Research conducted among people about to retire/dreaming of retirement found that when asked “what are you going to do in retirement?” 100 out of 100 people answered, “obviously travel and volunteer!”.
***I have no idea if such a research was ever conducted. but I’m pretty sure these would be the results.
Why? well- because people like to think of themselves as “good people”. people also like to be acknowledged by others as “good people”.
Since I am a person as well, when I retired (early. at 50, the best decision I ever made), those were the answers I gave as well.
And now, celebrating 3 years of early retirement- I want to say something. something a bit controversial perhaps.
Volunteering is not all roses and daffodils. not everyone is cut out to be a volunteer, not every volunteer program is actually helping people, and careful thought should be put into the type of program cut for you. this is not a one-size-fits-all.
I also want to say that many times, just being kind to people can be bigger help than some high profile volunteering project. But that Is only my opinion.
If you feel upset by my exclamations- please feel free to wander off to other posts, other blogs, or other things you need to do.
The reason I am writing this post is that when I embarked on my volunteering projects, I was enthusiastic and naive, and was disappointed time after time when I discovered my time and effort were not exactly going to the right places.
Now- I am a cynic and a very judgmental person, I never accept things as they are presented to me, and 30 years of working as a criminal lawyer and dealing with the worst of the worst, had definitely taken their toll.
Your experience could be totally different, you might be a devoted longtime volunteer, doing real work, actually helping the right people.
In that case- I am really happy for you.
But I still don’t think it makes you a better person.
I think it makes you a person who made a decision to volunteer. that’s all.
But -if- like me- you can’t help but see things in a certain (judgmental)way and feel discouraged at the reality of everyday volunteering- this post is for you. please keep reading.
I started volunteering about 5 years ago- when I was still working full time. I thought I could spare the time and effort to try and help others.
So I volunteered to guide a 17-year-old who was being charged with carrying a knife, and since he was charged in juvenile court, a probation officer was supposed to give a report on him.
I joined a project intended to try and give these young kids another chance. to clean the slate and start fresh. the point of the program was to try and give these kids the option to change and perhaps find a better coping mechanism that will eventually deter them from criminal court.
Being a criminal lawyer for so many years, I thought (vainly)that I would be the perfect person to help.
“I know the system!” “I have 3 kids!” “I can help this young kid get out of the trouble he’s in and be a respected member of society!”
The reality was that the project was so under-budgeted, that the only place the kid and I could meet was the 2nd floor of the public library, a public space where other people were learning computers (another volunteering project). no privacy, and for that kid- the library wasn’t considered “a safe place” to share his real problems.
He, quite understandably- did not want to sit there, so we ended up wandering the streets of the city he lives in. no parks nearby, the heat unbearable at times, and the only time he and I could meet was during his break from work (I was working full time then, and couldn’t get out of work in the mornings- not that it would help- he was -so he told me- fond of sleeping until noon.).
So we wandered the busy streets trying to discuss life and goals and his family problems.
This was really tough- for him- and for me too.
He didn’t really want to be a part of this project- his appointed lawyer told him it would help him in court. so he made the effort to appear- but wasn’t really keen on sharing his real problems with a stranger he just met (totally makes sense to me).
The fact that we were strolling the hot and busy streets wasn’t helping either, and another major problem was me.
I am a “problem solving” type- not the “emphatic listening “type.
I listened to him at first, but after a few months, I couldn’t help myself and started giving him advice.
Now- this might have been good advice- I don’t know- he wasn’t about to take any advice from anyone, least of all a stranger that he had to meet to dismiss a court case.
After a while he got bored with me- I can’t blame him- he told me a little about his family, his friends, his lack of ambition due to his family issues, and his unsuccessful encounter with school, and I listened but also couldn’t help but try and help in a practical matter.
And he kept saying “it won’t work’ I don’t want to’ there is no use”.
He started to miss appointments.
I would get out of work early, drive to where he lives, bring him a bottle of water and a snack -and stand there waiting in the heat for30 minutes, while he didn’t answer his phone and never let me know in advance he wouldn’t come.
I contacted the program manager and asked for help. They told me this is typical behavior and that “he is testing me”.
So I kept showing up.
And he kept not showing up.
This was really frustrating and went on for a couple of months. until I finally gave up.
I am not proud of myself, I think another person- a more emphatic and compassionate person- could perhaps reach him better, or maybe not.
Maybe a person- even a 17-year-old- has to want to be there and try and help himself- so others can help him.
I don’t know.
I hope he is doing ok.
After that I had a few more encounters with organizations that weren’t so much focused on helping people in need- but getting the funds and their own salaries.
This happens in some cases too.
After retiring 3 years ago, I volunteered in a project for lonely elderly people.
I was assigned an88-year-old lady who lives at home and turns out that has more family relatives where she lives than I do.
I think the reason she asked for someone to keep her company is that she is a judgmental lady who makes sure to tell you -in your face- exactly what she thinks of you.
At first- it took some adjusting: for example- she saw my shaven hair and said boldly”what is it with your hair? how can your husband stand that?”
(well, I told her, I’m not absolutely sure he can, but I like it this way, so this is it).
We have been meeting every week for the past 3 years, (except for lock down and cold spells when we can’t go out for our stroll ( since omicron- volunteerS are not allowed to go in the elderly’s house and we have to keep our meetings in open-air with masks-which is perfectly understandable).
The lady I now 90.
We walk around the village, she sees people, she gets talking with them- and we sit on a bench and chat.
Although she has family near by- turns out the stroll with me is the only time she actually goes for an hour walk- which is crucial for her since she has stability problems.
I also take her to doctor appointments if her family can’t’ and fix some things at home from time to time.
She is not an easy person.
She walks by people’s houses and tells me ( in a loud voice) all kinds of gossip tidbits about them, and honestly, there is no way of telling if they can hear her or not.
She complains a lot and criticizes her family.
Probably criticized me too behind my back.
I don’t mind.
I keep going. I’m not an easy person either.
Does this make me a better person? no . it doesn’t.
I feel nice about myself afterward, and this is a clear sign that I am not in any way selfless.
I don’t believe anyone is, really.
We are wired to be self-centered, and that’s ok.
I realized that volunteering is not necessarily easy and glamorous.
I realized I do it for myself as much as for her.
And that’s ok too.
What I’m trying to say is- if you find volunteering in a certain project isn’t for you- it’s ok- try to find another project. and please don’t think this is going to be an automatic fairytale of help and gratitude- because- like any other things in life- the reality is so much different than the brochure.
And that’s ok too.
I am not a medical/health/emotional/financial /nutrition or any other kind of expert as far as it concerns the contents of this blog, therefore anything written on the blog is not to be taken as any kind of advice, and should you choose to rely on anything I write on this blog- you are doing it at your own risk and at your own responsibility.