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Pekarsky Stein mid-December Newsletter: A Case For Giving The Gift Of Time

December 22, 2014

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Here at Pekarsky Stein, we like to think of ourselves as the Navy SEALs of the search world – expertly trained, fast-thinking, elite search warriors that consistently deliver results on the toughest of recruitment assignments. We excel at capturing market intelligence and executing covert reconnaissance missions and we thrive on engineering direct action strikes in the most competitive of urban climates. When there’s nowhere else to turn on seemingly impossible searches in the offices of corporate Canada, we’re your guys…and gals.

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Being the newest recruit to join this tightly knit squad, I remain eager to prove my worth to my fellow SEALs and to my battle scarred and highly decorated Commander alike…which is how I found myself inexplicably standing in Adam’s office last week volunteering to write the mid-month December newsletter while still working through the PTSD caused by my last newsletter deployment in mid-September. What I didn’t know at the time was that by virtue of raising my hand, I violated the first unwritten rule of military training: “Never volunteer for anything.”

And so it was that I found myself staring languidly at the blinking cursor for the second time in three months, pondering the very act of volunteering. That is to say, I found myself questioning what could have possibly compelled me to sign up for this mission in the first place. And, on a broader scale, why does anyone volunteer for…well, anything these days when there’s dollars to be earned, sweat to be shed, kids to be raised and – most pressingly of all – The Biebs to be eradicated from the face of the planet? And finally, in a world where everyone’s all about the bottom line, is the investment of our time worth the dividends volunteering pays?

Being the resourceful self-starter that I am, I tried to take a crack at answering these questions on my own based on my experience working on this newsletter thus far. The problem was that the only noticeable and immediate life changes I’ve experienced at this point in the process are as follows (in no particular order):

  1. the sudden onset of insomnia;
  2. racing thoughts of apprehension and dread;
  3. irrational fears of seeing Adam in the office;
  4. a sharp increase in blood pressure; and, last but not least
  5. a brow that is permanently and visibly beaded with sweat.


I assumed that wasn’t quite the message of hope and joy and world peace that Adam was looking to spread this holiday season so I decided to turn to my wise and trusted old friend, Google, for more heartening answers. Thankfully, what I found is infinitely more cheering than my own personal experience and, as an added bonus, particularly apt during this festive season of giving.

According to the “2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating” (”CSGVP”), volunteering is on the rise in this country in a very big way. If you can believe it, the volunteer movement actually grew faster than the population of Canada between 2007 and 2010. In 2010, almost half of Canadians over the age of 15 volunteered and collectively contributed around 2.1 billion total volunteer hours. That’s a volume of work that’s roughly equivalent to just under 1.1 million full-time jobs. And, perhaps most encouragingly of all, it’s our young’uns between 15 and 24 who are volunteering more than any other age group at a rate of 58% compared to the overall average of 47%.

Predictably, the kinds of volunteering activities Canadians are signing up for are as wide-ranging as the volunteers themselves: they provide leadership on boards and committees; canvass for funds; provide counselling and mentorship; visit seniors; prepare and deliver food; coach children and youth; pen newsletters – you name it.

So what accounts for this spike in volunteerism in our nation? The data collected by CSGVP show that the average volunteer’s motives are far more noble and selfless than my own in the present case (i.e., to boost my professional profile and score some internal brownie points). As you might expect, the desire to make a contribution to the community ranks the highest (93%) with the inclination to make use of one’s skills and experiences (78%) and being personally affected by the cause the organization represented or supported (59%) trailing behind.

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But that still doesn’t answer the question of what people actually get out of volunteering. Sure, some of the benefits like connecting with others, improved career prospects and, ahem, a generous discretionary Christmas bonus are obvious but there’s got to be something bigger at play to account for these numbers. As it turns out, there is. It’s called the “Happiness Effect”.

If you’ve ever visited a lonely senior in a home or coached a little league team or even just helped an old lady across the street with her groceries, you’ve felt the magical “Happiness Effect” of volunteering firsthand. (Though I’m now convinced it has a delayed effect when it comes to that ever-popular volunteering activity, writing newsletters.) It’s one of the great truisms of giving that it’s virtually impossible to go out of your way to make someone else’s life a little better without making your own life a little better in the process. Even as I type this newsletter now, we’re feeling the effect in full force in the halls of Pekarsky Stein from the hamper we’re in the process of putting together for a struggling family this Christmas. Without sounding overly self-congratulatory, my decision to join this firm when I returned from London last summer was assisted in no small measure by the firm’s commitment to community.  Sure we play hard and work hard too, but the virtue we strive to be known for is kindness; for charity; for helping those around us and for doing so in ways that exceed our weight-class.

But don’t just take our word for it. Researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in American adults and, in essence, what they found was that the more often people volunteered, the happier they were. Other similar types of studies support the LSE’s study’s findings: for instance, one study found that among weekly volunteers, 16% felt “very happy” and reported a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000 – $100,000 versus $20,000. I’ll give you a moment to absorb the full weight of that last sentence before we move on.

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Correspondingly, a 2013 University of Exeter Medical School study explored the link between volunteering and health and revealed that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased well-being, and a 22% reduction in the risk of dying. In the same vein, a recent UnitedHealth Group survey showed that people who volunteer feel physically healthier than their non-volunteering counterparts. Even people who volunteer just a little less than two hours a week reap significant benefits.

In addition to making people quantifiably happier, another recent study published by Psychological Science counter-intuitively showed that volunteering your time can actually create the glorious illusion of having more time. Apparently, spending time on others makes people feel like they’ve been productive with their time — and the more productive you feel you’ve been with your time, the more you’ll feel you have.

Just this morning as I was watching the news, I serendipitously came across the story of Pearl Sutphen, who is the very embodiment of everything this newsletter is about. A regular volunteer, Pearl chose to celebrate her 103rd birthday by ringing the bells for the Salvation Army and described herself on her birthday as “the happiest person in the world today, to think I’m 103 years old and feel as good as I do”. I’d like to think that her commitment to giving back has a little something to do with that.

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So to sum it up, the age-old act of volunteering is what I will boldly describe as the “the new black” in Canada. Not just because it helps others but because the personal payback is tremendous too: you can expect to be happier, less stressed, emotionally and physically healthier, slimmer and wildly more attractive to the opposite sex within 24 hours of your first volunteering act (okay, I tossed the last two in just to make sure you were still with me). But seriously, if volunteerism ran an infomercial, the 1-800 line would be ringing off the hook. What else in this world gives you these kinds of reliable results with the bonus gift of helping others all for three easy instalments of zero dollars? Allow me to volunteer the answer: nothing.

In closing, if you really want to give yourself a good present this year (and I know you do!), I humbly suggest that instead of tapping into your line of credit, you consider tapping into your calendar instead to give your time to someone or something that really matters to you. I guarantee you won’t regret it. There are more ways to volunteer than there are iPhone apps (the last count as we go to press was 1,429,558 active apps), so get creative and above all, get excited about whatever it is that you choose. And on that inspirational note, I will leave you with the immortal words of the great Nobel prize-winning renaissance man, Albert Schweitzer, who said it far better than I ever could: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”



Lyndsey Dagerfield is a Principal with Pekarsky Stein, a member of the Law Society of Alberta, an active member of the Calgary community and an incredibly funny and talented human being.