Handling hopelessness when volunteering

This first appeared as a guest post on The Self improvement Blog – check it out here.


It can be easy to dip into feelings of hopelessness while working to create positive change in the world. In fact, most people don’t even try their hand in philanthropic work to begin with, and not because they are lazy or selfish, but because they may be thinking, “Why bother? What difference can I make?” Sometimes, even with all that is being done for the better, it is easy to look around and see the myriad of problems still existing, and wonder if the work and effort is even a drop in the bucket.

As a sensitive person myself, I have often felt the pain of hopelessness. But I have also always known, deep inside, that what I do matters, and so have been able to pull out of the downward spiral and continue to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” Here are some tools that always bring me up and keep myself going, even on the hopeless days.
I remember the meaningful acts of kindness that others have shown me. My second grade teacher who gave me a meaningful hug, along with her phone number to keep in touch, after my parents divorce. Then there’s the card I received from a woman I didn’t know very well, telling me she’d seen my struggles with a recent breakup and that she was thinking of me; such simple gestures have gone a long way in my life. I still think of their acts of kindness often, and it reminds me that through simple acts, I can do the same.
Some of the most meaningful gestures in my life have been those of simple kindness.
I think of activists throughout time who have changed my life for the better, without me even being the wiser about it. The women’s sufferage movement indirectly made it possible for me to own a business and be treated as an equal human being. I don’t know those women who have long past, and I don’t know the countless other women who worked for women’s rights, before or since then, but they made a difference and I have benefitted from it. Perhaps, through a chain of evens unknown to me, a brave action was taken or sacrifice made, through which I have benefitted greatly in other areas of my life. Indeed the butterfly effect is a powerful thing – one positive act can create changes in the world that we may never really know about. Why not do something good?
I take a break. I’m actually a chronic overworker and completely obsessive when I’m emotionally invested in something. But one thing I’ve learned through meditation (and, honestly, through burning myself out more than a few times) is that I need time off. I’m cranky and controlling, not to mention less creative, when my mind is holding on to anything for too long. As the saying goes, if I don’t take care of myself, I’m not worth sh** to anyone else!
And finally, I reevaluate. Maybe it really is time to try something else – another project, a different organization, or a different approach to the same issue. Take a step back and reassess, are you coming up against a brick wall that doesn’t need to be moved? And if the answer is yes, is there a new way of approaching it? And most importantly, is your time better served empowering someone else to do that work, so that you can create real change in another area? These are hard questions, and only you can answer them. Find what feels best for you.
What are some things that you have done to keep your hopes and motivation up? Let us know in the comments!

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