I was a teenager in the 1970s, a decade that would later be labeled by some as the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Though there was no internet social media back then, there were still plenty of social messages, and with the 1960s as a jumping-off point, those messages began to turn toward “taking care of yourself.”
I am grateful for these me-focused messages in so many ways. They encouraged people to be self-aware rather than live in denial; they taught us to stand up for ourselves and not be doormats; and they emphasized personal growth and well-being – all very good things.
But sometimes the pendulum can swing too far in the opposite direction. I’m not here to argue whether that did or did not happen, though studies show that volunteerism is waning in the U.S. What I do know is that I’m grateful I also grew up in a community that valued our interrelatedness with each other and the importance of contributing to other people and situations outside my own.
One place I learned community involvement was my church, but there were others: Scouts, community theater, summer camp, dance teams and sports, and eventually social change movements. All of these groups and experiences taught me how to give my time and energy to others and to work with people to accomplish something together.
Given these two seemingly opposing messages, it’s no wonder I still have a hard time teeter-tottering between them. Am I focusing too much on myself, or not enough? Should I challenge myself in a new direction, or let up? Am I helping, or rescuing? Am I contributing to the greater good, or pushing the river?
At Chicory Wealth, we talk a lot about balance, and balance is important here. But perhaps the idea of balancing two separate things is a false dichotomy. When I focus on myself and my own wellbeing, it gives me more strength and resilience to be there for others, as in the adage “put on your own face mask first before assisting others.” And when I volunteer my time for a worthy cause, I definitely benefit as well: through increased mental and physical health, decreased loneliness, a sense of purpose, and the learning of new skills. For instance, I learned(ish) how to “sheetrock” (“drywall” for some) on a church youth group trip, when I was randomly assigned to sheetrock duty for a house rehab in rural Georgia. Though I’ll never be very good at it, it turns out it’s a pretty handy skill to have.
September is volunteer month at Chicory Wealth, a time when we specifically encourage ourselves and our clients to embrace volunteering and giving back to the community. Being generous with our money is also important (check out our webinar coming up September 19 on this very subject), but there is much to be said for giving away our energy, our time, and our focus. All of it is part of the quest to live a full and meaningful life in a constantly evolving world.
We always love to hear how you are managing that quest. Thanks to those of you who have emailed us to let us know how you volunteer in your community. We’d love to hear from any of you who wish to share. Email us at [email protected].
The photo above is from my church work camp days in the 1970s where I learned to sheetrock (badly).