On Doing “Good” Things

Girl in Feathered Hat by George Eastman House on Flickr
Girl in Feathered Hat by George Eastman House on Flickr

I would like to state for the record that doing what I think is right is not about my soapbox or my ego or some kind of beautiful self-sacrifice.  It is about my own self-interest.

Allow me to explain:

  1. I believe that my own security is jeopardized when others are in a state of desperation.
  2. I want to be part of a world wider than my own socioeconomic status.
  3. I would rather be defined as a person than as a worker; better to be a citizen than a consumer.
  4. Life is too short to spend your days working against what you really want.

So I can’t stand it when people who hear I work for a nonprofit call me noble.  I’m in it for myself too.

MLK Day Service

MLK Jr. Time Magazine Cover (LIFE archive)
MLK Jr. Time Magazine Cover (LIFE archive)

Go for it.  Please do make it a day on.

Please also think about what your real impact as a one-day volunteer is to the organization, its clients, and yourself.

And know that the more you volunteer, the more value you’re able to add to a given project.

Let today be a taste of service, not just your obligation fulfilled.

The Ideal Orientation

I just co-ran a medium-sized national service Orientation today.  Objectively, I think it went well.  It did what it needed to do and ended, all in one pleasant day.

Our goals were to convey a whole lot of information, get some paperwork done, set the tone for the year, and foster community.  And we definitely accomplished those things.  Subjectively, however, I’m not totally satisfied with it.  I just think we could have done them all more effectively with more time, and that an orientation to this kind of job should be more than a day long.

I feel like national service isn’t just a job; it’s a really special, intentional way to spend a year.  It frustrates me to not give people more time to ask questions, engage in meaningful dialog with each other, and get to know the program in a more leisurely way.  My ideal Orientation would not be just an introduction to their year; it would be the beginning of it.

Michele Martin summed it up for me when she wrote just yesterday:

Training shouldn’t be an event, but a process.

Yes.  Process.  Exactly.  It’s the difference between planting seeds and nurturing them.

In Emily’s ideal world, a training would be a greenhouse.

After Fancy College, Jobs in Service?

The NY Times published an interesting article about a push to encourage graduates of top colleges and universities to work in service positions (including National Service such as AmeriCorps and Teach for America) instead of investment banks.

Some points that gave me hope and food for thought:

  1. The highest-ranked colleges and professors are at least paying lip service to the idea that the purpose of their fancy education is not necessarily to create more investment bankers or consultants.
  2. Some colleges are putting money and scholarships behind this lip service, some even paying student loans for grads who go into service.
  3. It’s easy for Jr.s and Sr.s to apply for lucrative positions – the systems are in place.  Let’s put them in place for service positions as well.
  4. Obama supports National Service(!) and people have noticed (!!)

At a recent presentation by Jason Lum, he expressly encouraged the service-oriented audience to pursue scholarships to further their education so that they could afford to continue to serve their communities.  Nobody had ever specifically pointed that out that challenge of a public service position: it’s nearly impossible to pay for the credentials that are required.

This article gives me hope because it talks about barriers to service being addressed right now – awareness, prestige, access, and debt.  Fantastic news!  How can we keep up the momentum?