Week 13: Volunteer Selfishly and Change the World: Another Day with Habitat For Humanity
At the start of one episode of FRIENDS, Joey and Phoebe have an argument on whether there is such a thing as a selfless good deed. Joey’s belief is that a selfless good deed is impossible because when you do something for someone else you feel good about it… you’re getting something out of it thus it becomes a selfish act. “Look, there’s no unselfish good deed. Sorry.” He says. Phoebe spends the rest of the episode doing a host of activities to help others, unsuccessfully trying to prove him wrong. My question is… does it matter if you benefit?
I had the privilege of volunteering with a team of co-workers at another Habitat for Humanity project (see my Week 9 for my first Habitat experience). This time the project was in my home town. August in New Jersey is sunny, hot and humid and the weather did not disappoint. Our team’s job for the day – to lay the plywood sheets on the roof frame. I don’t think any of us had experience working on a roof, and some of the group were afraid of heights, but everyone was eager to help out as best they could and so we tackled our tasks aggressively. We spent the day measuring and cutting lumber, hauling plywood sheets up 3 floors of scaffolding, then hammering and securing the plywood while balanced on a pitched roof in the scorching sun. Those less enamored with the idea of walking on attic beams with no floor or climbing onto a pitched roof several stories above ground, graded the front and back yards of the property. By the end of the day we were hot and exhausted but each of us felt amazing! We’d left our small impact on a project that would give a needy family a safe, warm home where they could build memories. We’d bonded closer as co-workers and a team. We’d grown fond of the Habitat construction crew whose patience with our lack of experience was unending (I’m sure it was like herding cats). It felt great to give back to the community and help others (and learn a few new construction skills along the way). Was any of that bad? Growing as individuals and deepening our sense of community while helping others… what’s wrong with that?
Every time I volunteer I become energized. I think it makes me a better person and a stronger professional and leader. I learn new skills and am actively taking steps to positively impact the community. Study after study show that when you volunteer and help others it reduces stress, provides a sense of purpose, connects you to others and powers empathy among racial-social-economic divides (for both the volunteers and the recipients of the charity). I think volunteering should be part of each person’s professional development. Humans have an extraordinary capacity to do good and should include impact on the community as part of reaching our full potential. Including charitable and volunteer goals in professional development would build a world of loving, kind professionals who actively promote community, feel fulfilled and are purpose-driven towards local commitment and global responsibility. A culture like this could change the world.
So, go ahead – volunteer selfishly. Go build gratitude, passion, confidence, courage, leadership skills and positive energy through volunteering. Because when that happens, good things happen all around.