As we find ourselves in the middle of the holiday season, we join with our friends and family in celebrating what we have and share the joy with others by giving.
It might be a cliché, but it’s still certainly true – the greatest gift you can give is your time. I will admit that I am not often the first person to jump to my toes and volunteer my own. In the past, I’ve joined my friends in handing out turkey dinners and I’ve wrapped donated gifts for kids. It’s rewarding, and it feels good, but it’s not the kind of giving that I’ve sought out intentionally. Let me clarify that we’re talking aboutDesign community service (or insert your relative profession).
There’s another way to give that’s not so obvious: Getting out there, perhaps traveling a bit to share your time and your knowledge with those who value it – the students who will one day replace you. Navigating any career from the start to success is a long journey, and no one tells you how to pack your bags. As a professional who’s made mistakes and has dodged many a career pitfall, I valued the advice I got from the few professionals I was able to talk to when I was younger. I discovered the impact of design community service my first year out of school – seeing the positive impact mentors and advisors can make. I’ve been committed to giving time to it ever since.
Whether it’s taking the day to speak to a class, review portfolios, or simply taking a half hour to give a student a practice phone interview, all of it counts. It means giving time out of your schedule throughout the year. As schedules often go when things get hectic, it’s easy to say no. But I urge design professionals to say yes more often than no and give classes and/or individual students every ounce they can. It builds the community, and better designers.
Here are few more reasons that we give our time back to students:
Schools need our help
As professionals, we are living the business of design every day; refining and or redefining our craft. We get to see how rapidly the world changes, and more often than not we are participating and working with companies/organizations that are facilitating that change. Keeping up with that change costs A LOT, and design programs are constantly playing catch-up and fighting with budgets that seem to be more and more limited. Not only that, students are focused on learning design fundamentals – their noses buried in the books, so to speak. For you to come and inject some design wisdom with an outside-the-institutional-walls perspective gives them a huge boost.
You learn too
It’s refreshing to step back and answer questions that you haven’t had to deal with for years. Should I do a digital-only portfolio? What projects should I show? How do I get my foot in the door? We’ve learned the answers to many of these kinds of questions through trial and error. While it’s good to learn the hard way, I am so thankful for professionals that shared their POV and helped get me to where I am today. And while I might be giving students advice, I’m learning the viewpoint of a different generation. Seeing and hearing how they think about the problems in the world helps me keep my own biases in check.
Well, of course it is. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel good about it. It feels great; whether it is helping a student chart their career over the course of a few years or a simple one-time interaction where you can lead them the answer they already know is the right one. The rewarding part comes when many years later you cross paths with that person again and you hear how you made an impact (often you forget what you said). I don’t think that can be overstated – the value and impact of your professional point of view can alter career paths. Wield it with care!
So, it doesn’t have to be time in the soup kitchen, and it doesn’t have to be only during the holidays. Taking a couple of days or a few hours to give your time to those just beginning in your line of work is hugely valuable. It’s a WIN-WIN-WIN: It’s good for the profession and its future. It’s good for the school/students. It’s good for you.
Not sure where to help? It can start with a phone call or email to one of your old professors, or perhaps getting involved with professional organizations that facilitate events (hello Google!). Or, if all else fails, message me through LinkedIn and we’ll figure it out. Just remember, the next time you get the itch to volunteer that you have a lot to give as a professional and consider doing a little design community service.
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