lessons learned as a volunteer

9 lessons I learned volunteering

Our​ ​world​ ​is​ ​filled​ ​with​ opportunities​ ​to​ ​step​ ​up​ ​and​ ​use​ ​our​ ​gifts and​ ​talents​ ​to​ ​help​ one another.​ ​

And volunteering​ ​is one of the best ways to do so. But what’s often overlooked is how volunteering experiences can change us from within—how we learn and grow from them so we can give of ourselves in even bigger ways.

Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​15​ ​years,​ ​I​’ve volunteered with a host of organizations both locally​ ​and​ abroad. And in that time, I’ve​ learned a few lessons ​that​ ​I​’d love to share with you:

1. See​ ​the​ ​one​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​you

It ​can​ ​be​ ​easy​ ​to​ become overwhelmed by the staggering number of people in need,​ ​but your​ ​job​ ​is​ ​to​ ​focus​ only ​on​ ​the​ ​one​ ​person who​ ​is​ ​standing​ ​right​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​youto​ ​love,​ ​serve and encourage.​ ​And​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​it​ ​easy.​ As Mother Teresa put it, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

2. Remember that we all have the same desire

We’re all broken people. And that brokenness​ ​looks​ ​different​ ​with​ ​each​ ​of​ ​us.​ ​Some of us struggle with addiction,​ ​while​ ​others​ ​can’t​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​stop​ ​counting​ ​the​ ​likes​ ​on​ ​their​ ​social​ ​media​ ​posts.​ ​But regardless,​ ​we​ ​all​ ​long ​to​ ​be​ ​known​, to be seen,​ to be encouraged—to be loved.

3. Don’t overcomplicate impact

It​’s​ ​actually​ ​really​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​make​ ​someone’s​ ​day.​ ​It​ ​just​ ​takes​ ​a​ ​willingness​ ​to​ ​show​ ​up,​ and give them your time​.​ ​So,​ ​if​ ​you’ve ever questioned whether your work really matters,​ ​remember​ ​this:​​ ​if​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​show​ ​up,​ ​that’s a zero in the impact category, which, no matter how you frame it,​ ​is​ ​less​ than if you had shown up.

lessons learned from my work volunteering

4. Be committed

The world needs ​committed​ ​volunteers​ ​more​ ​than​ ​ever​ ​before.​ ​We​ ​need​ ​people​, not just to​ mindlessly ​sign​ ​up, but to​ faithfully ​follow​ ​through​ ​and​ ​show​ ​up​ ​​consistently.​ ​That​ ​isn’t​ ​glamorous,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​necessary.

5. Be present—really

When​ ​you​ ​show​ ​up​ ​to​ ​volunteer, really​ ​be​ in the moment.​ ​Forget​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​may​ ​be happening​ ​on​ ​your​ ​phone,​ ​and​ ​decide​ ​to​ ​truly​ ​be present,​ ​whether​ ​it​’s​ ​for​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​or​ ​the whole ​day.​ ​Your​ ​presence​ ​is​ ​more​ ​a​ ​gift​ ​than​ ​even​ ​your skillset.

6. Make​ people ​the​ ​focus​

It​’s​ ​not​ ​about​ ​the​ ​details,​ the aesthetics ​or​ whether it was posted​ ​on​ ​social​ ​media. It’s about people—​how​ ​you​ ​make them​ ​feel​ ​and​ ​how​ ​you​ ​help them.​ ​And​ it ​doesn’t​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be ​groundbreaking. Maybe you ​helped​ ​them​ ​write​ ​their​ ​resume​ ​or​ you served​ ​them​ ​a​ ​hot​ ​meal.​ ​

7. Take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​yourself

When​ ​you’re​ ​giving,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​that​ you’re always​ ​filling​ ​yourself​ ​back​ ​up.​ ​Burnout is real, and we must take it seriously. ​Be​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​can​ ​stay​ committed​ ​for​ ​the​ ​long​ ​haul​.​ (Read “5 ways to make self-care a priority”)

8. Be​ ​humble

The​​ ​volunteering​ mentality ​has​ to​ ​be​ ​one of service.​ When you show up to your volunteer outing, simply ask, ​”How can I be of service today?” ​It’ll help get you in the right frame of mind.

9. Have​ ​fun!

Get​ ​to​ ​know​ ​people,​ ​make​ ​new​ ​friends, and be joyful​ ​in all that you do—especially serving others.​

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Ashley Beaudin

Ashley is a movement maker and encourager to women on a mission.