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Volunteer work helped me to find myself, and my way in life

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman , Arizona Daily Star

3143 days ago   Article ID# 470617
Original URL


National Conference on Citizenship

TUCSON, ARIZONA (Arizona Daily Star) - The year was 1976: America celebrated its 200th birthday, Alex Haley published "Roots" and I arrived in Tucson with a backpack, college degree and $80 in my pocket. My parents were less than thrilled with my post-grad decision to hitchhike across the country to "find myself," and my mother's parting words summed up her anxiety: "When you stick out your thumb to get a ride, my face will be at the end of it." Predictably, I never used my thumb but found a unique way of flagging down cars with a bandanna.

But it didn't take long before my wanderlust turned to wonder-lust. I wondered, long and hard, about what I would actually do with a bachelor's degree in psychology and no real skills other than waitressing tables and acquiring a serious tan.

I don't remember much from my 20s (not because I didn't inhale, but because my memory is getting hazy), but one thing stands out: Volunteering did more to positively influence my choices than almost anything else.

It may be the best-kept secret of all time, but it's true. If you want to find purpose and meaning in your life, if you want to connect with others who share your values and if you want to feel that you really count for something - get out and volunteer.

I started with what I knew - food. As I bagged organic products at the Food Co-op on Fourth Avenue, I met wonderful people and learned more about Tucson than any guidebook ever told me. A volunteer job at the Second Street School led to a paying job when a parent asked me to work privately with her disabled daughter. We didn't call it networking in those days, but that's exactly what it was: a pathway to the people, places and opportunities that would indelibly affect my efforts to define myself and determine a career.

At a time when funding for so many of our community needs and services is being cut, it is more important than ever to volunteer. Yet, according to a study by the National Conference on Citizenship, 72 percent of Americans report that over the past year they have reduced the time they spend volunteering, largely as the result of the recession and a need to look out for themselves. The findings amount to what the report's authors called "a civic depression."

The paradox of volunteering is this: The more you give, the more you are given - personally, psychologically and professionally. Research shows that volunteering can engender a greater sense of well-being and confidence, better sleep, a stronger immune system and even a speedier recovery from illness or surgery.

Helping others who have problems or needs greater than your own can provide a perspective about your own life that contributes to a more positive attitude or sense of self-worth.

Informal networking can lead you into new directions and open doors you never knew existed.

It is truly a win-win situation as everyone, from the giver to the recipient to those who are inspired by your efforts and decide to volunteer as a result, comes out ahead.

Winston Churchill said it beautifully with these words: "We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give."

Today, more than ever before, we should heed his message.

Copyright 2018 Arizona Daily Star   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 3143 days ago   Article ID# 470617

National Conference on Citizenship    Visit Website

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