Case study: How volunteering helped me
When I applied to volunteer at Smile Mediation I had no work experience and limited knowledge of what it was like to work in a professional environment. I came to the organisation as a very inexperienced and anxious individual, but over the eighteen months I have flourished in ways I never imagined.
The source of my low confidence stemmed from bullying throughout my childhood and adolescence and my method of coping – long-term isolation – only damaged my limited interpersonal skills and self-belief. Despite gaining some confidence in my time at University, nothing prepared me for the drastic change that occurred through volunteering.
You cannot progress without pushing yourself, but I believe that if it wasn’t for the Smile team I would never have grown as a person. They encouraged and continue to encourage me in all my endeavours, pushing me as far as I can go and without their guidance I would not be where I am now.
Within my first two weeks of volunteering in October 2015 I was asked to carry out a Service Satisfaction Questionnaire (SSQ) through contacting past clients and asking them to comment on the quality of the service. My reflective journal details that my anxiety was triggered and I was close to breaking down as, with anxiety, it can be difficult to rationalise even the simplest of tasks; at the time I needed plenty of notice to mentally prepare myself. This quickly changed, as a few weeks later I was asked to ‘man the phones’ while the staff had their monthly meeting and three months after this I had a temporary paid position at Smile, and I chose to continue volunteering one day a week.
When I look back on my volunteer journal it is the amount of reflection which astounds me most as I see through my recollections that noting everything down only contributed to overthinking and worrying: ‘The brief discussion about careers and further education roused negative feelings of hopelessness of what to do,’ – ‘I have no preference for tasks, unless it is really anxiety inducing,’ and ‘the idea of becoming a mediator is not something that I could imagine myself being good at; it would be a stretch to say I would enjoy the role or even the idea of it.’ My journey may have been gradual but the variety of opportunities I have had in such a short length of time allowed me to adapt and grow. Assisting in Smile’s 2015 Annual Conference, the Victims’ Voice 2016 Roadshow and undertaking three interview meet and greets influenced how I viewed myself professionally; it showed me that I was capable of more.
By June 2016 I was the Mediation Services Trainee and this role has been fantastic in furthering my development. Having a mentor gave me the chance to discuss potential ideas, work through any problems I may have encountered and learn from someone who has a genuine interest in personal development. By September 2016 I had changed for the better through two months of coaching; these sessions focused on the root cause of my anxiety – what had knocked my confidence and lowered my self-esteem – and gradually opened my mind, filtering in rational thought and enabling me to feel comfortable in my own skin.
I am now completing SSQs over the phone with next to no anxiety, growing more and more comfortable with my colleagues whom I can now call my friends, and arranging mediation meetings between clients and mediators; my developing skillset will serve me well for any future career, especially since I will be an accredited Mediator by mid 2017.
As stated by my colleagues: ‘Her whole demeanour is much more relaxed and happy. She has totally transformed herself for the better.’
– Natalie Aykut