A journalist for The Los Angeles Times recently asked me if I thought volunteering for a non-profit organization could help a person in career transition or career burnout. I replied without hesitation, yes! Now there are the obvious ways it can help: networking at high ticket charity events, brownie points on your resume’ so you can substantiate just what you did with your time this year while you’re out of work, and if you’re just getting out of school or the mommy track, well, giving it away for free may be your only option to getting work experience for a beginning resume’.
However, in my new book, The LifeQuake Phenomenon ( written prophetically before Wall Street quaked) I spend an entire chapter ( in fact, it’s the last chapter) extolling the benefits of altruism. Lest you think that volunteerism is just a good career move or humanitarianism in general, demonstrates self sacrifice, consider this:
1) Becoming an agent of change for the world’s greater good will elevate your self esteem rather you get a job or are viewed as the next Mother Teresa or not. A study was done with depressed college students who were put to work volunteering for six weeks. At the end of six weeks they took the same self inventory as they had at the beginning of the study. 75% reported a marked increase in their mood and attitude about life.
2) There are health benefits. Your immune system gets stronger through volunteer work. They measured T cells in HIV survivors before and after caring for home bound AIDS victims and T cells went way up.
3) The context you hold your life in will change. For example, after you’ve gotten over a bad cold or complaining about your aches and pains, visit a children’s oncology ward. Trust me, you’ll thank your body for how good it has been to you. Angry that you can’t eat lunch out like you did when you were making great money? Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
4) There are always people less fortunate than ourselves and volunteering can keep your self confidence up as well as change your value system while you are negotiating the white waters of career change.
5) Volunteering can improve your relationships. Generosity is infectious. The more generous you are with your heart to those in need, the more open to your loved ones needs you can become.
The way to make the most of your volunteer experience is to make sure it fits with what you really enjoy doing, that you don’t over commit yourself and feel burdened and resentful, and you have the attitude that you are getting back more than you are giving. If you really give 100% of yourself while you are there, you will receive a glowing recommendation from your supervisor and will get the greatest health benefit from feeling like you are making a difference not just using it as a strategy for resume building.
Dr. Toni Galardi is a psychotherapist, public speaker, and author of The LifeQuake Phenomenon. She can be reached through her website, http:www.LifeQuake.net or by calling her office at 310-712-2600.