When I was in New Orleans doing disaster response work after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I noticed that the least likely to want to help out or do any of the hard work were the paid disaster services employees. The unpaid volunteers were always the first to jump on new jobs that needed done. The salaried workers didn’t want to participate in any of the heavy lifting. It’s all about perspective. If I have to do something, I don’t want to. If I can choose to do it, I’m all in.
I’ve recently taken on a new project that is probably going to be a lot of work for zero pay. It plays to some of my strengths and encourages creative thinking. It’s also going to be an investment of time and energy during what will undoubtedly be a busy couple of months. This new project is just something I wanted to do. I don’t have to be involved in it, and it will provide me with no income, so of course, I am an eager beaver. Also, it keeps me off the streets. If they paid me, I’d probably quit right away because screw you, man, I don’t need this job.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly the altruistic type. I’m more the cynical, lazy couch potato type. But helping others for free makes me feel good. I guess that’s the irony: I volunteer because I’m selfish. I like to feel good and I like to look good. Volunteering for stuff makes you feel and look good. It probably bolsters self-esteem and encourages a good work ethic too, but whatever, I’m all about looking good.
So, I will voluntarily work very hard at something with no recompense, but will half-@$$ the job that buys my groceries. I might even quarter-@$$ such a task. Don’t get me started on what I might do with something I have to actually pay for, like a fitness class or a Ph.D. program. My investment in the labor is inversely proportional to my financial compensation. What’s the point here? I guess I’m not very smart.
In all seriousness, there is a certain reward that comes from doing work that simply contributes to the betterment of humanity with no material gain. Volunteering, especially when it is physically and/or emotionally difficult has had the most profound impact on my life, much more than any job I’ve ever gotten paid for. One of the hardest jobs I’ve ever been involved in is food service: I’ve done it for free and for a pay check. I’d rather do it for free. Take that, Burger King drive-through. I guess being of service is its own reward. I sound like a commercial.
In summation, I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to. Am I the only one craving a Whopper with cheese right now?