March 4, 2021

Behind the Polished Ads: What to do when the Hard Reality of Volunteer Work Hits.


When it comes to portraying volunteerism, the world’s nonprofit ads flash polished video images of volunteers beaming with fulfillment and happiness during their beneficent tasks of feeding an orphan, holding a senior’s hand, or handling an exotic animal in recovery.

The ads seek to ring home the fact that the volunteers’ sense of fulfillment hails from selflessness, love, and a desire to make an impact on the world—soul-building attitudes, rather than first-world materialism, money, or self-absorption—soul-destroying pursuits.

“Flexing the heart is the objective,” seem to say the ads. “And you can discover inner depths to your spirit as you undertake the hard work of a volunteer to make a difference in the world.”

While true that volunteering can expand the heart, these ads overlook the hard work and drudgery that go hand-in-hand with volunteering. These can be heavy burdens, which, when you’ve lived the job enough, can eat away at your overall sense of fulfillment with your volunteer work.

As the weeks and months go by, the hard work and grind taxing your spirits every day, you might find yourself regretting the decision to have volunteered in the first place. You feel cranky, unhappy, unmotivated, and dismissive of the silver linings still attached to the job. You reflect that you’ve been suckered in by the visuals and copy of the ads that originally enticed you to sign up to volunteer, and the world seems greyer to you.

So how can you stay fulfilled and keep your heart happy with the volunteering job despite the toil of hard work and grind? Do the following:

Give Flesh to Your Motivations

Is volunteering just a bucket list item? Yes? Note that this can be too shallow, vague, and thin of a motivation to grant you the steely stamina you need to survive a volunteering position.

Give flesh to your motivations by going in deep and reflecting on the grounded reality of the tasks you will have to undertake as a volunteer. Do you have the mettle? To find out whether you do, undertake research and talk to previously hired volunteers. Learn about what percentage of the job is menial and how many hours of such tasks you’ll have to put in before you get a real treat and reward from upper management.

Receiving nonmonetary benefits and rewards for the work you do is vital to stave off deep frustration on the job. Inquire about that with upper management before you sign up to volunteer. Ask, ask, ask for a variety of benefits, and emphasize to management that such rewards enliven your morale.

On-the-job, nonmonetary rewards can feature hands-on playtime with recovering animals, bonding time with charismatic patients at a hospital, Q-and-A time with seasoned nonprofit pros, or field trips to locations that are either educational and/or simply beautiful and fun. Aim to ask for a constant balance between the hard work and your reward time. Having compassionate hearts themselves, upper management will more than likely comply.

Embrace a Creative, Artistic Pursuit

Adding to the pain of drudgery you bear as a volunteer may be the feeling that you’re not having a big enough impact on the world. As you volunteer, you realize the crisis your nonprofit cause addresses looms large and is seemingly unsurmountable.

The sheer level of poverty in the third world can often depress volunteers, as does the fact that the numbers of a certain species of animal in the wild are low and dwindling. These and other dire, real-world problems can overwhelm you when you volunteer. When combined with the hours of hard work that you pledge, you may find yourself grappling with dark philosophical issues that burden your conscience and depress your spirits.

During times like this, turn to art or creative hobbies to serve as mediums to channel your darker thoughts. Get familiar with the work of artists that address such existential crises—whether they be writers, musicians, painters, poets, or photographers—and absorb their art and spiritual philosophies.

With their work and ideas as inspiration, you can adopt a creative hobby or artistic project yourself that has you better coming to terms with the world you live in. As you compose songs or photograph or write a play, you enter into a type of meditation with your spirit that ultimately, with time, has you discovering clarifying insights and answers to your darker inner ponderings.

Through art, the world you’ve thrown yourself into as a volunteer becomes easier to bear, and you breathe easier with greater satisfaction that you can get something almost spiritual out of the volunteering experience. Art can very much help you to adjust your expectations and ideas of what the volunteering job is essentially about, and connect you to the spiritual side of what you are doing.

Preparation is Key

Once you have an idea of what your day-to-day volunteering tasks will be like, do your best to prepare yourself for the job with on-the-job endorphin-boosting activities. Take along a portable music playing device that accesses playlists you love. You can whip the device out and listen to music during a menial task you’re undertaking. Prepare and practice a meditation routine in the morning and stick to it during the volunteering job—this will help you find fortitude for the position.

Look at yoga YouTube videos and find standing yoga postures that you can stop-and-do while volunteering that keep you nimble and in tune with yourself. Every hour, go over in your mind what you are grateful for. You sustain job fulfillment when you consciously drink in gratitude for all the big and little things that make life worth living while on-the-job.

Implementing the tips above, you’ll find genuine peaks of fulfillment during the tough volunteering experience. When it wraps up, look forward to having earned some real societal respect for your work, as well as accolades for your contributions to the cause. Be super proud of the beautiful angel wings you’ve earned as a result of your long hours – you deserve them!

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Denise Recalde  |  Contribution: 430

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