Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help others. Volunteering can help you build your professional network, will allow you to develop new areas of competency, and it can give you a sense of accomplishment when you might otherwise be feeling down.
I spent the past weekend in Ft. Lauderdale with 58 of my closest friends—the ACS Career Consultants. This very passionate group of volunteers freely gives of their time and advice to ACS members without compensation, because they have all faced the challenges of going through a career transition. By giving back to the Society through service, they have gained many contacts in their networks as well as a great deal of insight into the chemical industry and its hiring practices. Therefore they have not only given back to their community, but they have also enriched their own opportunities for professional advancement.
When moving from one place to another or changing jobs, the trauma of leaving friends and family behind can be very challenging. However, becoming involved in local organizations through volunteer service has given me access to new friends and support in every place that I have gone.
Whether staffing a benefit for AIDS research, helping pack groceries at a food bank, or volunteering for the ACS Younger Chemists Committee, I was able to find others with similar values and interests. The activities involved with each program also provided me with opportunities to explore leadership roles, as well as skills development outside of the scope of my professional duties. I have chaired committees and task forces, designed and programmed websites, served drinks to celebrities, and worked side-by-side with some of the most innovative people on the planet. I have been able to list the skills gained from each activity on my resume, and I use many of those skills in my job today.
However, the best thing about volunteer service is the feelings of self-accomplishment and pride I feel from giving to others. I know this is selfish—perhaps even Machiavellian—but it is true. Through volunteering, I am able to replace feelings of self-pity for being alone, insecurities about my abilities, and frustrations with work projects gone astray with those of camaraderie, accomplishment and pride.
Sharing stories about the people that we have been able to help and the challenges that we have faced throughout the last year with my fellow Career Councilors has been a fulfilling and inspiring experience. I have been rejuvenated.
If you are feeling bogged down by your daily grind at work, or in between employment opportunities, consider giving more of yourself through service. The world will benefit, and so will you.
The ACS Career Consultant Program is a free service available only to members of the American Chemical Society.
This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.