In this post, I describe how my desire to do meaningful work has shaped my career and a recent volunteer activity. I briefly recount an experience I had this summer that brought me great joy because it hit a “10” in my own doing-meaningful-work scale. Finally, I encourage you to reflect on your own drive to do meaningful work (where ‘work’ includes parenting and other caretaking work, and paid and volunteer work). 

A poor experience leads to meaningful work

My undergraduate years at a large research-intensive university were not good ones: I remember endless lectures where I furiously took notes but understood very little, a competitive environment, and stressfull exams that counted for most of my grades. That it took me 9 years after graduating with a B.Sc. before I dared to start another degree is a testament to my poor undergraduate experience.

The upside is that this eventually led me to the field of educational development, a profession dedicated to enhancing teaching and student learning in post-secondary education. I have enjoyed my career as an educational developer for a variety of reasons, one of these being that I do meaningful work.

My desire to do meaningful work grows

But as I age, my desire to contribute to society grows and my notion of what constitutes meaningful work expands.

I believe this is why I started a coaching practice and also why, in 2017, I began to volunteer for the BC Mobility Outdoor Society (BCMOS), an organization that provides opportunities for people with physical disabilities to access outdoor recreation. I am a person who loves to be active in nature and I feel so happy when I help others do the same through the BCMOS outings.

A summer highlight

It was through BCMOS that I learned about Agur Lake Camp, a unique wilderness retreat with accommodations, trails, a dock, and activities that are fully accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. I volunteered there with my daughter one weekend this summer and it was one of the highlights of that season!

Why? Because it met many of my needs and/or aligned with my values, including those of:

  • helping
  • being with my daughter (value = family)
  • spending the weekend with kind people (value = community)
  • learning and experiencing something new (value = learning)
  • being outdoors in a gorgeous, peaceful setting (value = nature)

Doing meaningful work through volunteering

Ways to do meaningful (non-paid) work

If you crave doing more meaningful work [see note 1](as in work that is more meaningful or a greater quantity of meaningful work!), then…

  1. If your life situation is such that volunteering is an option for you, this is often the simplest route. You needn’t go halfway across the world or spend six months in a rural village to make a contribution; even a few hours may satisfy your wish to contribute (and would, of course, help those in need). Many big cities have organizations that help match volunteers to groups seeking help. Alternatively, you can simply approach a group that you feel called to help.
  2. If you cannot commit to a formal volunteer position, consider helping a friend or neighbour–maybe it’s a visit, or a phone call or ?
  3. Look within your family. Sometimes we get so busy that we end up dedicating little time to helping our own family members (writes she, from experience). This past summer and fall, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my teens who, for various reasons, have needed their maman. These are hard times, especially in the case of my daughter, but the being-there-for-her and spending-time-to-help have been gifts.

Note 1: If you want a greater sense of meaning in your work, that is a more complex endeavour and will be the focus of a future post.


Your turn

My aim in writing this post is not to “push” volunteering on anyone. It is to prompt you to think about do-able ways to add more meaning to your life (if that is something you are seeking).  Assuming you have read to here because you are interested in ways to do more meaningful work, then:

  • Review the 3 points in the section above titled “ways to do meaningful (non-paid) work” and determine if you want to act on any of these. If you do, what is your next step?
  • Not sure where you want to direct your energy, but quite sure you want to do ‘something’ in a volunteer capacity? My advice is don’t overthink it.  Just try something out short-term or as a one-off and see what happens. Or, if you prefer, consider your top values and make a choice based on these. (Not sure what your top values are, try the free Barrett Values Assessment).

Thank you for reading!

[Feature image: That’s not me paddleboarding! It is the owner of Access Revolution in Kamloops.]

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