When I fill out paperwork at the doctor’s office I never quite know what to write when it asks for “occupation.” Mom? Homeschooling mom? Writer? Content manager? I never want to explain my answer in response to a blank stare so I typically just write in “homeschooling mom.” (Although that raises enough eyebrows- not sure why I thought it was the simplest answer).
If you get a paycheck for a job it’s simple enough to tell people what you do. You have a title or a job description or you can map out your typical day and you find people nodding their heads in understanding. Your life is similar to theirs. When you move into less conventional paths you have to be more resourceful with your explanations and be prepared to explain further. There are still people who have no idea what a podcast is. Usually a vague “I do a little side work” suffices unless there’s genuine interest.
It’s easy to struggle with feeling “legitimate” when you don’t get a paycheck and you don’t have a title. But work is work and the experience is the same whether it’s volunteer or paid. I choose the volunteer work I do carefully because I only have so much time and I want to be able to give the most to the things that matter to me and still be able to gain valuable experience in the fields I’m interested in. Volunteer work is a great chance to be involved with something you care about. You get to use your skills and talents to help the projects you are passionate about and it’s an opportunity for you to build your own skill set. Here a few other benefits you can gain along the way as you take on volunteer opportunities:
_Know what you want to do (or can learn to do).
If you are volunteering to add to your resume as well as contribute to a cause you need to do some planning. What skills do you want to learn or develop? One great aspect of volunteering is that often you can learn skills on-the-job because someone has to do it and it might as well be you. If they can’t hire a professional to do the work, you can fill that need and gain useful experience at the same time.
Find who needs that work.
Another great benefit of volunteering is that you get to pick where you volunteer. You may have to work to pay your bills at a job that is not your first choice. But if you volunteer you can go where you want. Make a list of places you would be interested in volunteering and pick up the phone or type an email. See what that company or school or non-profit needs. Is it work you can do? Is it work that is in line with your interests and skill set? Offer your resources.
Learn in community.
The internet makes the world a smaller place. If you need to learn a skill, instruction is at your fingertips. Find a class at your local college, join on online network, take a class you found on Instagram. Find other people doing the skills you are using and learn from them. Watch what they do; ask them questions; build your personalized education.
One downfall of volunteer work is that technically they can’t make you do it. It’s not like college with syllabi and final exams. It’s not like a job where you can be fired for not completing projects. You are building references as well as your resume. Learn to master yourself. You need to set aside time to learn your craft and complete what you said you would do. Set your own work hours and work them. Turn in projects when you told them you would. Take the classes to learn what you need to grow. Be the boss of your time.
If you are interested in learning a skill or pursuing a line of work, if you can’t go back to school or aren’t skilled enough to pursue a paid position yet, consider volunteering! Pick a cause you care about and put yourself through your own curriculum with experience.
Photos by Valerie Denise