We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.Winston Churchill
But what do you get out of it? Surely it’s just a waste of time no? Wouldn’t it be better to get paid for doing something you enjoy? You can’t be doing this all your life (they say in a patronising, condescending tone). While the statistics clearly show that the current generation of people are spending more of their time volunteering than ever before, providing valuable support and huge kindness to various industries like healthcare and education, it must be said that the negative statements listed above are still very much commonplace for many people invested in the voluntary sector. I myself have received similar criticism, therefore I wanted to highlight the benefits that being involved in such activities can bring. Whoever you are or whatever you’re interested in.
When I first encountered the volunteer world back in March 2017, I was certainly at a crossroads in my life. With a lack of direction and no idea how I wanted to progress, I came across an organisation called URPotential in Blackpool. Providing support to local people via community groups, classes and teaching people valuable skills like the use of IT for job-hunting, I firmly enjoyed the aspect of meeting new people (both staff and people coming in) and gaining an insight into some of the great things they did as an organisation to make a difference, help others and give people’s lives a genuine, much needed and deserved boost. For the first time in a while, I felt a sense of passion and belonging. And all that was down to the power of voluntary work.
In the months prior to starting here, I was suffering from severe bouts of depression, increasing levels of anxiety and various other things, however just by getting involved in URPotential I noticed a significant change in my moods and behaviours. Had I shied away from this opportunity, it is quiet possible that the experiences I had to come would never have happened. Yes I was extremely nervous going in, yet the structure and routine it provided me set me on a path that I could work from. No fancy, lavish pay check was needed for that.
Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.James Matthew Barrie
Having finished my role as a volunteer at URPotential in early 2017, to begin a traineeship at college, it wasn’t until March 2018 when my next stint as a volunteer could come about. If you’ve been a reader of my blogs for a long period of time, you’ll probably have seen my previous posts about the Time to Change movement and Mind. As I look back at beginning my campaigning in the mental health sector roughly 2 years on now, I’d have to say that it has produced some of the most rewarding, incredible experiences I’ve ever had. And for that I feel very fortunate and privileged. I certainly didn’t envisage standing up in front of large audiences sharing my mental health story, doing events nationwide or being invited to do radio interviews etc. Not in a million years did I believe I’d develop the confidence to do such things!
While the notion of helping and making a difference to other people’s lives through these sort of activities is a fantastic achievement, the sense of enrichment and fulfillment it gives to you personally is the icing on the cake. You may step into volunteering with the idea of keeping busy, having structure and possibly helping a few people along the way, however the biggest surprise to me was just how brilliant it felt to make a difference to others, and the fact it helped me fight my own demons hugely too. It can be very easy to suppress rather than express our emotions when life becomes challenging, yet through volunteering I realised just how valuable storytelling and being open with my feelings has been. And the outcome could be the same for you!
Although it’s distinctly possible that you may encounter critics (as I mentioned at the start), the important thing to remember is that you should do what is best for your own development. Not what is expected of or what somebody else wants- that will only leave you feeling restricted and resentful. Whether you want to help on the frontline during the lockdown, support the elderly by buying food supplies, or perhaps become a listener on a mental health helpline, I’d 100% encourage you to get involved.
After all what’s the harm in trying? The chances are that you’ll enjoy it way more than you first imagined, and meet plenty of inspirational people along the way. My experiences are testament to that!
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Thanks for reading,