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Emily Braunstein



In this week’s cover article, Geoff Brischke offers a number of reasons why one might be compelled to work as a volunteer. Middle-class guilt seems to be a common one, as does legal compulsion. Hell, there might even be such a thing as real compassion or altruism. But for many of you I suspect a different motivation, something altogether more cynical than even forced community service: The CV-pad.
It’s a student-eat-student, graduate-eat-graduate, candidate-eat-candidate world out there. Grades, it seems, aren’t enough any more; every hostel selection committee, potential employer and scholarship board wants to see evidence of applicants who are, in the modern parlance, “well-rounded”. You have to have interests! You have to be involved! You have to have experience! – and volunteer work covers these bases nicely. The giving up of your free time to work for no financial gain sends a message to the people who are picking you, employing you, or giving you money that you’re a person who thinks outside of their own sphere, who cares about others.
Which is kind of cyclically ironic if the reason you’re volunteering is to make them think that in the first place.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this. I’m not for a second about to suggest that it’s bad to choose activities that will help guide you down your chosen path, or that it’s only okay to do volunteer work for altruistically virtuous reasons; after all, the organisation for which you volunteer will benefit from, and be grateful for, your work no matter what your motivation. To hell with all that highbrow nonsense.
But I would offer these words of caution: Take it easy, eh? For the last few years, Victoria’s walls have reverberated with lamentations of the defunct student days of yore. Students are too busy to get involved in university politics; too tired to go to Orientation events; too preoccupied to be revolutionaries. Students, it seems, are getting too busy to, well, be students, when we consider that word as gesturing toward the whole gamut of traditional student experiences. And what they’re too busy doing, is preparing for their futures.
Take it from someone who’s been there: All of that extra-curricular work that you take on so that your life will be the way you want it to be in ten years can suck a whole lot of pizazz out of the life you’re living right now. Collecting for a charity, being an officer in a club or, dare I say it, writing for Salient, involves a huge investment of your time and energy. And if you’re enjoying it, that’s great; but if you’re only doing it for some projected future benefit, stop and consider what else you could be doing. You could be sitting on the Eastside balcony with your friends in the middle of the afternoon, or lazing about in Civic Square. You could be reading a trashy novel in your lounge or having lunch with your Mum. And yes, these things probably won’t make the world a demonstrably better place, or look especially impressive on your CV – but they will make you a more relaxed person, and that’s a good thing. So chill out; try to stress less about the person you might become and think more about the person you are right now.