By Lester Strong, Vice President and Chief Executive of AARP Experience Corps
It’s December. That part of the year when winter officially descends, providing us with short days and long, quiet nights. It’s a time when people reflect on their lives, giving thought to what they are doing now and where they want to be in the future. No matter the age or stage in life, as the year draws to a close nearly everyone takes time to “reimagine” their lives.
And if you’re like the rest of us, you’re reconsidering one of a number of areas in your life. Without question though, your success depends on whether the changes you seek align with your lifestyle and your inner compass. So how can you explore changing your life in a safe and fun way? In a word: volunteer.
Improve Your Health
As the New Year rolls around, many will join a health club or start a new diet. That’s great – getting healthy is the key to living a long life and enjoying peace of mind. But there’s more than one way to get healthy? Nothing beats a good diet and regular exercise, but volunteering can yield similar mental and physical benefits. Type the words “volunteering” and “health” into a search engine and see how many articles come up. There are studies that show volunteers get more physically fit – even when the volunteer opportunity does not require lots of physical activity. It’s simply because you’re up and moving and have places to go. Think about it: Would you rather spend your time inside a gym on a treadmill or outside walking dogs at the local animal shelter? You can find volunteer opportunities of all kinds at www.createthegood.org or www.volunteermatch.org.
Be More Social
Even extroverted people can have a hard time making new friends, so “meeting new people” is often on the list of New Year’s goals. Maybe taking a class or traveling somewhere new isn’t in the budget, but there are plenty of other ways to meet people who share some of your interests. Again, people who volunteer tend to have expanded social circles due to their involvement in their communities. Whether you love the outdoors, enjoy working with children, or want to work in an exotic place, volunteering can be a fun and inexpensive way to meet new people.
Finding a New Career or Job
When the economy shifts as much as it has in recent years, most of us rethink our opportunities, and often consider a career or job change. Before you start taking classes towards a new specialization or begin your online job search, consider … you guessed it … a volunteer opportunity. Volunteer positions and unpaid internships allow you to observe the daily operations in a particular field. You may really enjoy doing web design, but through an internship at a nonprofit, you might decide that developing a website on deadline takes all the fun out of it. Volunteering also offers a way for you to fill potential holes on your resume when you’re looking for paid work, as well.
Giving your time can yield some impressive outcomes in your life – and that’s not including the great way you feel when you know you’ve helped someone. So make this year special, make it the year you volunteer.
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Lester Strong is the Vice President and Chief Executive of AARP Experience Corps, which tutors and mentors elementary school children (K-3) who struggle with reading by utilizing the skills and experiences of adults age 50 and over. AARP Experience Corps serves 22,000 in 20 cities across the United States through a program recognized as the one of the most effective in-school interventions in the country.