Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Man is condemned to be free." - Sartre

The holidays are over, we are already sliding on our new years’ resolutions, and then we get hit with this polar vortex thing. We live in Chicago, so we don’t expect tropical temperatures in the winter, but still.

In January, things can look pretty bleak, even when the temperatures remain on the positive side of zero. The holiday cheer has evaporated like the moisture in the air and the snow cover obscures any sign of dormant life that may lie underneath. It is also the biggest month for people to change jobs, according to HR Magazine. This is partly because people wait until the beginning of the year (believing the fallacy that nobody hires between Thanksgiving and Christmas) – it is also because people re-evaluate their lives at the end/beginning of each year.

But there’s another explanation for your antsy, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it unease at this time of year:

You have cabin fever!

If you don’t want to dump a good job or relationship just because you’re bored, consider volunteering.

Psychology Today outlines five benefits to volunteering:

•    Improves health and longevity
•    Combats loneliness
•    Promotes career advancement
•    Builds strong communities
•    Contributes to an overall sense of purpose

These are all great logical, left-side-of-the-brain reasons to volunteer. But in some ways they make volunteering sound too clinical, too calculated. Too what’s-in-it-for-me. Volunteering should be an enjoyable activity, something beyond the fulfillment of our basic needs (like paying rent and putting food on the table). Something that causes us to forget about our own wants and needs for a moment – to focus on someone else’s.

And, no offense to Psychology Today, there is a much simpler reason to volunteer:

It makes you feel good!

Tangential benefits include the feel-good kind that come from giving back, supporting a good cause, being part of the community, doing something useful, and making this world a better place.  But best of all? You get to work with like-minded people!

So if you think your life lacks meaning, or your current job leaves you less than fulfilled, make a list of the things you are passionate about:

•    Caring for (or just playing with) puppies
•    Caring for (or just playing with) kitties
•    Defending animal rights (perhaps becoming a vegetarian)
•    Protecting our natural resources (or simply communing with nature)
•    Promoting literacy
•    Helping the needy
•    Supporting research to cure an illness
•    The list goes on and on

After building your list, find a non-profit with a mission that promises to address one of your passions. It doesn’t have to be a big thing and you don’t have to make a second job out of it – a couple of hours per week are enough.

Take a look at one of the many websites that promote volunteerism, you are sure to find something of interest:

•    Points of Light
•    Volunteer Center of Northeast Metropolitan Chicago
•    HandsOn Suburban Chicago
•    Lake County Cares

Phew! Did you go down a rabbit hole? There are so many options and opportunities that even the curmudgeonliest among us will find something that sparks an interest. Which begs the question:

Why do so many organizations rely on volunteers?

Non-profits are founded to fill various needs in our society that are not addressed by the private sector or the government. I know, I know, everybody should care about the puppies and kitties – but that’s for a future post. The reality is:

The private sector won’t do it because there is no potential profit in it.

The government won’t do it because they don’t have the money to do it.

Fortunately, there are people out there who care about these issues and are willing to establish organizations to address them. It’s easy to create a new non-profit – all you need is an attorney to help with the paperwork. The hard parts are funding and human resources (you know – us – the volunteers).

The Friends of the Glenview Public Library knows the value of volunteers. The Irene Overman Kreer Used Book Store has an all-volunteer staff. We take in new donations, price the inventory, help customers find books, and maintain our shelves. And you know what we get out of it?

We get to play with books!

So what are you waiting for? Don’t give up your day job --- it pays the bills. Consider volunteering for something with a cause you can get behind. 

And don’t forget to drop in to say “hi” to the volunteers at the Irene Overman Kreer Used Book Store.