I sometimes refer to my life three years ago as my "old life." I call it that because I can easily see, in hindsight, how my purpose was not in line with my day-to-day actions. Fresh out of university with a Sociology degree and a staggering amount student debt, I was checking into a 9-5 job that left me exhausted and totally unfulfilled.
The big shift for me occurred when I started volunteering on the things I cared about after my day job was over. With 24 hours in each day, even an extra hour a day on something that wasn't a financial motivator, but made my heart beat harder, became crucial and addictive. When the dollar sign is not involved as your main driver, clutter is removed and your purpose becomes very clear; it becomes easy to recognize what gives you energy and what takes it away. I also realized very quickly what I actually enjoyed doing, and was happy to do it for free.
Six months of volunteering on a project called "Summit on the Summit," focused on the global clean water crisis, turned into a full time opportunity and the gate opener to a series of fortunate events in my life. This new direction even lead me to create my company, Lovesocial, which aims to use social media to bring people together. Another pro bono project that my company took on this year was focused on the Oscar nominated documentary "Gasland," which discusses the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing. Putting together the online infrastructure for the communities affected by fracking and watching our communities grow has been enormously fulfilling.
Volunteering is not a one-way street that just benefits the organization or non-profit. A volunteer that is giving their time on something without a financial incentive will be inspired, connecting more often with like minded individuals and motivated to value their time and resources in a new way. Today's "giving" world is becoming fairly cluttered, so I understand the sentiment of, "I don't even know where to start." I feel the best way you can give is to give consistently to a dedicated cause or non-profit that you have researched. Focus on something that you think matters to you, find an organization with a good credit, and then stick with it. Bandwagon jumping from cause to cause is counterproductive when trying to making a difference. Money, when focused on an initiative that you know is making every dollar count, is great, however giving your time and skill set can propel an organization into a new direction. The more specialized your skill set and consistent your commitment the better.
Across the United States, highly skilled professionals volunteer at the low rates (less than 16 percent), where the National Volunteer Rate is around 26 percent. Furthermore, we leave an estimated $50 billion on the table every year that professionals who want to give pro bono aren't given the opportunity to do, said Catchafire, an initiative that connects skilled professionals and organizations that are really on their way to put their money where their mouths are.
Now when I hear the term "giving is living," I no longer see it as a cliche. I didn't start living my "new life" until I started giving and asking nothing in return. Volunteering will change the way you see your professional career, your personal life and your long term goals, I promise you that.
I'm part of Catchafire's Powerful Woman campaign in support of National Volunteer Week. To give your time and skills to a cause you love go to www.catchafire.org.
Follow Azita Ardakani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/azita