Why We Volunteer

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I know I’ve written on the subject of volunteerism in the past, but what I’d like to do this month is delve deeper into what motivates individuals to engage as volunteers, and how acknowledging our motives helps mold us as professionals. Obviously, reasons vary from individual to individual and include a desire to “return the favor” or “pay it forward,” the need to fulfill professional obligations, capitalizing on networking opportunities, and enjoying the personal satisfaction brought on by having helped others. None can presume to know the reasons why someone might willingly sacrifice their time and effort and I acknowledge that there are innumerable external considerations that effect one’s motives – there are no absolutes. I will however, offer what basic insight I have on the matter, based on both my personal experiences and of those shared with me from others within the aviation industry.

Many of us are where we are today because we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us. As we navigated through the various stages and levels of our careers, mentors and others sacrificed their time to provide insight and guidance, often during critical periods of our professional growth. We learned to make better decisions which helped shape our lives. Many recipients of these acts of sacrifice recognize their own desire, even need, to assume a mentor role – to provide a helping hand to those now following the path. Acknowledging that the successes within our careers are the result of not just our own doings, but of so many who helped us along the way, becomes the motivation to actively participate in some form of volunteer work.

It’s fairly well known what steps one needs to take in order to advance their career as an airline pilot. Yes, it often means satisfying certain mile markers like earning your ratings, building hours and gaining experience through employment at one or more organizations. And in more recent history, another box one typically needs to check-off is attending at least one career fair in which aspiring aviators are offered opportunities to meet and engage with recruiters. One learns from these events that a balanced résumé includes volunteer activities. While this is not an absolute, and there are multiple avenues one can take towards advancing a career, volunteer engagement is generally considered a must, and while we should volunteer our time for honorable reasons, we can’t neglect this obvious benefit. Plus, it distinguishes your from others, a necessity in an environment as competitive as the airline industry. Companies typically see volunteer efforts as an indicator of an individual who balances not only their commitment to career, but to their community and its people. 

There are a infinite ways people can volunteer. For many it involves engaging with likeminded individuals who themselves are active within the industry. This presents a particularly valuable opportunity to network as a means of supporting your career advancement. As was mentioned in earlier articles, networking has multiple advantages that go beyond simply meeting the “right” person who may help you land a job. Networking offers individuals an opportunity to share information, support one another in decision making and provides opportunities that otherwise might never have presented themselves. By actively participating in volunteer groups and their efforts, you are positioning yourself to connect with more people and further expand your network or circle of influence (reference May article of 2017). 

We know there are so many additional reasons why someone might volunteer, but I’ll leave it with those and discuss how it all pays off in the end. Regardless of the reasons behind your decision to volunteer, realize that the effort you put forth is returned in multiple ways. One way is in improvements made to your personal and professional skill sets. Through active participation in some sort of volunteer effort, you are likely to engage at various levels with all sorts of individuals. This is an opportunity to improve certain social skills and strengthen how you communicate with people. Additionally, the more you become involved and the more responsibility you garner, the greater chances you’ll have to improve leadership skills. This can include how you manage time and tasks as well as your ability to be organized. These improvements are clearly linked to the type of volunteer effort you are involved with, however, don’t miss opportunities to improve your talents. 

Volunteering also provides the opportunity to balance your perspective on matters such as your personal achievements, as well as your goals not yet met. Engaging with others at varying levels of experience within your field offers insights into your own accomplishments and objectives. It can be a reminder of how far you have come and what’s still ahead of you. As the reciprocal, it’s important to realize that you are always in a position to provide insight and guidance to those coming up behind you. You will always be in a position to reflect on your achievements and pass along the knowledge you have acquired. 

We know there are many reasons why someone might volunteer, and we’ve discussed how this benefits the individual moving forward in their career. But I’ll end by emphasizing the best benefit of volunteering – the level of fulfillment one gets from helping others. We’ve all experienced the satisfaction of a job well done. When you help others and when you learn first-hand how your efforts have benefited another, it makes it all worthwhile. That is when you can sit back and smile at the best job well done. 

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