Volunteering? Who has time for that?

Our lives are busy, there is no doubt about that.  There aren’t many people that don’t respond to the typical greeting of ‘Hi, how is it going?’ without responding ‘Fine thanks, but really busy!’ 

There are all sorts of things that demand our time and attention – jobs, spouses, children, elderly parents, and friends, not to mention the never-ending list of chores and tasks.  It’s therefore obvious why making time to volunteer typically falls close to the bottom of our list of priorities given all the things we need to do.  So, who has time for that?

This article could tout all the benefits to our community that volunteering offers. It could, but it won’t.  We all know that it can make us feel like better human beings, and if everyone volunteered in some shape or form, our community would be stronger and support those in need.  Even our school systems try to engrain the belief that volunteering is important by requiring students to achieve a minimum number of volunteer hours just so they can graduate.  However, these students are about to be hit by the tidal wave of life and all the demands on our time that come with it. 

For most, our families and our jobs are at the top of our priority list.  Whether it be a young professional trying to climb the corporate ladder, or a middle-aged entrepreneur working hard to grow and keep their business afloat so they can support their family, free time to volunteer always seems impossible.

Skills, what skills?

But climbing the corporate ladder, or growing our business often requires us to develop new skills and think about new issues or challenges in a different way.  Yet the potential for us to develop these new skills is often largely defined by the current job we have.  Different jobs demand different skills.  A corporate executive needs different skills than a tradesperson.  In all cases, one job may lead to another and yet another, making the overall chain of jobs into a career path.  

If we need new skills to get that next promotion or grow our business, where can we get them?  Often, we can find them in another completely unrelated job.  But who can hold down two jobs?  What if there was another ‘job’ where you can define and limit the hours, fit into your lifestyle, and it challenges you in new ways, so you develop these new skill sets?  This is where volunteering opportunities come in.

Consider someone who is just a few years out of university trying to climb the corporate ladder.  They may have just a few years of work experience and have modestly increasing responsibilities in their current job.  How can they crack through the glass ceiling and move into a more senior role that demands proven leadership, if their current job doesn’t provide the ability to develop that skill? 

Volunteering giving you an edge?

If we look at the volunteering ‘jobs’ we take as its own separate career path, we have the potential to build two separate career paths.  What if that new graduate in the example had been volunteering a couple of hours a month over a few years and over time found their way onto a volunteer role on its small board of directors.  That is extremely valuable leadership and corporate governance experience that would certainly position them well relative to the others competing for the same job.

But what about the lack of time we all face?  We all know that finding time for everything will always remain a challenge.  Starting slow and volunteering as little as one hour a week can turn into something much bigger over time.  And better yet, certain volunteering opportunities allow you to involve your children with you, allowing you to focus on several of your priorities all at once.  

Life will always be busy, and there will always be a lack of time to do everything we want to.  But with the win-win opportunity of volunteering, who has time for that?  

Jamie Dennison – Oakville