Photo Credit: Flickr user Krissy Venosdale
Whether it’s cooking dinner for our neighbor or volunteering tirelessly to support our service member’s unit, we have all given something. Maybe we were there for someone who needed a listening ear. Maybe we took their kids for a few hours so they could just rest for a moment. WHY? Maybe someone did these things for us and we want to pay it forward. Or maybe at some point, we had no one and never want another person to feel the way we felt. There are so many reasons we give ourselves to others and in so many different ways, both big and small.
In our subculture, there has always been a willingness to give. In fact, According to The Blue Star Families 2014 Military Family Lifestyle Survey results, “68% of respondents had volunteered in the last year, and 59% actively sought out volunteering opportunities in the local community”.
To be honest, I wanted to know why that number wasn’t 100%, so I asked the military spouse community what was holding back the other 32% of us from volunteering. Here’s what I found out (and some potential solutions to combat those barriers):
1. “I’m too busy…I have no time”
ALL of us have said this out loud at one point or another, and it’s not untrue at all! Many of us have careers, college, a home to run with kids and their activities. Throw a deployment into that mix and all of the responsibilities that end up falling on us can be completely overwhelming. I’m doing a two-person job! How can I take time out of my crazy schedule to volunteer when I can barely find time to take a darn shower?!
Look at it this way: Pick apart your week. How much TV do you watch? How much time do you spend on social media? You might be surprised how many hours you find. Now, I’m not asking you to give up binging on Netflix (because I’m sure not giving that up). We all need down time to recharge our batteries. However, I will ask you to ponder whether you’re willing to donate 25% of that time to your community. Could you give at least 2 hours a month?
2. “I don’t want to go by myself”
Many of us absolutely HATE attending functions or events if we don’t know anyone who will be there. Riding solo can be scary, especially if we’re new to the area.
Look at it this way: If you don’t want to go by yourself, then don’t go by yourself! Go with a friend. You know, that friend that’s been saying, “We never hang out anymore! You never call me anymore!” TAKE THAT ONE! Two birds with one stone. Or you could take your kids. Now, many of my volunteer buddies actually use this time volunteering to get away from their kiddos for a bit (and they mean that in the most LOVING way, of course); however, when we let our kids tag along to assist us in helping others, they pick up on qualities that are difficult to teach. Gratitude, humility, and a strong sense of purpose are some of the most difficult things to articulate to children. Leading by example is one of the best ways to show them how to hone these qualities. I always end up having the most meaningful conversations with my kids after a volunteer event.
3. “I want to volunteer, but I don’t have anything to offer”
One very new military spouse told me that the reason she didn’t volunteer with the unit was because she wasn’t “experienced” enough in living the military lifestyle to be able to contribute anything.
Look at it this way: Whether you are a native or have recently entered the foreign territory that is the military lifestyle, you do have something to contribute. Maybe you are bi-lingual. Maybe you love children. Maybe you write well. Maybe you’re handy with a toolbox. Whatever your skill, you CAN contribute! Maybe YOU could be the one to break down cultural barriers for a spouse who doesn’t speak English. Maybe YOU could be that one person for a child who has no one else. Maybe YOU will write an empowering article for Military Spouse Magazine that will inspire someone. (Maybe YOU will be the one at my door with your toolbox the next time Murphy’s Law breaks my toilet!)
4. “I don’t know…what’s in it for me?”
Let’s be honest. Our time is valuable. Some days we may find ourselves with hours on our hands. Others we don’t even have time to shave our legs. We need to know that our time is being spent wisely and we want to get something out of it.
Look at it this way: My quality of life is off the charts because I have chosen to contribute to my community. Is it because I have met over 80% of my friends through volunteering? Is it because I’m less isolated, therefore less depressed, when hubby leaves? Maybe it’s because of all the networking I’ve done and skills I have learned that served as free professional development? While all of this is true, it’s not why I volunteer. I volunteer because it makes me HAPPY.
Studies have shown that volunteering can make us happier. When we give our time serving others, many of us feel what is called the “Helper’s High”. Without going all Big Bang Theory on you (though I do love me some Dr. Sheldon Cooper), we’ll just call it the science of good deeds. There is literally a bio-chemical reaction that occurs within our brains and bodies that allows us to feel all warm and fuzzy when we serve the needs of others. Think about it; have you ever experienced this feeling after helping someone when you didn’t have to? SCIENCE.
5. “I’m just one person. What difference could I make?”
I have actually heard this one a lot. In a sea of millions of faces and names, many military spouses think that their contribution would never truly make an impact, and they throw in the towel before the bell even rings.
Look at it this way: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Mother Theresa; Mahatma Gandhi. All of these people made a SIGNIFICANT contribution to our world. What if they had said to themselves, “I’m only one person. What difference could I make?” and then did nothing. Would our world look the same?
I want you to think of someone who has made a significant impact on your life. Maybe it was something they did for you or something they said to you. If it were not for this person, you would not be who or where you are today.
Now ask yourself: What if that someone had said: “You know what? I’m only one person. What difference could I really make?” and they never did or said whatever it was that greatly contributed to who and where you are today? Would YOUR world look the same?
Each one of us individually has the ability to influence other lives in some way, shape or form. YOU could be the reason a friend pursues medical school and goes on to cure cancer. YOU could be the reason a person gets up in the morning. YOU could be the light at the end of the tunnel.
The point is, plant your seed. You may not always be around to see it bloom, but bloom it will. So, how will YOU plant your seed?
Click here to read what’s next: 10 Reasons I’m Grateful to be a Military Spouse