How to Leverage Your Purpose Through Service
As a naïve, bright-eyed college student, I aspired to use my International Relations degree to travel the world and serve others. “After graduation, my goal is to join the Peace Corps to get a better sense for what’s happening on the ground in the Third World," I professed to my major advisor. "I hope to leverage this experience to pursue a career with the United Nations, which would allow me to teach others about sustainable development,” I affirmed. My conscience quickly caught up to me as I realized the glaring flaws in my intentions. “I think what you meant to say is that you would have a lot to learn by serving others in this capacity and not necessarily teach,” he responded.
Since that meeting, I have continued to reflect on the weight of my advisor’s words. While I ultimately didn't fulfill my dream of serving at an exotic UN duty station, the lessons that I learned through the Peace Corps and other volunteering experiences have been both humbling and illuminating both personally and professionally.
Serving others in a volunteer capacity is a fantastic way to find your “cause” through embracing curiosity, making connections, and discovering the benefits and power of community.
Curiosity: We all have gone shopping at a clothing store at one point or another and experienced a feeling of disappointment after we’ve tried on an outfit that looked great in the window but didn’t appear the same on us. It’s the same with careers: the professions that sound terrific in your mind might not always look so great when you experience them firsthand. You want a professional fit that looks great in the window and on you, and volunteering is a great way to get a sense of the types of “missions” and knowledge areas that might interest you in your career.
Connections: Volunteering allows us to see and make connections with our own skill-sets, while also giving us insight into the types of environments that would allow us to thrive. Additionally, these experiences encourage us to interact with others outside of our usual circles, giving us an inside look into other potential jobs and career fits. Here are some questions that will help when you’re talking with other professionals or volunteers that you might meet: How did you get into this work? What do you like the most about it? What do you like the least about it? Do you have any ideas as to who else I could talk to about my interests in xyz?
Community: We live in an age that seems to place greater emphasis on individualism over the collective. We often have our close group of inner-circle family and friends and then a vast outer-circle network of contacts, with less involvement in a middle-circle of community organizations. When we are able to lose ourselves to service, we forget about where we end and allow something else to begin. It is in these moments of seeing ourselves and others deeply where great joy and happiness are born.
To far too many, volunteering is viewed as just another moral patch or an achievement hoop that one needs to jump through in order to achieve admission into a great school or to be perceived as a well-rounded person for their next promotion. Why not see service as a way to explore our own sense of duty and as a call to be of use to neighbors and the world?