Albert Einstein believed that “only a life lived for others is worth living.” I believe that is one of his most significant observations. And I couldn’t agree more.
While most of us can’t pretend to compete with Einstein’s contributions to society, we all have the capacity to do some real good for others. My father counseled me that a full 25 percent of my time should be devoted to volunteering. I have worked hard to follow his advice.
So here’s my occasional plug for the importance and benefits of volunteering your time and talents for whatever cause, organization, community or individual you choose. I am certain you can find a worthy opportunity.
First and foremost, you can make a difference. Your individual skills, your dedication, your determination – all are gifts that keep on giving if only you share them. A non-profit needs accounting help, a city garden would welcome an experienced weed-puller, a struggling student could use help with reading. There are plenty of ways to put your abilities to good use.
Sharing your strengths has a built-in benefit for you too: it’s a great way to enhance your current talents and master new skills. My friend volunteers to coach basketball for a team of 10-year-olds. She played the game throughout high school and college and enjoys working with kids. They think it’s cool that she can shoot 3-pointers. “Guarding these little hotshots is a better workout than I get at the gym,” she jokes. And she claims she has improved her defensive skills by teaching the kids the proper way to guard someone without committing a foul.
Another offshoot of volunteering is the positive energy you spread and receive. Back to my basketball coach friend, the kids and parents are so grateful that she makes the time to work with them. She maintains that what she learns from the kids are valuable life lessons. Win-win all around.
Not everyone has the time or the desire to make a long-term volunteer commitment, but that doesn’t stop them from helping when they can. A number of local churches and companies in my city organize individuals and groups to pack nutritious meals for starving children around the world. It takes just a few hours, and can be a one-time event or a regularly scheduled time slot. Training is provided, so forget that excuse!
One of my favorite volunteer days occurs every December in Minnesota when I ring bells for the Salvation Army. Three hours of frigid fun – usually one of the coldest days of the year – but when I hear about where the money goes, I get all warm and cozy. Try it sometime!
A musician friend plays his guitar at a memory care facility a couple times a month. In return, he has made many new friends, from residents to caregivers to family members. “I will never be good enough to be on a national tour,” he says, “but this audience makes me feel like Eric Clapton!”
Community events are often begging for help. What better way to network with your neighbors and local businesses than to lend a hand? I’ve made lifelong friends through my civic involvement – including several who became good customers! And for the record, I’ve done business with many people I would never have met otherwise.
While prospecting for business was not my goal when I signed up to volunteer, it was a pleasant result. As I worked with other volunteers, we developed friendships and trusting relationships that transferred over to our professional lives. And whom do you think I call for help when another volunteer opportunity arises?
If you are still unsure about getting involved in a volunteer effort, consider this. Studies show that there are benefits to your physical and mental health, as well as improved self-esteem. It’s good for your brain to explore new activities and challenges. Doing for others can change your perspective and open up new ways of approaching problems.
Bottom line: volunteering presents opportunities to showcase your talents, meet new people, master new skills, spread joy and have fun, all while making a difference in other people’s lives.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned through my volunteer life, it is that I expect nothing in return. When I do something for another person or organization, I do it because I can. And that makes me the luckiest person in the world.
Mackay’s Moral: When you help someone else, you also help yourself.