The average worker spends 4,821 days at work over the course of a career. We invest so much time and energy at the office that it can lead to placing great expectations on our work lives. We all want that dream job that is both fulfilling and draws on our many passions and talents.
What if you’re not in that dream job? Or if you don’t even know what your dream job might be? It’s not an impoverishment to step back and just let your job be a job, and focus on other opportunities to pursue interests and develop new skills.
Early in my career, a mentor suggested thinking of a job as only a piece of the puzzle. Family, relationships, community involvement, hobbies, and other activities fill out the whole. This framing has been helpful on the days at the office when I am eager to take on a new challenge or itching for a change.
At different points in my career, volunteer service has provided a way to explore interests and passions beyond my job description. Having these other engagements has also enabled me to put work into perspective (and not expect my career to be all-consuming or fulfill every expectation).
Try something new
I have zero experience with home repairs (aside from watching DIY shows on TV), but when the young adult group at my parish coordinated a day of service with an organization that helps local community members with home repairs, I signed up as a willing (if inexperienced) volunteer.
I wrote to the site coordinator ahead of time to explain my beginner-level skills and he assured me that many first-time volunteers are unfamiliar with power tools and techniques. On-site, he and the other team members were patient in demonstrating how to measure, cut, hammer, and drill. Working as a team, we completed a few much-needed repairs to a neighbor’s home.
While I won’t be switching careers any time soon, it was fun to be a learner for the day and connect with others from my parish and local community.
- Teach a skill you’ve mastered
Do you know basic word processing? Consider teaching computer classes at a retirement community. Have you excelled at interviews and networking? There might be an opportunity to assist students with a job search. We can sometimes take for granted the various skills we’ve developed through study and work, but sharing these skills with others can be a meaningful way to give back.
After college, I taught conversational English to high schoolers in France. Returning to the U.S., I learned of a local program for adult English language learners (ELL) and eagerly volunteered to teach. The weekly classes allowed me to continue teaching and broadened my understanding of my local community. Many of my students had recently arrived in the U.S. and in the course of class discussion they shared of the challenges of settling in a new country. Our classroom became a place not only to learn English, but also to connect with a supportive community.
Whether moving to a new city or looking to become more involved in the place you call home, volunteering can be a wonderful way to meet new people. I couldn’t have anticipated the friendships that formed through the weekly English classes. As we gathered as a community of learners, we shared stories and built bridges with one another. At the end-of-year celebration, we each prepared a dish from our home culture and shared it with the class. The joy in the room overflowed as students spoke in English with more confidence than they had had months before and described the food they shared.
As you consider balancing your career with volunteering, try starting with your parish or local alumni club. Many communities have a food bank that can accommodate one-time volunteers, or after-school tutoring or youth mentor programs that may require a longer-term commitment.
Above all, look for opportunities that excite you. Serving your community can be a great way to balance the 9-5 routine and explore new avenues while sharing your time and talents with neighbors in need.