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5 Unexpected Career Lessons You Learn From Giving Back

Helping others is a known enhancer of quality of life. Volunteering and giving back to your community helps increase your gratitude, reduces anxiety and may even increase your productivity.

Research suggests that people who volunteered weekly experienced the same happiness boost compared to receiving a life-changing increase in pay. Giving back doesn’t just feel good in the moment; it has long-lasting benefits for your health and well-being.

But even with the best of intentions, you may find it hard to make time to get involved.

If you need extra motivation, here are the five critical career lessons you will learn from helping others and engaging in social causes.

Lesson #1: How to speak up when you disagree

Knowing how to express concern and push for organizational changes is one of the hardest career lessons to learn. Come on too strong and you risk being pegged as a troublemaker, but speak up too infrequently and you aren’t taken seriously as a professional.

This is especially sensitive if you are a woman or person of color, with the additional burden of overcoming an unconscious bias that you are complaining or being emotional.

Regardless, choosing when to speak out against an established cultural norm or way of doing business isn’t an easy decision.

Volunteering for a cause you believe in forces you to wrestle with this dilemma in an environment that isn’t tied to your paycheck. You get a chance to practice expressing your values and advocating for people with less power than you.

The more you get to exercise this skill, the better you will get at channeling your displeasure, or even outrage, into actions that actually address the issue. You learn to move from personal frustration to solutions much faster, which will make you an invaluable resource to any company.

Lesson #2: How to be a follower

There’s a lot said and written about how to be a good leader, but not nearly enough attention is spent on how to be a follower. Yet much of your career success will be determined by who you choose to follow and how you manage those relationships.

Playing even a small part in a volunteer organization teaches you how to evaluate what makes you trust a leader and how to derive satisfaction from pursuing someone else’s strategy.

The goal is to walk away from your time volunteering with a much clearer sense of your ability to follow. Are you able to trust the judgement of others or do you get easily frustrated when you aren’t in charge?

Following isn’t about blind devotion; it requires discernment, commitment and loyalty. These are the same values that will help you achieve on behalf of your boss or organization and build strong sponsorship.

Lesson #3: How to tackle problems others are afraid of

No matter how senior you are or what field you are in, being a sought-after problem solver is the secret to advancing your career to the next level.

When the hardest issues or most challenging clients come your way, you need to be prepared to address them. But learning how to solve hard problems isn’t easy.

You get better at it when you develop your ability to gather and understand historical context and quickly consolidate many differing views. You also have to be willing to work toward a less than perfect solution and refine your approach as you go. These are the exact skills that are built from engaging meaningfully in hard societal problems.

Taking time to give back inevitably enhances your career by further developing your capacity to address complex and difficult issues.

Lesson #4: How to defer to experts

Passion is not the same as expertise. You may be passionate about climate change, human rights, affordable housing or stopping animal cruelty, but you might not know enough about these topics to propose viable solutions. You have to defer to the experts.

In your career, learning when to bring in outside expertise can save you from making bad, potentially career-derailing business decisions.

Your volunteering and philanthropy should allow you to meet and learn from experts in a variety of fields. Take the opportunity to watch for examples of leaders that leverage expertise well and build strong cases for the solutions they propose.

But also pay attention to the pitfalls of decisions made without supporting data or without the inclusion of relevant experts on the topic. Sometimes seeing what not to do is the more effective teacher.

Lesson #5: How to accept defeat and play the long game

It would be nice if you could fix all the world problems simply by putting forth your best effort, but that isn’t how life works. All causes have victories and setbacks and knowing how to accept disappointment is a critical skill you will learn while trying to give back.

Take a look at your career to date and assess your ability to fail or accept defeat.

There’s a time and place for switching jobs if you are undervalued or can’t achieve your purpose, but you’ll be hurt in the long run by hasty decisions that may be motivated by a fear of failure.

Playing the long game in your career helps you see when a setback on the job should be overlooked or when it is in your best interest to weather a storm. Remember that ambition gets all the glory, but patience is often the hidden secret to extraordinary careers.

By giving back and volunteering, you can practice and learn each of these lessons while making your unique contribution to the world.

