“Huh.” “Why?” “Do you get any actual work done?”
April 17, 2023
“Huh.” “Why?” “Do you get any actual work done?” These are a few of the more common responses I receive when sharing the breadth of volunteer activities I have the opportunity to take part in. And to be fair, I may overdo it at times. I sit on three committees at the Academy and as the chair of one, I just finished my term chairing the SOA Retirement Council, I sit on the CCA Public Plans Steering Committee, the Annual Conference Program Committee, and the Continuing Education Committee, and I just started on the Government Finance Officers Association’s Committee on Retirement and Benefits Administration.
Specific to California, I’m on the Advisory Board for the Actuarial Science program of a nearby University, I represent the Speaker of the California Assembly on the California Actuarial Advisory Panel, and I sit on the Board of the California Society of Municipal Analysts. And let’s not get into ad hoc projects and speaking opportunities, along with church and kid activities.
In truth, it can be challenging, overwhelming, and hard to balance. There was a point where the weight of various engagements led me to found an ethereal organization called RAVA – Recovering from Actuarial Volunteer Activities. There we find the strength and discipline to say “no” to some things and focus our efforts with purpose. My RAVA colleagues are some of my closest friends and are a core support group for me.
But RAVA only exists because of how invaluable and rewarding I find volunteering to be. So in light of National Volunteer Month, I’d like to briefly offer some perspective from my experiences there.
Volunteering, especially for an actuarial organization, can be a daunting task. Whether it’s speaking in front of some of the brightest people you know or trailblazing new content for the world to see, our volunteer opportunities often come with a lot of gravity that can be intimidating and deterring. So how might one approach this hurdle of entry?
Of course, every current volunteer took their first step at some point. For me, it was a process. It started by me being involved in special projects that were then presented by others in volunteer settings. As I saw the success of my work and the amount of value it provided to others, I was able to visualize ways that I could provide and present such value to others going forward. It also helped me to simply be engaged and involved with others who had experience in volunteering and actuarial leadership even when I had very little.
It is important to remember that every volunteer is in fact, a volunteer. And many hands make lighter work (most of the time!). So there are many opportunities to get involved in a variety of ways and levels of commitment. If you’re unsure what this means, feel free to speak to me or any other colleague who’s involved in an actuarial organization.
Deciding to volunteer and “make a difference” in one’s profession is one thing, but maintaining that commitment through the waves of work projects, family engagements, and all that life can throw your way is an entirely different matter. For me, my engagement in volunteer activities is enabled and supported by those in my life around me. Without them, I would not have made it very far along this path. For example:
My employer believes in the value of volunteering, and is invested in supporting and advancing the actuarial profession. It also understands that this develops employees in new ways and adds to our diversity of perspective and depth of experience. So not only does my employer “allow” me to volunteer for the things I’m passionate about, it also encourages me and makes provision for me to do so.
My colleagues (and friends) have been essential every step of the way. When I had never volunteered for an actuarial organization but worked on a special project that was presented at a conference by my boss, he had me stand up from the audience to acknowledge my hard work there. When I spent a few years in a non-traditional actuarial role, my colleagues saw a variety of ways in which that perspective could enhance the profession and encouraged me forward in applying it.
In the volunteer setting, my colleagues have called me up, taught me, mentored me, supported me, encouraged me, inspired me, kept me company, spurred me on, vouched for me, trusted and confided in me, listened to me, and have become lifelong friends (to name a few).
My family supports these efforts and works with me to find just the right balance, which certainly requires fine-tuning from time to time. The buck ultimately stops there!
Volunteering is worthwhile and beneficial in a variety of ways that have been well documented, and I can affirm firsthand. I’d like to share the top three, at least for me:
First, it provides opportunity to help drive, grow, and open the profession. I once saw a quote that went something like this: “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections every so often, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community or profession you want to be in.” Simply put, for those that care, it provides a direct avenue to put that care to work.
Next, it opens up many new doors for professional investment and growth. The types of talents developed and skills put to use in volunteering are often quite different than our typical day jobs (but can all be useful in our day jobs!), and they require creative thought, consensus building, strategic planning, and much more.
Finally, it enables meeting and working shoulder to shoulder with colleagues one never would have otherwise. These are colleagues who also care for the profession, and tend to have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they’re willing to share. I have started and developed some of my closest relationships through volunteering, and this alone makes volunteering more than worth it to me.
In the end, we all have different stages in life and career, and some are more flexible than others. But when you are afforded the potential opportunity, I highly recommend taking that first step in faith – we’ll all be the better for it.
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