This enlightened thought inspired me to travel through the forty-eight contiguous states in forty-eight weeks doing volunteer, service, and charity work. The main goal was to promote a "service-to-others" lifestyle by lending a hand to people and organizations of all ages, backgrounds, and affiliations.
While the "ah-ha" moment came all at once, getting to that point took several months to figure out what I loved to do and how each of those things worked together.
Here are some ideas to get you to your own epiphany and out the door on a volunteer adventure:
Get started today.
When I was on the road, I would get emails from individuals wanting to do exactly what I was doing. The thought of traveling across the country, doing giant acts of service, and meeting interesting people carried with it a romantic, Hemingway-type of notion that this was "truly" living. It was amazing to me that when I would respond by asking the person if they were involved with any volunteer activities in their own community, their reply would often be, "no."
Trust me, if you are not helping out in your own community, you will probably not be helping out in other communities. Start today by getting involved wherever you might be.
Like Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
Write it down.
Honestly, right after the "epiphany in the shower" moment, I actually dismissed the idea as being stupid and impractical.
My mind was flooded with questions and doubts, challenging the validity of the journey.
- How can I afford to do this?
- Where will I find places to volunteer?
- What about my personal safety?
These are all valid concerns -- and it wasn't until I wrote down what I was trying to accomplish that things really started to come together. I didn't write out a thousand page dissertation, but I did use a handful of bullet points to keep me focused and on the right track.
Begin with the basics:
- What is my mission?
- Why do I want to do this?
- How will I know if I'm succeeding?
- Who do I want to help?
There is something about having your adventure stare back at you from a sheet of paper. I don't know what it is, but somehow, it makes it more attainable. Having your journey written out also helps when sharing your vision with others.
Try something new.
I'm a variety person. I simply don't like to do the same thing over and over. This was apparent as I travelled along, working together with environmental services, animal rescues, soup kitchens, knitting groups, art foundations, elderly care, and everything in between.
What I learned from serving in all these different settings is that I have something to offer each one. Really, it just takes a willing person with a good attitude asking the question, "what can I do to help?"
In this day and age, there are so many resources available to help you find a place to serve, like AARP's Create The Good. It's a great place to start your search as they offer volunteer opportunity listings along with "how-to" guides to get involved with almost aspect of serving in your community.
The next question is: What are you waiting for?