How volunteering changed my life and what I've learned along the way...
Welcome to the Stoics + Care blog! We're so happy you're joining us to learn how Stoicism and caretaking complement each other. In our first blog post, we hear from Stoicare co-founder Eve Riches on her personal journey to community caretaking. Below you'll learn
some of the amazing community-based projects Eve has worked on
how to make and stick to a 'volunteer budget' to prevent burnout
the theory behind Stoicism and care
how to select the best type of volunteering for you and
how to get started volunteering--even in your pajamas!
My Volunteering Journey
I started volunteering when I was seven and over the years I’ve had so many exciting, rewarding and fun experiences. I have made some long-term commitments but have not stayed with a particular charity or type of role throughout my career as I was always motivated to contribute to the greater good rather than having a particular cause I wanted to support.
Developing New Skills
I have found myself learning a huge variety of skills. These have included everything from how to do bridal makeup when I organised a fashion show to celebrate equal marriage legislation in the UK, to developing my mentoring skills when I was supporting looked-after children in their foster placements. I even had to work out how to renovate a bathroom when there was absolutely no budget for it as part of a community café project.
Along the way I’ve met so many amazing people, from those dealing with huge personal pressures like managing serious health conditions and dealing with trauma, to working alongside foster carers or guide dog trainers. It’s been an absolute privilege to meet these people and hear their stories. Some of the experiences will stay with me forever and will always be a reminder of what I am so grateful for in my own life. For example, if I ever feel frustrated with being a long cane user I can remember meeting a blind sixteen year old who was using her hands to navigate the world, with no cane or guide dog to help her.
I’ve travelled alone to speak to teachers and vets in Romania, I’ve worked within close-knit local teams in my community and I’ve volunteered from my own home. I’ve built a habitat for otters in a heatwave and I’ve shivered through a door to door collection for unwanted glasses. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to take part in these projects. Although it wasn’t my aim when I started this journey, my current career directly developed from my voluntary roles, as the skills and experiences lead to me being offered really exciting and meaningful work.
Considering Your 'Volunteering Budget'
My advice to people who are new to volunteering would be to think carefully about how much time you can afford to spend before you start. Is there another activity (like watching TV or time on social media) that you might be prepared to do a bit less of to ‘make some room’? It’s no good doing so much volunteering that your self-care suffers. I have certainly done that at times! I have much better boundaries in place now as it’s easy to let the urge to care for others and the enthusiasm for a project carry you away so you are doing far too much! I have always worked full-time in addition to my volunteer roles and there was a point earlier in my career when I got too caught up in helping run a charity, putting in more and more hours as I was so engaged in the work that I was quite burned out. Looking back I can see that I needed to be much clearer about what my ‘volunteering budget’ was and stick to that.
How Does This Relate to Stoic Theory?
This brings us back to the Stoic concept of oikeiosis, and how there are two strands to this. We have a natural urge to care for others, starting with our immediate family and then learning to extend this to others. We also have the natural tendency to care for ourselves as part of genetic self-preservation. Caring for others helps to build and strengthen bonds, so it is part of our self-care. It is also part of living in accordance with virtue, where we are acting with kindness and fairness to others. However, these two strands of oikeiosis are interdependent in that we cannot care well for others if we do not attend to our own self-care. We will have ‘nothing to give’. Therefore, we must remember to ‘put our own oxygen mask on first’ and make sure that we take good care of ourselves in any volunteering. It should be an activity that adds to the richness and joy in our lives, not something we force ourselves to engage in when we are already stretched.
Choosing a Role
Before making a start in volunteering it is good to consider what skills you already have, whether you would be prepared to complete any training and which causes or areas of work you are most interested in. It might be that skills you already have from your paid work experience means you can help with organising events, writing materials for a website, helping with social media or talking to groups to raise awareness. There really is something for everyone, there are as many different types of volunteering opportunity as there are people. It can be that sharing lived experiences or connection with the people you are supporting gives you something special to offer, but it can be equally exciting to take part in a project that brings you insight into a completely new community.
These days you don’t even need to leave the house to make a difference in the world. One benefit of living through a pandemic is that more opportunities have been developed globally for volunteering online. There is also an increased interest in how people spend their time to help their communities and an awareness of how ‘doomscrolling’ through bad news or witnessing arguments on social media might be contributing to a lack of well-being. This means that many more opportunities have opened up for a huge variety of online volunteering that you can even do from your phone, on your sofa, in your pjs! If you look under ‘resources’, you will find a number of suggestions for online volunteering.