No one listens to me
Last week I wrote about not going to an Ivy League school, and not having any money, and definitely not having any connections.
Some people mistook my post as advice to be the loudest one in the room. But that couldn’t be further from a description of me and what I’ve done to get people to listen.
I don’t like cold-calling. I’m shy. I’m introverted.
What I wrote last week was to remind us of the people who are eager to help; you just need to ask.
I’m also reminded of something else that’s helped me make connections when I wasn’t even trying to make them.
We didn’t work on the Obama re-election campaign for the pay. Many folks working there could have easily gotten paid twice as much working somewhere else. And, we definitely didn’t do it for the long hours or the 7-day-a-week work schedules or the poorly maintained bathrooms or the malfunctioning air-conditioning.
But one of the benefits of working there did turn out to be how much everyone helped each other when the campaign was over. They helped each other move, sell furniture, get jobs, and even start new businesses. They were the first ones to share my latest blog post or to get colleagues at their new job to try Draft when it was just barely useful.
However, you might say, “That’s great. But these campaigns only come around every few years. Plus, I have a family and obligations. I can’t put in those insane hours to be part of something like that. Not to mention, I hate politics!”
When I was in high school, I was part of a group at school called the Dumbach Scholars. A slightly pretentious name :), but an incredible experience.
To be part of this group we had to keep our grades up and read some fantastic books over the summer. We even “had” to go to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and see plays at some of Chicago’s famous theaters.
We were also required to do volunteer work.
So when I was 17, and now with access to a car, the volunteer project I picked that year was to be a delivery driver for a meals on wheels service for people with AIDS who couldn’t leave their homes.
I remember my first day. I had to shadow another delivery driver.
In the middle of our shift in a rough part of Chicago, my driver took a left turn onto the street of our next delivery. But, as soon as we turned, we couldn’t drive any further because multiple police cars were blocking the street. Police were out, some with guns drawn, arresting someone trying his hardest not to be arrested.
My driver immediately threw the car into reverse and got us out of the situation. We delivered our other meals and returned when things had calmed down.
But I loved being part of this program. And so I’d show up, every Friday night, and deliver meals for a couple hours.
After a few months of participating, there came a point where they needed a new distribution manager. And because I had been a regular volunteer who showed up on-time, they asked me to do it and I accepted. So, now on Fridays, I’d get to the hospital earlier than the other drivers where the meals were prepared, and I’d pack all the meals in these insulated bags to keep them hot. If drivers didn’t show up, I’d have to rearrange routes or get my friends to do deliveries or I’d just do them myself after the shift.
All of a sudden I found myself having a much bigger impact on this organization and the people they were helping.
Study after study has shown a direct correlation between hours spent volunteering and happiness. There’s even an often cited paper [Luoh and Herzog, 2002] showing how 100 hours a year of volunteer work significantly improves someone’s health. That’s just 2 hours a week.
But those 2 hours a week was also enough to put that 17 year old kid, without any special skills except for showing up regularly and on-time into a position where I had a significant role making the world a slightly better place. A role, which included making new friends and connections with important people in this organization.
Helping other people, especially in volunteer work, turns out to be one of best ways to make new friends who’ve then been there to listen and help me.
It doesn’t take a presidential campaign to find opportunities to make connections. It can just take 2 hours a week.
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