While money is a definite motivator for the American worker, most people need to believe that the work they are doing is also making a positive difference in the world around them. In lieu of that, most people need a volunteer outlet or some other way to know that the space they are taking up on the planet is space that is being well-used.
Whether you’re a college student wondering whether or not a graduate school program is the right one to help you meet your aspirations, or you’re a seasoned working veteran who needs a change that will fulfill your heart but you can’t also quit worrying about your wallet, you can still make choices that will positively impact you and your community. Here are a handful of ways to improve the lives of those around you, while you improve your own in the process.
Go Back to School
Have you been working in finance, but want to do social work? Are you a hospital administrator who wants to be a community organizer? Are you a stay-at-home dad who wants to make art? There are plenty of programs that will let you keep working (yes, stay-at-home parents are working), while you go back to school. Hop on the Internet and see what’s available. It may take a few years and some significant financial fortitude, but you can transition into a different career that will fulfill you more.
Almost every community has people — especially adults — who are in need of greater literacy skills or English as a Second Language skills. Literacy Volunteers of America is a volunteer organization in over 400 communities across the United States that trains volunteers to help people gain better reading, writing and speaking skills. If you don’t think literacy or ESL is exactly up your alley, ask yourself what you are passionate about, good at and have expertise in that you could teach others. Are you an avid and skilled gardener? Could you teach people how to do basic maintenance on their cars or bicycles? Whatever it is, offer weekend or evening classes and advertise them through Craigslist, Facebook, church bulletins, grocery store boards and the like.
Really, Act Local
The ideal of “Think globally; act locally.” has been a rallying cry for human rights activists, environmentalists and everyone else who wants to make the world a safer, greener and more sustainable place for humans, plants and animals to live. While it may seem like a small endeavor, commit to getting as many of your basic, entertainment and other needs met in the town or region in which you live. Here are some suggestions:
·Shop at your local farmer’s market or food coop. By purchasing produce and meat raised in close proximity to where you live, you’re ensuring a healthier local farm and food economy, which benefits everyone in your area and the planet as a whole. Also, fresher food tastes better.
·Shop at local, independent book and music stores. Keeping money in the hands of the people who live and work in your town creates an ongoing mini-economic stimulus that, if everyone were to join in, would completely transform job, education and financial opportunities in your community.
·Use your local, independent hardware store. While they are almost creatures of the past, utilize your local hardware store for home improvement and craft items. It will keep them in business and ensure that the money you spend on your house stays in your town.
Most communities have a vast network of volunteer opportunities for people who want to help out. From coaching to assisting in domestic violence hotlines to fostering abandoned or abused pets, there are many needs within your community, and the chances are good that one or more of them is something you feel strongly about. Get to the bottom of the specific ways in which you wish the world were better, do some research and put your time, energy and money.
Making a difference in the world is something many people need in order to have the satisfaction of living a meaningful life. Whether you change careers, volunteer or commit to putting as many of your dollars into your community as you can, being an agent of change is a practice that will pay big dividends in you and the people around you.