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3 Major Struggles I Didn’t Expect When Volunteering

It’s no secret that volunteering is something that adds new dimensions to someone’s life. I have always sought out volunteering opportunities as resume boosters. However, I had a volunteering experience last year that yielded a multitude of struggles that I did not expect, which has made me even warier about making volunteer commitments for an extended period of time.

3 Major Struggles I Didn’t Expect To Experience When Volunteering

I Committed Far Too Much Time To The Organization

When I was originally onboarded for this position, it seemed ideal, largely because I thought it would assist me in transitioning into my field of choice. Only a few weeks into the experience, two things were confirmed.

  1. My interests had evolved
  2. I needed to change fields as a result.

I honored the commitment I had made to the organization, but it became increasingly difficult over the 5 months that I spent there, largely because I was not being financially compensated for my time. At one point, I was spearheading the organization’s entire marketing team, presiding over the copywriting and graphic design elements of their social media networks, serving as the first point of contact for all social media-based inquiries, and designing, executing, and teaching a foreign language program on top of managing a team. The amount of time I spent executing all these tasks gradually took away any enjoyment I had initially experienced as a result of these projects.

Up until that point, I had always volunteered for the benefits, and as a way to keep my resume and skills sharp, particularly during periods of unemployment. The amount of time I devoted to this organization began to interfere with more important things such as job hunting, which prompted me to find a much better opportunity and cut my fellowship short. 

This was not the first time I had experienced burnout or pushed myself beyond my limits. However, it was the first time that I let a volunteer commitment take precedence over other, far more pressing things in my life, something that I should have never done and will never repeat again.

Although it is possible that volunteering can lead to a full-time position in the future, that is not the case for every organization out there; know the value of your time and commit only to what you are comfortable committing to.

It is always possible to commit more time if you are able. Retracting your hours, while possible, is slightly more difficult.

I Lost My Motivation

Communications work, particularly social media content creation, has been my post-academic comfort zone. It is a skill that I know is in high demand, something that I know I am capable of doing, and doing well.

I had thought that staying in my comfort zone would be a good crutch as I transitioned back to roles in the United States. At the time, my intention was to make a lateral transition into a Communications role within an organization that was more aligned with the work I want to do.

Like so many things in the wake of the pandemic, my perfectly constructed plan was not executed in that way. However, this wasn’t a result of the pandemic; it was the result of the realization that I am someone who constantly needs to be challenged and learn new skills.

Losing my motivation was the last thing I expected—I had expected my interest in cross-cultural communication and my desire to transition into a different field to carry me through to the end of my commitment, and in a way, it did. However, I could not lie to myself about how I felt about the work that I was doing.

Losing your motivation for anything, voluntary or not, is an indicator that you should take seriously. It may mean more work for you, but if you are in any way dissatisfied with the work you are doing, take action steps to change your circumstances.

The Culture of The Organization Was Not A Good Fit For Me

When I was passed over for a full-time position in favor of a younger graduate just before I took this fellowship, I had a feeling that the culture of this particular organization was not a good fit for me based on the second interview.

However, I ignored my instincts based on the pitch that the CEO delivered when he interviewed me for a position in this cohort and the knowledge that I needed to have something on my resume to show that I had been proactive during the pandemic. It wasn’t until I worked there as a fellow before I understood exactly how wrong of a fit the organization actually was.

Each and every organization runs differently; everyone who works or volunteers for an organization has different expectations and different dealbreakers. Volunteering at an organization that is home to a culture that makes you feel uncomfortable or where it is apparent that you are not a good fit is extremely difficult.

If your instincts are telling you that you’re probably not a good fit for the organization, listen to them. There are plenty of interview questions you can ask that can help you assess a company’s culture.

Volunteering is typically something that has benefitted me greatly. However, there can be downsides to it. Your time is valuable. There is nothing wrong with putting a value on your time and moving on if you find that something isn’t the right fit for you.

This post was contributed anonymously.

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