January 30, 2018
Written by Elizabeth Schneider, AmeriCorps member serving the Volunteer Engagement Division at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
Why did I decide to serve as an AmeriCorps member at United Way? My short answer to this question and the one I queue up for any social event is “because I want to help people in my community while also gaining some great career experience”. While this answer is true, it does not speak to the entirety of why I decided to serve in AmeriCorps and specifically at United Way.
What led me here was a chain-of-thought processes that some may arguably describe as an existential crisis. However, for me, I like to look at it as a journey to better understanding myself and my personal purpose in life.
When I was coming close to graduating from my undergrad in spring of 2017 I spent a lot of time thinking about my purpose in life. I realized that the idea of a “purpose” varies among different individuals and is very dependent on one’s belief system. However, more importantly, there seems to be a general overlying belief in our society that associates an individual's purpose with success. The more I thought about it, this idea started to really bother me. I noticed that our success in society is often measured by how much money we make, our academic and professional achievements, and whether or not we get married and have a family. I couldn’t see how chasing what society and others around me deem as “success” could ever bring me true happiness. Yet, in this moment I noticed that I and the majority of people around me were all doing exactly one of the things society frames as being successful: going to college.
Now, I want to note that if any of the above things I mentioned do bring purpose to your own life, then that is great! My intention is not to offend anyone with a generalized statement. This thought process, however, was pivotal for me because I began to think about what drives me in life. Specifically, if what I was currently doing in my life was because it truly fulfilled me or if it was to prove myself by society's standards. I think it is hard to ever fully know, but from this moment on I promised myself that I would no longer judge another individual based on these terms nor would I let it dictate my own life's path unless it was what I truly wanted.
I continued to ponder how these social standards were ingrained in me and how they affected my everyday actions and ideas. A few years ago, in a sociology class, I was introduced to the idea of the “Happiness Trap”. It suggested that, in western societies like the U.S., we are socially conditioned to work towards potential future happiness over our current happiness and contentment. We spend so much time searching for happiness that it makes us miserable.
I have met countless individuals, some of whom in their 60’s have expressed to me that they still do not know what they want to be when they grow up. Frankly, I change my mind about what I want to be every single day. However, this is something that no longer bothers me. Instead of searching for a happy ending or “success” I now take every day for what it is. I aspire to be my best self every day and this is what has led me here, serving as an AmeriCorps member at United Way.
Find your purpose. Volunteer today.