Volunteering: the best gift is you

Five ways volunteering can help boost wellbeing

It’s Volunteers’ Week here in the UK. Volunteering is one of the best ways to test out career ideas. In fact, I’ve done it for that purpose at least two times in my own career: first of all in my early career when I wanted to get work experience as a paper conservator in public sector and private practice studios.  And more recently, when I started volunteering in the prison sector to provide support to ex-offenders who want to get their lives and work back on track.  The latter has been an intentional activity to build up experience in an area that I’ve had no prior experience of.  And it’s been a way to test out a career idea that I’ve had in the back of my mind for about 15 years!

But quite apart from the professional benefits of building up skills, knowledge and experience within a sector that one is unfamiliar with, volunteering is also one of the best ways to boost wellbeing overall. In the last 18 months, it’s certainly done that for me. 

Five elements of wellbeing

According to research undertaken by the Gallup Organisation (in collaboration with Healthways), there are five elements of wellbeing: career, social, financial, physical and community wellbeing. You need to give attention to all of them.

When my husband and I relocated to a different part of the country, the move brought many benefits but it also brought challenges that had an adverse affect on my overall wellbeing: 

  • disconnection from friendships and professional colleagues that had been important; 
  • dislocation from the community we were part of; 
  • financial pressures; 
  • a reduction in physical activity and healthy routines; 
  • and disruption to my normal pattern of working.

Four examples of volunteering

Since moving, I’ve volunteered in two community projects and two professional projects.  The community projects include:

  • distribution manager for the local parish magazine
  • appointment as a director for the local residents’ group

The professional projects include:

  • being a member of the steering group for a professional community of interest within my professional body (the Career Development Institute)
  • contributing my professional expertise to a charity that is involved with rehabilitation of ex-offenders (Catch-22)

How have these helped?

All this activity has plugged me into the local community. I’ve met knew people and begun to make new friends (Community and Social wellbeing).  An added benefit of the magazine distribution is that it involves some physical activity so it’s boosted my physical wellbeing!

I’ve connected with some fellow professionals whose knowledge, skills and experience I value greatly; being around them has helped me to see more clearly where I ‘sit’ within the sector and what I can contribute given my own knowledge, skills and experience (career wellbeing).

And in combination, these various activities have reintroduced a structure into my life that had been disrupted by the relocation, and as a consequence, I’ve been able to focus on getting my work and business back on track in our new location (financial and career wellbeing).

Our relocation was a big transition both in terms of life and work, but volunteering has helped me to get the five elements of wellbeing back in balance. 

If you’re experiencing life/career transition, volunteering could help you too.  If you’d like to arrange an initial chat to discuss this further, please get in touch.

Rath, T. and Harter, J. (2010). Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

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