Volunteers do what very, very few people are willing to do: Now that is a startling truth, and perhaps a cynical observation. But, therein lies the beauty of volunteering: Opportunities that are cast-off are yours for the taking. In this first instalment in a series of articles on volunteering, I share personal insights on how my entire career, spanning twenty and some years, has been shaped fundamentally by volunteering. I dedicate this article to all the fine folks who staff the IDL SIG and make the SIG a wonderful voluntary group to belong to; and by extension all to those volunteers who make the STC run (and you thought the world runs on Dunkin’!).
When I was a mere 17 years old, I was urged to join a community-based organization. At the first meeting, folks by far more worldly than me readily took up various posts—PRO; Vice Chair. But no one wanted to be the secretary. Seizing upon my ignorance and inexperience, I was thrust into the role. And so began a long history of doing what few want to do—taking minutes and writing correspondence (those were the days of typed letters with carbon copies). I was willing: I learnt things that no formal classroom could teach me. My career went from strength to strength and has, since then, involved always a great deal of writing.
It is impossible to itemize all the ways in which volunteering has informed my career, but these are the most significant ways in which volunteering rescued me from a muddied vision of myself:
- Volunteering put me in touch with my strengths. Outside of my voluntary work, I was uncertain about what I had to offer to the marketplace. Being asked to write—correspondence; project proposals; reports—revealed my writing ability. Above all, I came to realize that I really enjoy writing. Volunteering also taught me a great deal about my weaknesses. Voluntary work gave me a safe place to learn about things I needed to improve, in preparation for the world of work and life in general.
As it relates to the IDL SIG, I continue to write and my writing is in an entirely different context from my workplace writing. Writing for IDeaL: Instructional Design for Learning is a more relaxed, personal experience. It hones my writing skills, but in way that is not tied to the routine of 9 to 5.
- Volunteering made me a team-player. In contrast to the classroom, where individual effort is encouraged and rewarded, as a volunteer I learnt that successful organizations thrive on shared decision-making and concerted effort. Teamwork requires a sublimation of personal wants and needs; a cultivated and abiding understanding of difference; and openness to others. These are some of the personal attributes that employers look for.
Being a team-player requires even more interpersonal skills, when that community is a virtual one, like the IDL SIG. In a virtual community, you need to work double-time to make sure that communication is clear; to create bonding moments; and to build trust.
- Volunteering taught me the value of networking. Jobs, influence and opportunities circulate within networks of people. Volunteering inserts you in the first instance into a single network—that of the voluntary organization. But that network mushrooms into many, many more, when you consider that each member of the organization belongs to many other networks. With charisma, a strong work ethic and a reputation for dependability and trustworthiness, you could tap into large and varied networks. When given a choice among a field of competent candidates, employers will choose the known and familiar—that person could be you.
When asked to volunteer for the SIG, I jumped at the opportunity. Volunteering for the SIG allows me to belong to a network that I would not ordinarily have access to. There are no STC chapters where I live and there are few local TC or IDL practitioners. In this instance, volunteering has provided me with a network that defies geographical boundaries.
- Volunteering stretches and tests you in ways that you ordinarily will not be. When you are hired, you are hired with a pre-determined set of competencies to fill a post with a fixed job description, and are given a set of resources to get your job done. Voluntary organizations have no such luxury.
- Generally speaking, voluntary organizations can make very little demands regarding the skill-sets that the volunteer is bringing. So, volunteers will have to learn very quickly skill-sets that they may not have prior to volunteering.
- They often have very fluid terms of reference for members, so you may find yourself doing things that have nothing to do with being a secretary, for instance. Therefore, volunteers will have to give of themselves in many unanticipated ways.
- They work in under-resourced circumstances. Hey, if they could pay folks, you wouldn’t be volunteering! And so, volunteers will have to be very creative to overcome resourcing deficits.
In short, volunteering tests your mettle. You would never have known that you are this tough!
And how has the IDL SIG tested my mettle? Well in many, many, many ways. But perhaps the most telling is the requirement to use WordPress—software that I would not ordinarily use. And believe me, it has been testing, but in a good way! I expect that as I work longer with the SIG and STC, there will always be opportunities and the need to learn new things…more testing of my mettle!
So while my sharing has been about volunteering in general, I do hope that you are convinced to volunteer for the IDL SIG and STC specifically! Your professional goals and personal aspirations can be met in our one stop shop. For more information on volunteering opportunities with the IDL SIG please see: http://www.stcidlsig.org/about-idl-sig/volunteer-opportunities/