Capable of Big Things: The Positives of Volunteering Our Time (by Marty Mertz)

 

We live in a world where where our motivations to do practically anything lie in that we are doing something to help ourselves. As long as I can remember that is what I have know. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are really wonderful people out there and that not everyone is out to serve themselves, but for the most part I believe that our culture thrives on doing things that directly serve ourselves. I know this from my own experience. Throughout my summers in high school I almost always had some sort of job, not because I really needed the money, but because any money I earned I could spend on whatever I wanted. I was privileged in that regard. My whole childhood was privileged. The farther and farther I got into highschool the more and more I came to deeply struggle with depression. I was so unhappy and I didn’t know why. So I steeped myself into my jobs even more making more money so I could spend it on things that I really believed would make me a happier person. Guess what? It didn’t make me any happier, in fact it made me the most ungrateful person in the world. Wanting to stop these intense emotions I sought the wisdom of my dad. After I had explained my sadness and from what he could gather from just being around me he told me that I wasn’t finding enough purpose in my life and that was probably the reason that I was so depressed. So the summer before my senior year of high school I took four weeks off of work and went to work with the low income children in Shreveport, Louisiana. That month of my life was life changing. For the first time I saw the needs of the world and was given the opportunity to help meet them and I thrived. I think of that month as one of the happiest of my life. Then just as most good things, this trip had to come to an end and my world was shattered. I went back into my privileged life, I went to school, worked a little, bought what I wanted, did sports and held that summer as a distant memory. In the midst of my decision for college I found myself wading in the currents of depression yet again. I so vividly recall telling my dad that I didn’t want to go to school and just wanting to spend my life doing something that me feel fulfilled. When he asked what I wanted to do instead I said I wanted to go back and live in Shreveport. When I realized that there was nothing stopping me I bought a plane ticket, packed two suitcases and made a plan to move the day after commencement. I lived in Shreveport for about four months and those months were the most wonderful, stressful, messy months of my life and I absolutely loved every moment. From there I got a job to be a part time teacher, part time receptionist in Colorado for a small charter school that was just getting off the ground.

From these experiences I found one thing to be incredibly true and that is serving others and “giving our life away” are one of the best things that you can do for yourself. I think that all people have a deep seeded need to live out a life of purpose. And this can look like any number of wonderful things. It’s unique to each one of us. Purpose is what drives us and motivates us to do things. When I lived in Shreveport I got out of bed every morning at 5 am knowing that I had 100 kids counting on me to get camp rolling for them. For some of them this was their only activity for the day. For some their only source of food. And others it was the only place that they felt physically safe. With that in mind I practically leapt out of bed every morning. My purpose was to serve them and to meet their needs however I could. After four months of this exhausting work I was a little burnt out. Not on the principle of it, but in a very physical way. Regardless, I knew that my next career decision had to be chosen with helping people in mind. I weighed my options and decided on Thomas MacLaren School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was an option that I found personally sustainable for a year and it happened to be a great choice. Upon reflection of these two experiences I found that I was happiest when I was lost in the service of others. Initially I found that incredibly strange. If you look at it from a much bigger cultural context I lived and live in a world that is all about me and my happiness. Just go on facebook and look at all of the selfies, they are all by individuals who want attention. They want other people to notice them. They think that is what will make them happy. Look at gyms. They are full of people who saw a picture in a magazine and had decided that they aspire to look like that (all the while completely disregarding how airbrushed and photoshopped those models are). Go to the mall and look around. See hundreds and hundreds of people who are unhappy with something about themselves and have come to purchase a solution. All of these people have something in common. At the end of the day they are not reaching their potential for happiness. They are left wanting more. Believe me, I have been that person. What makes me the happiest is when I am completely and utterly lost in the service of others doing something I believe in.

I by nature am a community organizer. I love people. I love sharing my vision with others and having them share their own vision. Since the age of seven I have said that I am going to change the world. And even now I stand by that. I am a world changer. So last year when I started my work with Compassion North Portland everything clicked. This is what I was made to do. I was made to share my vision and help advance goodness to people. My first job at Compassion was to lead around guest at our annual free medical and dental clinic. I was bottom of the totem pole and I absolutely loved the job. My only responsibility was for myself and the happiness of the guest in my care. I was so happy by the end of it. And like most volunteer jobs if you do a good job, love it, and act like you’re having a good time they will ask you back and give you bigger responsibilities. So fast forward to this
year, I am on the planning committee in charge of all the social services for the event. This

is no small job, but it has proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I am both using the talents that I have been given as well as doing something that I am finding important and useful to my community. I have plenty on plate without my involvement in Compassion North Portland, but I realized that everything else in my life is all about me. I work so I can live, I go to school to better myself, and have friends and family that I love to spend time with. Compassion North Portland helps me fill an outlet that of helping people and not living a self­centered life.

I think my generation is so unhappy because we don’t live in a society that upholds volunteering and service. If you want to be successful after high school you need to be prepping yourself in high school. It’s all about what you can put on an application. Then when you get in to the school that you have dreamt about you hard until you graduate.
We leave very little room for volunteering and we as a culture certainly don’t uphold it. I know so many people who graduate college swimming in debt and have to go and get a job immediately. They have no chance to volunteer. And before you know it people become wrapped up in family life, careers, and social norms. I think as a society we need to change the way we send young people into the world. There are several countries around the world where all high school graduates take a year off and serve somewhere. They find that these young people are much more productive after that year and that there is a lot less work that needs to be done, because of all the young there to do it. Everyone wins in this kind of situation! I think if we cultivated a culture of service and giving back to the community that raised you we could change the world. It’s time to start rethinking how we treat young people. They are capable of big things. And this world is full of work for young people to tackle. It’s time for this generation to rise up and serve their neighbor.

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