Tag Archives: corona virus

Virtual Volunteering in the Age of the Corona Virus

virtual volunteering

virtual volunteeringIn the wake of the all-consuming Corona virus, there is plenty of advice floating around  for how to keep yourself calm and occupied at home. I personally liked Margaret’s list over on Sixty and Me. In addition to the usual ideas of crafting and exercising at home, she also had some great suggestions like virtual travel, watching Ted Talks, and doing a “life review.”

But there’s another way to occupy your time right now that will also help make you calmer and happier: virtual volunteering. At a time when we’re getting daily reminders to be mindful of the most vulnerable, volunteering on line is not only good for the community, it’s also good for you.

The Value of Volunteering as You Age

There’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that volunteering is good for your physical and mental  health, particularly as you age. As one author wrote long before the Corona virus set in, volunteering – by allowing her a place to deposit her abundant, mid-life energy  – became her personal “chill pill.”

Volunteering also taps into a larger sense of purpose. In his book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch explores the science behind the so-called ” Happiness U-curve.” The U-curve, a statistically robust finding which cuts across countries, shows that life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, hits a nadir in our late 40s, and then increases steadily until our 80s. But that upwards curve, Rauch suggests, is not only the product of greater personal acceptance and expectations-adjusting as we age. It also derives from a greater ability to re-direct our focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

The numbers back this up. As Marc Freedman notes in his book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, fully a third of older adults in the United States already exhibit “purpose beyond the self”  – i.e., they identify, prioritise, and actively pursue goals that are both personally meaningful and contribute to the greater good. That’s 34 million people over the age of 50 who are willing and able to tutor children, clean neighbourhood parks, or work for world peace.

Virtual Mentoring

Obviously, in an age of social distancing, we need to move all of that good spirit and energy online. One of the easiest ways to do that is by becoming a mentor.  The beauty of being a mentor is that you don’t need to work inside a large company – or even a formal hierarchy – to make a difference. All you need is a transferable skill set, a bit of empathy and the ability to help someone breakdown their work, life or education challenges into tractable, bite-sized chunks. Writers, scholars, artists, social workers – not to mention you corporates out there – can and should mentor.

Nor, in this globally connected world, do we need to work or live down the hall or street from our mentees. When I worked at the BBC, I mentored a young journalist via Skype who lived and worked 5,000 miles away from me. I gave this young woman tips for how she might communicate better with her introverted boss. I advised her on stress-management when she got stopped and questioned by her government for having taken photos of a taboo region in the country. We even discussed how she might navigate societal expectations that – as a single, unmarried woman in her early 30s – she was long overdue to have a baby, even though she didn’t feel ready.

Online Campaigning

You can also get involved with online campaigning for a cause you’re passionate about. An American artist friend of mine in London recently launched a Kick-starter campaign to support a beautiful Haggadah collage she was making for the upcoming Passover holiday. Unfortunately, she launched this fundraising drive about a week before Corona virus awareness hit “red” on the dial in the UK and the US. So she abruptly cancelled her own campaign to support a friend in Texas who was raising money to build a safety net for the restaurant workers she was going to need to lay off.

This is also a good time to get involved in political campaigning. It’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a major set of elections in the US approaching us in November. Going door to door in swing states is ill-advised in the current moment. But there is plenty to be done online to support your political party/candidate. I personally plan to re-direct the volunteering time I normally spend teaching creative writing to children into depolying online tools to mobilise the large and occasionally pivotal swath of Americans voters living abroad.

Ageing  and Wisdom

One of the concepts Rauch talks about in his book about aging and happiness is “wisdom.” His argument is that wisdom is not only, or even primarily, about knowledge and expertise. It’s also about rising about self-interest in order to promote the common good.

I, for one, feel wiser for knowing this. And I can’t wait to spread my wisdom online.

