Volunteering works best when both parties benefit tangibly – giving something back in order to help others while boosting your own sense of self-worth.
So a young person wanting to pursue a career in veterinary medicine might volunteer at a practice as an animal care assistant, whilst a vet wishing to promote their new practice might volunteer their services at a local animal welfare charity once a month. This isn’t to say that you should run a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis before embarking on any kind of voluntary work (that sort of defeats the object of doing good and giving something back); but acknowledging that as a vet you probably haven’t got a lot of spare time, it makes sense to ensure that anything extra you take on is beneficial.
Something I talk a lot about is wellbeing.
Volunteering your time and experience brings an enormous sense of satisfaction and purpose – a key aspect of wellbeing, as recognised by the PERMA Model, developed by psychologist Martin Seligman in his influential 2011 book, ‘Flourish’.
The model postulates that there are five elements that we must address in order to achieve lasting and meaningful wellbeing:
- Positive emotion. Enjoy and appreciate the here and now.
- When we’re truly engaged with a task we lose our sense of self and concentrate fully.
- Relationship positivity. As social beings it’s important that we develop positive relationships with family, partners, friends and colleagues in order to maintain balance and harmony in our lives.
- Coming from serving a cause bigger than ourselves, meaning can be achieved by helping others or contributing towards a broader goal. Volunteering is a great way to bring meaning.
- It feels good to achieve – whether it be obtaining a new personal best on the morning run or helping to decorate the village scout hut.
Working in a caring profession, it’s easy to see how our career choice brings meaning, but juggling the endless demands on our time and managing the moods of colleagues can sometimes cause us to lose our focus. Finding a sense of purpose in our daily working lives has a lot to do with our approach – sometimes we simply need to rest our mindset and focus on something other than our own woes. One of our most basic human needs is to make a difference to someone else, and yet we often fall into the trap of thinking that in order to ‘make a difference’, our actions have to be huge or substantial. This could not be further from the truth. Challenge yourself to carry out a random act of kindness every day for a week – top up the teabag stash in the staff room, leave a chocolate bar in everyone’s in-tray, place a Post-It note with appreciation for a job well done in a colleague’s pile of mail. You’ll be surprised just how good these little things will make you, and everyone around you, feel.
Then perhaps you can find the time to move on from the little everyday things into the bigger commitment of volunteering. Start by thinking about the sort of organisation you’d like to help: animal charities, cultural bodies, homeless support work and so on.
Then list out the specific skills you can offer – are you good at listening? Talking to people? IT? Cooking and baking? There’s bound to be something that suits your interests and skills, but it may not be something you’ve ever thought you could offer to others. For example, the wonderful charity Free Cakes for Kids operates across the UK, providing birthday cakes for families who may find themselves in difficulty. Or if you find gardening relaxing, why not offer your time to a local school or community group, or volunteer through a charity such as Thrive. You could even organise a working party from your workplace to help out at a local charity – this is a great way to bring the team together, have fun and help others.
The old adage, “it’s better to give than to receive” has never seemed more relevant – volunteering helps bring a sense of purpose and pride to thousands of people like you every day.
If you’d like more information on the many benefits of volunteering at any time, visit the NCVO website.