If your life is stuck, consider volunteering…
I am not so young anymore and I sometimes look back and think about the things I am glad I did and some of the things I regret not doing. Recently a couple of encounters made me consider my early twenties. I spoke to the parents of young people in their early 20’s, who told me their children seemed to be ‘stuck in life’. There were several ways they were stuck. Either they didn’t know what to do with their life and were not able to decide on a career. Or they were struggling with finding work. Another issue was that they seemed to lack confidence in themselves. They did not really go out and engage with the world.
The parents become naturally worried in these situations because they want the best for their kids but at the same time feel frustrated because their connection may be weaker to their children at this age, and can not really do anything to help them when their life is stuck. At worse, they start blaming their children or pointing out their difficulties or weaknesses, which doesn’t really help.
Too Much Choice
One of the difficulties with our modern world, is we have too much choice. We are allowed to choose what to become. Or so we think. The problem is, that at age 18 or 19, many young people have no clue that they want to do. They know they must choose, but many people cannot. There are some that can and they are fortunate. Their life path is clearer for them and they can and will attain it. But many others simply drift. They can not decide.
One of the reasons is that because up to this point, life has been soft. Yes, in the West, we have softer lives in that we are fed, schooled, educated, shuffled through the system, sent to clubs, given tests to pick up certificates, and generally, we are sheltered from real life problems. Basically we are herded through life and for some of us, this ‘herding’ influence affects us for years. We get used to it because we don’t have to think. Then when the time comes that we are somehow expected to choose for ourselves, we don’t know. It is natural that our life is stuck. So at this point, we either let someone else choose for us, or we pick what our family or friends are doing. Or we choose what sounds ‘good’, even though it may not be what we truly want to do.
At this point, we may think sitting down and contemplating the answer or seeing a career counsellor is the solution. They may help, but not always. These are yin solutions to a yin problem. I think that the answer is to instil action into our actions – a yang solution. One of the things our grandparents generation would have done is simply get out and grab any job and get moving. Then do that for a while and figure it out. My father took a boat to Canada and spent his early years working as a farmhand. He doesn’t lack for confidence. In his day, people could do that then. But these days, jobs are so tied in with this notion of careers, that even this becomes difficult to do.
Feeling Out of Place
After considering what one single mother told me about her adult son, this quote from the movie Fight Club came to mind:
“We’re a generation of men raised by woman, I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”
Some observations. I suspect that more boys are affected by this than women. Perhaps, a reason is that this is a more feminine world (in the West) and boys struggle to find their identity in it. This is especially the case if they are raised by a single mother, which many children today are.
For these children, the answer may have to come from other men, friends or possible from a girlfriend, but it is very unlikely to come from the mother, where actually the best thing would be to break the bond. Bonds will not be permanently broken. Once the boy develops his own identity and attains his manhood, he will return to his mother again to re-establish an even greater bond than before, but it will be based on a more mature type of relationship. If the bond is not broken the right way, this stage may not be attained.
When life is stuck: My own experience
In my early 20s I was really stuck in life. When I had to choose my degree, I chose law for no other reason that one of my parents was a lawyer and it seemed like a prestigious subject. Actually, I had no desire to study law. I could not even envision myself as a lawyer and I had far more experience of it than many of the other people on my course. As a teenager, I had attended courts and worked in a law office as part of my family business. And I didn’t like it one bit.
Truthfully, at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted. And this decision to study law turned into a failure because it was not right. I dropped out and then was stuck. I didn’t know what to do and had fallen behind my peers who were moving on with their lives. At this point, I started doing dead-end jobs, which didn’t really take me anywhere and I started to feel frustrated in life.
Ch Ch Ch Changes
After some time, I knew I couldn’t carry on this way. Something had to change. And so I took myself to my local library to find out about volunteering abroad. This was pre-internet days. So for people who can’t imagine what life was like before google – the answer is that if you wanted to find out about things or events, you had to go to community centres, libraries or you had to read magazines and check the adverts for clubs and associations. The library gave me a whole directory of volunteer organisations worldwide. I chose France as my target country and applied by post for several voluntary positions that summer. Fortunately I was accepted by most of them and I chose Agen in the South of France to volunteer for a 4 week programme fixing the roof on an old farmhouse.
This experience was a great life changer for me. Apart from fixing the roof, I got to meet many other interesting people from around the world. I met Americans, a French Albanian, Germans, a Dane and a Japanese lady. I had the chance to travel by myself around France as well as use some of that high school French, which for the first time in my life actually had a use. After returning, the problems back in my own country were still there. But I was now different. And when you are different, then different paths and solutions will reveal themselves to you. That is the value I took from volunteering.
Volunteer to move the stuck energy along
But going back, what to do of you are stuck in life and you don’t know how to move forwards. The answer is you have to shake yourself out of your ‘comfort zone’. We do not have any ‘coming of age’ rituals in the West. So we must make our own. One of the ways is to volunteer. There are many organisations that require volunteers. Some of them are youth international organisations. They give you the chance to work in another country with volunteers from other countries. It could be something like working on a farm or in a school. If you don’t want to travel, there are charities all over your own country – blind people charities, hospices, age concern, children with learning difficulties and many others. Choose something that interest you. Dedicate some time.
What this will teach you
Firstly, you will be opened up to a whole lot of life experiences by meeting people from different walks of life and getting to hear their stories. You may see people who have health problems and there is satisfaction in helping them. If you travel abroad and volunteer, your mind will be opened up to different cultures and you will be shaken out of your comfort zone. When you return, you will be a different person. Another benefit to volunteering when you are young is that it looks good on your resume. Employees will notice it. But more than that it looks good on your ‘life’ CV. When you look back, it will be one of those experiences that made you a more interesting character.
Avoid volunteering for a cause, unless it is related to a career you want to pursue in the future. Aim to volunteer to make your life richer, not so you can impress people by talking about what you did. This is just to satisfy the ego. Volunteer to make yourself a better person. Also stick with reputable organisations that will look after you if you do travel abroad.
Safety is always important especially for young women, but even for men also. Avoid potentially dangerous situations and people and dangerous countries. Avoid war zones. No matter how indestructible a young person may feel, some places and people will hurt you if you are too reckless. And avoid taking any illegal substances or drugs and putting yourself in any vulnerable positions. In some countries, the drug laws are far stricter and really, you don’t want to be attracting certain kinds of people onto your life and the darkness they carry around them. Unless you want that.
Moving the stuck-energy
When a young person is stuck in life, several things may happen. Their energy gets stuck and they can’t decide what action to take. This can lead to low confidence and they may stop going out and engaging with new people. Yet conversely, the opposite is true – they actually do want to get out and engage with new people.
Basically the Ki energy is stuck and one of the ways to break this pattern is with a ‘controlled upheaval’. There are different ways of doing this. Effectively, it is just another way of opening a new door in life. Volunteering is just one way of doing this. I still volunteer from time to time, when my life gets a bit stuck. A few years back, I volunteered again and I will probably volunteer again in the future when I have time. I would recommend it to anyone. Volunteering can also be tied in with the Japanese concept of Ikigai – obtaining life satisfaction. It makes our lives more fulfilling and can lead to greater happiness.