As you progress through school, the time you have to be involved in various organizations will ebb and flow. Different semesters will present different levels of challenge. As you grow as a student, you may find that tasks that seemed high-maintenance when you were a freshman become easier. Consequently, you will be able to complete more tasks in less time and to take a leadership position in your classes and activities.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to involvement, I found that categorizing my activities helped me to stay balanced and to gain a variety of experiences. Investing in one cause can be rewarding, and, as you find your passion and carve your career, you may have one area of involvement which particularly fulfills you as a human being. However, maintaining some variety helps you to keep your prospects open if you ever do want change, to apply disparate experiences and lessons learned to your true passion, and to gain different perspectives. Companies look for dedication, but they also value someone who can take in a variety of viewpoints, weigh them and culminate the positive aspects of each into your work.
My theory of varied involvement is a three-pronged approach. I propose that there are three types of involvement that you should pursue during your college career: philanthropy, professional development and fun. If you adhere to this theory, or prioritize variety as you gain experience, you will widen your perspective and have a lot of great experiences to talk about during job interviews.
We all hear that it is better to give than to receive. Beyond the cliché, however, giving back to your community is a great way to get involved with a purpose. Selfishly, you will also find that you are giving yourself, and your resume, a huge gift. By volunteering with an organization whose purpose is to give back, you are making a statement that tells people that others and important causes are worth your time. As a blind person, you also tell the group you choose, prospective future employers and others that you can give back to your community. Find a group that landscapes gardens, collects canned foods, or babysits children. By working with other volunteers, you will spend time with people who share your interests.
As a blind person, I needed to learn how to be the volunteer and not the one assumed to need the help. This can sometimes be difficult at first. If I find an organization in which I am interested in volunteering, I try to learn as much as I can about what the work will entail. I find a task that I know I can take charge of competently with minimal or no assistance. This may not always be the task you want to do or the one that challenges you. But, by taking charge and performing a task well, you are setting yourself up to be viewed as an asset. For example, I spent a lot of time volunteering in my church’s kitchen as a child. The kitchen staff would often assign me menial tasks while assigning people my age more food-oriented tasks with greater responsibility. Although I don’t particularly love doing dishes, I capitalized on the opportunity since I could discern that not many volunteers enjoyed doing them. Once I took charge, I became the dish master and speedily cleaned up dinners for hundreds of people. Through taking charge of this simple task, I demonstrated that blindness does not equate to needing help.
On the other hand, I advocate humility during philanthropic volunteering. Even if you are giving your time, you are working with people and causes that can teach you about life. All people, whether they volunteer with you, or gratefully receive your help, are individuals with stories to tell, just as you are, and philanthropy should widen your experience not only in giving, but in learning about life and truly investing in people.
Another great type of philanthropy to get involved in can be something that speaks directly to you. As a blind person, I value being involved in blindness-related causes that prioritize expanding opportunities for blind people. If you have no experience volunteering, starting with a blindness organization can be a comfortable way to get your feet wet as you work with people who have had similar experiences and who navigate challenges similar to yours.
Your major or area of study will almost always have a professional organization associated with it. The Honor Society associated with my major, Psychology, is Psi Chi, and I joined as soon as I met the criteria. Some professional organizations have GPA and hour requirements, while others are informal meet ups that convene at a local office. Whichever environment suits you, you should begin making professional contacts from the beginning. Going to professional events will not only increase your network, but it will help you to learn about careers available in your field and whether your field is even right for you. You can attend academic or professionally-oriented talks that you and the others present will uniquely appreciate, and you’ll have an automatic conversation starter when you go to these events. I received many of my jobs by networking with someone who witnessed my potential and recommended me or even created a position for me within their organization. Since college degrees are a more and more common accomplishment for adults, a diploma alone will not set you apart. Along with obtaining internships and part-time jobs while in school, you need to meet people and find mentors who share your interests.
Class, professionalism, and philanthropy can be mentally exhausting! That’s why it is important to carve out some time for yourself. One great way to make friends is to join an intramural sports team or some other group to have fun. There are book clubs, trivia teams, and even classmates who gather for weekly dinners who are all waiting to meet someone new to unwind with. Although having fun sounds counterproductive to your studies and professional growth, a healthy balance of work and play actually makes you more productive. By joining a themed group in which you’re interested, you will have an easier time making friends and will be held accountable to participate in the group and to have fun.
Organizing your involvement so specifically may not be your cup of tea, but I present this variety of involvement to emphasize diversity. Investing yourself in multiple groups and activities allows you to find a home in several groups of friends and mentors, gain different perspectives, and to have some options if one field or one group doesn’t work out.
Now that you want to try out my theory, how do you get involved? Check your college’s website, or ask a reader or friend to read print advertising she sees around campus. Then take a deep breath, and attend your first meetings. You may feel apprehensive at first, but as you join various organizations around campus, your network will increase, and you will make connections which will last a lifetime.