Kourtney Whitehead is a career expert and author of Working Whole. You can learn more about her work at Simply Service.

Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’ve spent my career helping people reach their work goals, from executive searches to counseling to career coaching, through my leadership positions at top executive recruiting firms and consulting companies. I currently work to advise senior industry leaders at Fortune 500 companies on making career transitions and securing board placements. My site, SimplyService.org, is an online community supporting the creation of a values-driven work life. I hold a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University and am a frequent speaker and podcast guest on the topics of careers and fulfillment. My new book, Working Whole, shares how to unite spiritual and work life.

Source: 5 Unexpected Career Lessons You Learn From Giving Back

Helping others brings good feelings to the giver and the receiver of the good deeds. Using your special gifts to help others can be a gift to yourself as you enjoy a self esteem boost for making others’ lives better, and make the world a better place. You feel more worthy of good deeds yourself, your trust in the decency of people is reinforced, and you feel more connected to yourself and to others.

 

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Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things

When you work hard every single day and there’s only so much money left after your regular expenses, you have to make certain it’s well spent. Spend your limited funds on what science says will make you happy.

The Paradox Of Possessions

A 20-year study conducted by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, reached a powerful and straightforward conclusion: Don’t spend your money on things. The trouble with things is that the happiness they provide fades quickly. There are three critical reasons for this:

• We get used to new possessions. What once seemed novel and exciting quickly becomes the norm.

• We keep raising the bar. New purchases lead to new expectations. As soon as we get used to a new possession, we look for an even better one.

• The Joneses are always lurking nearby. Possessions, by their nature, foster comparisons. We buy a new car and are thrilled with it until a friend buys a better one—and there’s always someone with a better one.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” Gilovich said. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

The paradox of possessions is that we assume that the happiness we get from buying something will last as long as the thing itself. It seems intuitive that investing in something we can see, hear, and touch on a permanent basis delivers the best value. But it’s wrong.

The Power Of Experiences

Gilovich and other researchers have found that experiences—as fleeting as they may be—deliver more-lasting happiness than things. Here’s why:

Experiences become a part of our identity. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. Buying an Apple Watch isn’t going to change who you are; taking a break from work to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish most certainly will.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Comparisons matter little. We don’t compare experiences in the same way that we compare things. In a Harvard study, when people were asked if they’d rather have a high salary that was lower than that of their peers or a low salary that was higher than that of their peers, a lot of them weren’t sure. But when they were asked the same question about the length of a vacation, most people chose a longer vacation, even though it was shorter than that of their peers. It’s hard to quantify the relative value of any two experiences, which makes them that much more enjoyable.

Anticipation matters. Gilovich also studied anticipation and found that anticipation of an experience causes excitement and enjoyment, while anticipation of obtaining a possession causes impatience. Experiences are enjoyable from the very first moments of planning, all the way through to the memories you cherish forever.

Experiences are fleeting (which is a good thing). Have you ever bought something that wasn’t nearly as cool as you thought it would be? Once you buy it, it’s right there in your face, reminding you of your disappointment. And even if a purchase does meet your expectations, buyer’s remorse can set in: “Sure, it’s cool, but it probably wasn’t worth the money.” We don’t do that with experiences. The very fact that they last for only a short time is part of what makes us value them so much, and that value tends to increase as time passes.

Bringing It All Together

Gilovich and his colleagues aren’t the only ones who believe that experiences make us happier than things do. Dr. Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia has also studied the topic, and she attributes the temporary happiness achieved by buying things to what she calls “puddles of pleasure.” In other words, that kind of happiness evaporates quickly and leaves us wanting more. Things may last longer than experiences, but the memories that linger are what matter most.

What makes you happier, experiences or things? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

I am the author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmart, a consultancy that serves more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies and is the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training (www.TalentSmart.com). My books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. I’ve written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review. I’m a world-renowned expert in emotional intelligence who speaks regularly in corporate and public settings. Example engagements include Intel, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Fortune Brands, the Fortune Growth Summit, The Conference Board: Learning from Legends, and Excellence in Government. I hold a dual Ph.D. in clinical and industrial-organizational psychology. I received my bachelor of science in clinical psychology from the University of California – San Diego.

Source: Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things

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