6 Reasons Why Volunteering is One of the Best Career Break Ideas
Volunteering is growth.
Not just for the projects that need vital support, but also for volunteers. You don’t realise everything you get from volunteering until you’ve done it. Although the focus is on doing good by others, by default, you gain loads from it. Helping others helps you, regardless of if that’s what you want from the experience.
That growth can be life-changing for someone who may feel a little stuck on their current path. The old phrase ‘a change is as good as rest’ is true. To get out of that rut, you have to do something different. Sticking with the same routine will get you the same results.
Whatever your reasons, whether you’re passionate about making the world a better place or you’ve just decided to take a break in your professional career, volunteering can (and will) have a huge impact on you. Maybe it’s just a sabbatical, or maybe it’s completely repositioning the direction you want to go in life.
But what’s your next step? Would swapping industries be the right move, or would taking time away from your everyday life really be beneficial? This is where volunteering abroad makes perfect sense, as it comes with numerous benefits:
1. Do good and help an underprivileged community
The heart of volunteering is giving your time and support to those who need it most. Whatever your reason for wanting a change, most of it probably centres around a desire to feel fulfilled in life. Volunteering is a great way to achieve that - by helping those most in need, you’ll gain a new perspective on your own life. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing the positive, emotional impact that just being ‘you’ can have on others. From being a role model to a child who doesn’t have access to education, to caring for rescued animals, the fulfilment you can get is off the scale.
2. Make new friends and develop your network
On an intrinsic level, there is so much to gain from volunteering somewhere new. Most of all, you’ll meet people with a similar mindset - and a desire to help, do good, and grow. When you’re around similar minded people, you’ll develop solid friendships and you’ll leave with friends from around the world. These friends, from all over the globe, have taken their passion and done something with it by volunteering - as have you. In a roundabout way, you’ll likely see growth in your career as well. Taking a step back to reset, and reconsider, your direction and perspective in life can be highly impactful. You’ll have gained new, like-minded contacts, who you can lean on and develop with both personally and professionally. You’re all in the same boat - and that connection alone is enough to be refreshing and inspiring.
3. Gain 'hands on' experience and a potential entry into a new industry
If, like me, your previous professional experience was office based, then it can seem difficult to break into a new industry. Working in sales, or admin, will tend to lead you naturally towards progressing in that field. That's cool, but if you’re wanting to move sideways into a different industry, it can be tough without prior experience. You’ll need to have some form of experience. Passion, of course, is a great place to start, but when employers need to justify how they dish out wages, they’ll want you to bring something relevant to the table.
When you volunteer abroad, it allows you to bring all sorts forward, in spades. Obviously, the experience in industry and picking up those hard skills that go with the role, are extremely useful. But the soft skills you’ll gain will set you apart in a world that is starting to value emotional intelligence more and more. Equipped with these, you’ve given yourself the tools to break into your chosen industry.
4. Take on a challenge
I won’t lie - it isn’t going to be easy. But if it was easy, would it be worth it?
I’ve always thought that if it’s too much within your comfort zone, you’re not going to benefit very much. The real growth comes from taking on a big, scary adventure that’s totally different from what you’re used to.
The sense of achievement you get from absolutely smashing something that you were nervous about, is unrivalled. Think about a time when you did better than you thought on a test during education, work, or even your driving test. Although you were nervous, the feeling of achieving something makes it worthwhile - and it’s something that just can’t be replicated.
You’ll always have obstacles to overcome. In this case, it might be in your mind before you depart, or when you come up against new scenarios in-country. But what you’ll take away from meeting these challenges head-on is definitely worth it.
5. Work your passion
Why not enjoy what you do?
If an opportunity arises where you can do something you have a passion for, why wouldn’t you do it? It all depends on if you know what you want to do. If so, you can take steps towards making it happen and being a volunteer abroad is the perfect first step. If you’re not really feeling your current role, but you love animals, then why not get a role working with animals? Imagine being able to spend a month contributing to the protection of endangered species abroad. (we’ve got you covered if that is the case, check out our marine animal's project here ). I can bet that you wouldn’t be clock-watching if you enjoyed it!
6. Enhance your personal and professional background
Wrap all of the above up into one larger point, and you’ll realise that you’re actually taking back a hugely increased skill set.
Whether moving into a new industry or deciding to progress in one, the benefits of volunteering will mean you’re in a better place. Professionally, you’ve just added loads of new skills to your armoury. You’ve also got more varied experience than you did before. Don’t forget the fact that volunteering and other humanitarian work sets you out from the crowd.
You’ll experience new cultures, new ways of life and new perspectives. It will put a lot of things into context, and impact how you handle yourself going forwards - whether internally or your interaction with others.
Regardless of why you want the change, volunteering is definitely one of the best career break ideas. You get all of the above wrapped into one gigantic, positive whirlwind of an experience and you’ll develop as a person.
I think the biggest point, though, lies at the heart of volunteering. It’s about making a difference for others. In my mind, we’re very fortunate to have the lives we have. We can use our own experiences, upbringing and background to make a positive impact in communities that need it. These projects rely on volunteer support and fees in order to be sustainable and these, in turn, provide essential support to the region. To impact lives and make a positive contribution to the world means more than any paragraph on a CV ever could.
If you're interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities across Africa and Asia, then check out Rainbow Garden Village. RGV is a volunteer organisation with over 20 years experience and is part of the Smaller Earth family.
About the author
Mike is the Editor-at-Large at Smaller Earth, and the founder of The Lost Lot, a self-development platform helping young adults find direction when feeling lost in life.
He focuses on the bridge between travel and growth, highlighting how both can be a catalyst for positive change in your life.