There are two kinds of volunteering. One type of volunteering is something you do because you really want to. You are interested in the work, want to gain experience or help others. Then there is volunteering as an obligation. I’m sure most people have experienced this. Perhaps a friend or family member has roped you in to help with some project. You are not that enthusiastic but you do it to please the person who asked you or perhaps because you can’t reasonably get out of it. Or there is volunteering in the workplace. The boss says “I want three volunteers, you, you and you.” You could say no but who wants to risk it? Some people volunteer at the request of a judge too.
I’ve done both kinds, no not the judge ordered version but I am obligated to do volunteer work in order to receive a social security pension, an option offered to older people instead of searching for non-existent jobs. I was allowed to choose the work I did though and I enjoy my compulsory volunteering as much as I used to enjoy my voluntary volunteering.
So what do I get out of volunteering?
- I have learned new skills, volunteering was how I discovered blogging for example
- Confidence building, when I first started volunteering as a young woman I gained a lot of self belief from being appreciated for my efforts.
- Giving back, I like the feeling that I’m contributing to the good of the community by volunteering.
- Social interaction, I live alone which I don’t mind but it is nice to see familiar faces every week and over years of volunteering for different organisations I’ve developed long-term friendships.
I look back with great pleasure on my time as a volunteer cleaner for Steamranger Tours in Adelaide. It was hard and dirty work but I didn’t mind because I had always had such a good time on steam train trips that it seemed only right to give something back by helping out. I enjoyed working at the depot with the other volunteers doing the cleaning as well as sometimes taking on other jobs like selling tickets or helping with fundraising events. I think that the time I spent there was also instrumental in getting me a paid job in the railways later.
I think one of the keys to successful volunteering is to leave your ego at the door. It’s not meant to be about you. However, if one day you realise that it is not fun any more it is time to walk away and perhaps find something else meaningful to do.