We’ve all been there at some point, when we wonder, “Why am I even alive?”, “Why is my life important?”. We feel irrelevant, talentless, friendless…we feel like we don’t matter at all– no matter what we’ve been taught in Sunday school, or what we are doing for our families. It’s a deep, dark pit to be in and it feels awful.
I have felt this way before, maybe you have to. But as I am closing one chapter in my life (that I will explain about in a minute), I have recognized something that has given me some of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Something that has given me immeasurable confidence, that has helped me see WHY I matter and what I have contributed to the world, making my life matter. This answer is simple, and it will work for you too, I promise.
What is it? VOLUNTEERING.
I know… it’s a bit obvious and a “goody-two-shoes” answer, but I’ve never been more serious. And when I recently spoke to a woman who was complaining about no one caring about her and how she just sits in her house by herself all day, I just wished that I could convince her of this sure-fire way to making life better and more meaningful. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how or what you do when you volunteer- it’s about the relationships you form and seeing others’ lives improve. Coaching a sports team, reading with children during school, or visiting with the homebound elderly- it doesn’t matter. Your life will be richer because of it.
What I’ve Gained By volunteering
I met my husband.
I honestly didn’t realize this until just now! If meeting a spouse isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is! When I moved away and went to college, I keenly felt that my life focused too much on just myself. I was used to being the oldest of eight kids and helping to take care of them. Something in me knew that I needed to reach out and think about others more. So I volunteered to read and record books (on tape, back then!) for the blind, dyslexic and learning disabled. Eventually, this was turned into a paid position. And guess who came in to volunteer?! My future husband. The fact that he was looking for a way to volunteer, instantly told me a lot about the type of person he was. (And still is!)
Proof that I Can Make a difference
Four years ago, my amazing friend Heather started a robotics club and I teamed up with her. Our kids really wanted to learn more about robotics, but since they were homeschooled, the local school teams did not allow them to join. So we started our own team and opened it up to anyone who wanted to join. Two teams, actually: an upper elementary/jr. high team, and a high school one. These two non-profit, volunteer driven teams have changed my life.
Fast forward to today. It is time for me to step back from robotics (this is my chapter that is closing). My kids aren’t as interested in it as they once were, I have Raise The Good and a part time job, and life is too full. It is hard to say “good-bye”. But as I look back on how I and the kids have grown, my heart is full and humbled from this experience. It has changed me, as the song says, “for good”.
Here are some highlights of what we have seen happen as a direct result of our group and volunteering. I’m not sharing these to brag, but to illustrate how volunteering can really make a difference- how YOU can make a difference:
- We took several kids on their first plane ride and/or their first trip to the beach. This is something they will always remember and that we helped make possible. So cool!
- “E”, a teenage girl who struggled with paralyzing anxiety (she couldn’t make it through team meetings without a panic attack) now gets the lead in community plays. She sings and dances like she’s a natural. She’s worked really hard and we can’t take credit for all the progress she has made, but we did help her face her performance anxiety as she was the driver for our team and also had to make oral presentations.
- “B” struggled in school and had an IEP and special ed classes. He struggled to feel valuable. But when he got a medal at our competition, he proudly wore it to school and it gave him something to feel really good and have confidence in. He has since tried out for the soccer team and made it!
- “S” earned a professional certificate in a 3D design software and is now employable. She is graduating this year and is pursuing this as a major in college. She has also learned a ton about relationships and social skills.
- Our parents say stuff like, “She can be who she really is with robotics and not have to be fake”, or “He has gained so much confidence!”
THIS is what fills my cup. THIS is what I can point to when I feel insignificant and like I don’t matter. THIS is why volunteering is so powerful for people on both sides of the equation.
Truly- if you are feeling like you don’t matter, go volunteer or find a way to help someone else. And keep doing it. Then, when you look back, you will know it was actually a gift for you. (And if you aren’t sure where to find opportunities, JustServe.org is a great place to find needs in your area.)
Do you volunteer, or has a volunteer changed your life?
Please tell me about it in the comments!