Image: Volunteering Hands via Needpix.com

Portfolio Careers and the Corona Virus: Risks and Opportunities

webinar

webinarIn the wake of the outbreak of the Corona virus, there’s been much speculation on how it may affect the global economy. Former Economic Council Chairman Austan Goolsbee wrote an insighful piece in The New York Times last weekend about  what the virus my portend for the U.S. economy. He pointed out that the American economy is likely to be particularly hard hit by the virus because of the size of its service sector (think restaurants and gyms), its sports-related economy (which hinges on large events), and its health care expenditure (which may dry up as people become more reluctant to undergo non-essential medical procedures).

I run my own small business as a communications consultant in London, one that relies heavily on face-to-face interaction in the form of workshops and one-to-one coaching. In the last week, my entire business model has been upended by the virus, and I’m not alone. This state of affairs has caused me to think a lot about how this virus is affecting small businesses more generally and what we can do to mitigate risk. Here are five direct impacts I’m already experiencing:

a. Cancellations are on the rise. I’ve had three workshops cancelled in the next month, two in Germany and one here in London. All three involved people flying in from different parts of the globe and all three were considered too risky to hold right now. That was to be expected. Less expected was an an offer run a large, lecture-style workshop to a large group of undergraduates at a London university, which was rescinded within a few days of being floated. Apparently, only three people signed up for a similar lecture that was meant to be held today – intended for 300 people. So the organizers decided to cancel my planned workshop as well, before we even formalized the terms. I’m lucky. All four of these events will be postponed, not outright cancelled, and three were already paid for before awareness and panic around the virus reached its current level. But I can’t expect that trend to continue.

b. Travel restrictions also creating new opportunities. At the same time, the travel restrictions now kicking in have also created opportunities for my business. Late in the afternoon on Friday, I received a call from a client at Oxford University where I routinely deliver workshops. Because the academic department in question had to abruptly cancel an upcoming trip to Africa, it is now scrambling to deliver something worthwhile for their students on campus. So they called me up and asked me to deliver two workshops on short notice. With my newly open diary, I said “Yes, please.” That was a good phone call to receive.

c.  Virtual offices have their upsides. I’ve written before about the ups and downs of working from home. But man, am I glad that I have a virtual office right now. One of my coaching clients, with whom I normally meet face to face, agreed that the next session would take place over Skype. Not having an office also means that I’m not wasting money on overhead to run an empty office right now. I’m also saving money on transport, meals out and other business expenses. Mostly however, I just feel safer. I’m also helping others with more compromised immune systems stay healthier by not exposing them to any germs I may be unwittingly harbouring.

d. Investing in virtual tools. Given that I deliver workshops for a living, I’ve been asked many times whether I offer webinars. Delivering virtual training has long been a goal of mine, but until now, it was a back-burner issue for me – something I’d like to get to, once I have time. Now, in full-on risk management mode, it’s become a front burner issue. While it’s difficult to teach public speaking effectively via webinar (at least if you’re going to use a camera, which in my view is optimal), that’s not true for teaching writing. So as the old adage has it, necessity has become the mother of invention. I am going to begin developing a webinar ASAP. I may also opt to do more editing, something I’d side-lined in recent months because I felt I could afford to do less of it. This is a long way of saying that having a portfolio career is proving to be a real asset in the wake of this unforeseen crisis.

e. I’m writing more. Part of my portfolio career – mainly the unpaid part! – is my writing. Only a couple of weeks back, I bemoaned the fact that I’ve been so busy this year with work that I’ve not given proper pride of place to my writing. That’s no longer true. Now that a large chunk of my calendar has been cleared in the coming month, I’ve discovered – much to my delight – that I have time to write again. And that makes me incredibly happy. The trick is to take this unexpected bonus and turn it into a long-term benefit once, God willing, this epidemic passes.

I’ll be eager to see the UK government thinking actively about how to help small businesses during this crisis, particularly those of us in the gig economy.

In the meantime, I’m going to lean into my portfolio and see what happens…

How about you? How is the Corona Virus affecting your work?

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Image: Webinar by Nick Youngson via Picpedia