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Am I An Incredibly Selfish Person?

 By Richard Johnson, CEO

Last Saturday I spent the full day in a classroom with 34 students from the College of Western Idaho.  A remarkable and extremely diverse group of students who amazed me all day.  Not just because they are college students and they were all on time to an early morning Saturday training.  Not just that this group of millennials to baby boomers were there to learn harsh realities of child abuse and neglect.  And not because they were all willing to become volunteer advocates for foster kids.  But because many of them were also full time students with full time jobs and children at home.  Clearly the typical college student is not so typical anymore.

I'm sure you are wondering what made so many of them show up.  The first part of the answer is fairly straightforward, it's part of one of their classes.  They are receiving college credit, in part, for what they learn from the experience.  But there is more to the picture.  We asked every student to tell us why, with other service options, they chose Family Advocates.  An honest group, several people pointed out their academic requirement as the first reason.  But many more students mentioned something else.  Something personal.  Some people had a passion for kids, some for justice, some had wonderful families and sympathies for kids who didn't feel the love they experienced... and some had experienced foster care themselves.  Clearly their motivations were as diverse as the students themselves.

But were their motivations all that diverse?  One of these exceptional people started a conversation with me after our training that really helps paint a bigger picture.  We were talking about self interest.  I know that may seem like a negative.  Many of us would bristle if someone told us we were being selfish, but it really isn't so bad.  Like it or not, we are motivated to do things in life because of what we get out of the experience.  If we feel a sense of reward, we want to repeat the action, if we feel loss we are averse to repeating the experience.

These students were all getting at least one reward, school credit.  But they were also getting a great deal more.  Some were getting the feeling they could help in a way that others could not.  Some were feeling like they could be empowered to drive social change.  Some felt that simply the willingness to reach out and help others made them feel more noble.  Some just felt that helping people feels good.  And they were all right.​

No one would volunteer for us (or anyone else) if volunteering didn't feel this way.  If we felt no reward, no feeling of empowerment, no feelings that we were making a difference.  Anyone who has had a bad volunteer experience can tell you that the greatest passion can not overcome a feeling of defeat and futility.  Self interest is the currency that pays for volunteers.  I know for myself that it can also be quite addictive.  I sometimes tell people I volunteer for selfish reasons... it makes me feel great.  And in Idaho, I'm not alone.  We rank #2 in the nation for the percent of our community members who volunteer (36.4%).  Those volunteers can be credited raising the quality of life in Idaho for individuals and the community as a whole.  And just like recreational opportunities in Idaho, there is an opportunity out there for everyone... all you have to do is go out and explore.

How can you cure boredom?  How can you make great friends?  How can you get your mind off of your worries?  How can you feel a sense of purpose?  ​You can do what 34 students from CWI are doing... volunteer.  You'll feel great!​


Find out about volunteering with Family Advocates​​​

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