In my early IT career, it was expected that a person just jump into whatever topic they were studying and learn through books and hands-on experience. Then, slightly later in my career, I stumbled into training. Training is a different type of learning device. In book study and hands-on training, you have the luxury of ignoring things. When you have to teach something, you are expected to know the subject matter. There is this extra pressure of knowing the thing you are instructing. But there is this other element – the idea that by teaching the subject, you get more familiar with the ideas. The more you teach, the more familiar you become – to the point where it is second nature.
I’ve experienced the same thing with altruism. For many people, sacrificing your time for others feels difficult. And that is not to say that people are necessarily selfish, rather that it’s a practice that can be difficult and the rewards not apparent. Altruistic behavior, however, can be the best individual learning experience that a person can have. By simply committing yourself to volunteering your time, you begin to learn the craft of helping others and the rewards manifest themselves in not only seeing success of the work, but also by learning how to be better at giving back. There is this feedback loop that giving does, one sacrifices their time and skill and they are rewarded by experiencing the results. The experience transcends the notions of generosity because there is so much self-reward involved in the process.
My recent conversations with people involved in a self-help organization is that service is a cornerstone to elevating one’s own condition. Just like my earlier experiences with training, you put yourself in a position to help others and, by default, are expected to have the knowledge to facilitate aid. You may not be “good” at the practice early on, but simply by participating you get better. By helping more, you get more out of it. The lessons learned will extend far beyond your volunteering endeavors. I’ve greatly extended my own patience, by seeing first-hand how early struggles translate to success. I’ve seen people in crisis rise above their struggles, and understand that struggles in my own personal and professional life are merely temporary. In order to learn all of the life lessons, sometimes we must first be willing to give of ourselves to achieve mastery.