Volunteering has made me a far better listener than I could have imagined
This post is part of our peer counselor Q&A series which shares the perspectives of our talented volunteers. Lauren C. is an Empower Work peer counselor and student affairs professional in Los Angeles.
What inspired you to become a volunteer?
After surviving approximately four stressful months of intense bullying and isolation tactics from my supervisor, I was left feeling depleted. I had used up so much time and energy protecting myself that I couldn’t revel in the small measure of relief I felt when they finally departed. I recall a friend telling me, “It may not seem like it, but you’ve won.” I was dumbstruck. What did I win?
That same friend later mentioned Empower Work as a resource to consider if I was ever in need of immediate support. After learning more about the mission I was sold. Looking back, the decision to volunteer was the best thing I could have done for myself as it reignited my sense of purpose and self-esteem.
As time pressed on, I continued asking myself what I had won and eventually made a small list: my emotional well-being, an opportunity to continue doing work I felt good at and that mattered, a chance to make positive change.
What has surprised you most about volunteering?
What surprises me most is how willing people are to share. I appreciate that the anonymity of the text/web chat medium allows folks to access and experience vulnerability in a brave space. I am struck by the stories shared by those seeking support for workplace challenges and find myself empathizing deeply with the emotions folks carry.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned has been about boundaries. As a volunteer, it can be easy to quickly connect with a person and just as quickly find yourself sucked into the emotions they express. I’m highly empathetic to the point where I can mistake other’s emotions for my own; since I’ve recognized this response, I’ve been able to manage it through mindfulness and setting internal boundaries. Along with consistent feedback from Empower Work staff, I feel my skills as a peer counselor have grown tremendously. This has allowed me to maintain neutrality, while still supporting and ensuring the person feels heard and empowered to make the choices they want to make.
How has your volunteer experience changed how you operate at work and/or in your life?
My volunteer experience has made me slow down a lot more. Before wildly jumping to conclusions about situations or people, I’ve asked myself to stop and consider the possibilities. Volunteering has also made me a far better listener than I could have imagined. I ask questions and seek context, which has led to more positive interactions/outcomes both at work and at home.
I’ll also share that my volunteer experience has helped me to better cope with my habit of self-silencing. I find myself being more willing to address situations that make me uncomfortable, disrespected, or let down at work. I’m learning to advocate for myself and my interests—which, as a first-generation professional and woman of color, is powerful. Especially when folks like me have received disempowering messages about success, failure, and opportunity at work.
Want to learn more? Check out more volunteer-focused blog posts!