reflecting on important work

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I’ve led an incredibly charmed life. I’ve always had a roof over my head and food on my table. I received a great education. I’ve never been without a steady source of income. I’ve loved and been loved. I am so deeply appreciative of the hand I’ve been dealt (well, and the hand I worked for, too), but even though I’ve always had the sun shining down on me, it’s never escaped me that a lot of folks out there don’t have the same story.

I’ve talked about it before here, but a desire that has punctuated my life for as long as I can remember is the need to do important work. Quite honestly, it’s one of the major reasons I struggled with my previous job (as a web designer, FYI). I never felt like what I was doing really mattered. I never felt like I was giving enough back to society in thanks for blessing me with this incredible life. At the end of the day, what I was doing was fine, but it was still just making websites, which, in the grand scheme of all the problems of the world, really isn’t that big of a contribution. One of my catch phrases at work whenever someone would get upset about something was, “It’s not like we’re curing cancer here.” And that’s how I felt. I know that might sound like I’m putting down the profession of graphic design, I’m not. I was realistic that deciding the colors of the navigation on a website isn’t as important as some of the globe-altering work and volunteerism that other people do. flower stock

I tried to overpower that feeling of not mattering for the longest time. I’d write the biggest checks I could afford to organizations I believed in. I’d fill up my shopping basket with Christmas gifts for families in need. I’d send donations to every cause that a friend asked me to support. But it wasn’t ever enough. It felt so disconnected and inactive.

I’m sure those donations helped those organizations. I’m sure that money went to buy something vital, but for me personally, it just wasn’t satisfying the desire I had to be more. Honestly, one of the big reasons I started this blog was that driving force to be more. I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to change the world by writing about my not-so-perfect journey to wellness, but I thought maybe if I could reach just one person. Convince just one person that they don’t have to be a triathlete to be healthy. Tell them that there is power in taking care of themselves, even if they don’t look like a fitness model. Tell them that real food could change their life (and that they can still eat pizza and chocolate). If just one person could get that from me, it’d help overcome my feeling of not mattering in my career.

And it did. You guys sent me emails and comments and tweets telling me that I mattered. And it filled me with that warm and fuzzy feeling that I had been craving for so long. And guess what? It snowballed. I kept wanting that feeling. I wanted to do more. Instead of just writing checks, it was time to be active. I wanted to actively participate in something bigger than I was. So I started to walk and run in local charity races. I started donating my body to the cause, too. me hoosiers outrun cancer 5k bib

At first, it was just donating my own fee to the cause, and then, at one local race for cancer research, I decided I was going to raise money in my office. And I did. I was hoping to raise $100. But in the end, we’d raised nearly $450 in a little over two weeks. I went and ran that race with a new motivation. It was no longer just about me. It was about all those people who gave me cash. All those people who I might be helping. All those people struggling through cancer treatment. If they can go through months and months of poison being pumped through their veins, I sure as heck can push through the next 30 seconds and make it up this hill. I wanted to do good for them and their struggle. I wanted to run when they couldn’t. me hoosiers outrun cancer bibs Of course, cancer is personal to me (isn’t it personal to everyone now-a-days?). It’s more than just a random cause that needs my money and support. And that 5K lit a spark under me. I wanted to do it again, but this time, on a much larger scale. For the first time, in a long time, I saw where I could actually make a difference. A big difference. Me, just little ole me, could actually make a dent in this cause that was so personal to me.

As I was looking for my next big act of active volunteerism, I stumbled onto the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Two days, 40 miles, an $1800 fundraising minimum. I was terrified. Terrified. I was afraid of the distance. I’m not a marathoner. I’m not even all that active. I have chubby thighs and a big belly. The thought of walking a marathon followed by a half marathon sent me into a panic. I’m not that person. I’m not the person who accomplishes the “big” fitness milestones like that. Running a 5K for charity? Not a huge deal. But 39.3 miles? That’s a whole other animal. You know what else terrified me? That fundraising goal. I thought it would be such a struggle. I wanted to raise that kind of money, but that’s a big number. avon walk sign

As it turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of. Not only did I hit my $1800 fundraising goal, but (thanks to a lot of you guys) I totally blew it out of the water. I ended up raising $5901.65. It turns out, I am actually a pretty talented fundraiser (who knew?) and my friends, family, readers, co-workers, and corporate sponsors came out to support me in droves. It’s been a year since the walk, and that number still makes me tear up. I know it’s just a tiny drop in the bucket of the kind of money that gets pumped into breast cancer research every year, but it still felt substantial. It felt like enough to actually make a difference. I finally felt like I was doing important work (even if it had nothing to do with my actual career). Now, I had to actually do the walk. me feet walk I, admittedly, skimped in my training for the walk. I stayed active other ways, but I had a hard time carving out the 5-6 hour blocks of time that were necessary for the 20+ mile training walks.  So when I showed up on walk day, I had done little more than one 20 mile test walk a few weeks previously. I’m not going to tell you that it was easy. I think for anyone, being on your feet for over eight hours ain’t easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.

Sure, there was pain. Lots of pain and stiffness. And there was exhaustion. And some chub rub. But all of us walkers were being pushed by something so much more powerful than physical pain. We were there to do something bigger than any of our blisters or charley horses. We were floating on a cloud of empowerment. And that was so much more powerful than any silly physical ailment. At the end of the first day, when we hit the finish line for the marathon, I burst into happy, giddy tears. Partially because my Mama (a cancer survivor) was there to greet us, but I think also partially because I finally allowed myself to release all the pain and struggle (both emotional and physical) I’d been working through the last 26.2 miles. There was something stronger than me that helped me get through that first day, and the relief I felt when I hit that finish line was euphoric. I was doing this. And I was doing it with strength, power and optimism. family avon walk

That two-day walk (and the weeks leading up to it during fundraising) will always stick out to me as one of the few times on this planet that I’ve felt like I was earning my keep. Writing checks and buying Christmas gifts is great, but there is something so life-altering about active volunteerism. Sacrificing your body for a cause and coming out unscathed on the other side is a feeling that I hope everyone gets to experience once in their lives. Walk a charity race. Build someone a house. Help clean up after a storm. Get out there and use your able body for good. I promise you you’ll want to do it again and again. avon walk finish If you want to see how other folks are doing their part to volunteer actively, I urge you to check out the Advil® Relief in Action program. The campaign honors and supports people who don’t let pain get in the way of helping others. Advil® is also donating to Habitat for Humanity and Wounded Warrior Project®  for every bottle sold. Advil®  is helping volunteers get the relief they need, and get back to giving back. If you want to share your own story of active volunteerism, post a photo on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and tag it with #ReliefinAction.

I am participating in a sponsored campaign hosted by Advil®. I received compensation for this post. While all opinions stated are my own, I make no claims about Advil® as a product or its effectiveness.

What’s something you’ve done that could be considered active volunteerism? How’d it make you feel?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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