and spoons had wants and needs, which we could understand if we could just find their lips.
This woman and her two children had been survivors of domestic abuse. What struck me about her was that she never wrote directly about violence. Not only was she a more imaginative writer than I was, but she made me laugh a lot, gave me a sense of purpose (note to self: be a better writer) and made me feel like I was part of my community. I was less isolated. To be connected and involved in the communities where you live and work like this is to dive into a broader idea of “holistic well-being.”
We all know volunteering is a “good thing.” Research studies have shown it improves your blood pressure, resting heart rate, mood, level of satisfaction and peace. High-performance organizations emphasize community well-being three times more than low-performing organizations. They provide time-off and create games for volunteering like Give Back Week. Sure, these organizations do it to make themselves more visible and appealing to current and potential employees. Yet, it sure seems like it is meaningful to work there. How can you get involved if you have very little free time?
Create Space in Your Schedule
Until you can organize your schedule outside of work, you aren’t going to be able to volunteer much. Start with figuring out how much time you are spending on your phone. Do you really need to read about why Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t want to act with Jamie Lee Curtis? (I did at the time…) If you love your phone like I do, at least try out time management tools like Evernote, Time Management Workbook, Google Calendar or Fiverr.
Tips are everywhere but for us they are pretty much the same as managing our physical activity, nutrition and finances: set a goal, list everything you do during the day, determine what’s really important, start your plan with these things and work backwards. Plan ahead for tackling inevitable challenges.
Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities
Still on your phone? Good! Montana has so many digital resources to find ways to get involved. Red Cross, Montana State Parks, Volunteer Trail Crew Project, Montana Food Bank Network, local government websites, and on and on. If you are obsessed with dating websites, take a look at VolunteerMatch.org. Trust me, you’re going to find a better partner here! Idealist.org and AllforGood.org are two websites often mentioned also. If none of these works, why not create your own program? (More on this below.)
The Value of Volunteering
As of April 2021, the estimated value of each volunteer hour in the U.S. is $28.54. That is not the kind of “value” I meant. Volunteering will make you a more decent person. You can find out what you are good at and learn new skills (like time management). Most importantly, you will feel less alone and connect with new people. We hear all the time about how the pandemic has isolated a lot of people. Over 60 percent of adults are pretty miserable, and yes, their health has been impacted. Their hormones, immune systems, cardiovascular system and inflammatory responses are like flying squirrels. Their emotional health, too. You cannot afford to be lonely, and volunteering is a great way to improve your well-being. This sounds selfish, doesn’t it? “The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others,” writes the Dalai Lama.
Your Sense of Purpose Will Grow
Here’s the real secret for getting motivated to volunteer. “Doing good” does not mean you “feel good.” You act because you feel responsible for finding a purpose in life. Often it is really hard to find your true Why. To learn and grow, to rise above your own expectations, to be flexible and adapt, to listen to others, to be committed to something and meet new people where they are at in life will all contribute to the process of finding your reason for doing things. “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good,” wrote Aristotle. There are worse ways to go about it. I happened to be someone who followed “the road of excess to palace of wisdom” for many years. Be willing to ask and answer hard questions about yourself.
Create Your Own Program
What if you don’t see any volunteer programs that speak to you? Start with what you want to achieve because you see gaps in service in your community. Craft a mission statement. Write down what impact you want to have, what community you want to serve, what resources you need. Set goals, outcomes, performance indicators of success. A strategic plan. This will get you started, and hopefully, there is at least one other person at work who cares about the same things as you do.