If I know you, Mercury reader, then chances are your life has been a selfish waste of time. It's been awhile, hasn't it—years perhaps—since it had true meaning... since you last felt the pull of a noble and unambiguous purpose.
These days, it seems like there's less and less time to care about anything other than the basics. You earn rent, pay it, and come up with ways on the weekend to forget about the futility of your job mopping up spills at New Seasons. If you're lucky, you might have sex occasionally. What a waste of youthful potential!
Don't worry, however, because Idealist.org is here to help.
TOO MANY CAUSES, NOT ENOUGH TIME
I'm sure there are those reading this paper saying, "You give me too little credit, sir. For I am, in fact, one of the Red Cross' Vegan Chess-Playing Envoys to Darfur."
If so... great! Perhaps stop reading, because I'm talking to our average, unmotivated 29-year-old reader (with whom I have some empathy). It's not that we don't want to roust ourselves from unfulfilled ruts—there are just so many good causes in Portland: from homelessness to the Humane Society, from drug research to biofuels. It's hard to know where to start.
Each of those causes have so many nonprofits lined up behind them, it's hard to know which might be most fulfilling. Not to mention that most of us still have to earn a salary and pay rent—on top of which, an injection of existential meaning would be a bonus.
FINDING YOUR CAUSE
Here's your answer: Idealist.org is an international organization with over 70 staff members across four countries. Associate Director Russ Finkelstein works with a team of 10 on the 10th floor of a gothic tower on SW 12th and Morrison.
"We can't tell you what your issue is or should be—but rather how you can get started, and how you can have an impact," he says. "Our aim, really, is to help people with the challenge of moving from good intentions to action."
The organization does this by connecting with people through its website, Idealist.org—a hub for connecting individuals with the work of more than 70,000 organizations in 190 countries, and each other. They also convene nonprofit career fairs in the US (including Portland!), and grad school fairs in places as far flung as London, Geneva, and Toronto. This week, more than 7,000 nonprofit jobs were listed on Idealist.org, and more than 11,000 volunteer opportunities—many of them in Oregon. There were 1,484 internship opportunities, the free Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers (idealist.org/careerguide), and much, much more, all designed to get you thinking creatively, and maybe even inspire you to get off that unfulfilled ass!
TO EACH THEIR OWN
As usual, let's take me for example: Over the last year in my job as a reporter, I've discovered I'm interested in crime, safety, and victims' issues. A quick search on the website under those parameters revealed two volunteer opportunities in Portland that I could do in my spare time: One involved mediation and the other, raising money for a crisis line for women experiencing domestic violence.
It's a lot easier to consider one's options when they're not just abstract, but actually right in front of you. If I were considering a full-time career move—fear not, readers, this is purely theoretical—it turns out World Pulse magazine is seeking an editorial director, and Planned Parenthood needs a marketing director. Right here in Portland! Hmmm... hold on. Cripes, that's a good salary....
But my issues aren't necessarily yours. And they aren't Finkelstein's, either.
"For example, I hate recycling. I find it a total hassle," Finkelstein explains. "I do it out of collective guilt. Even though it's not my issue and environmental issues are not where I spend my time."
Instead, he has served on national boards that help gay and lesbian youth of color, promote the improvement of local city government, and promote volunteerism in elementary schools. "For me, there are needs there, and I can contribute more given my skills and interests," he says.
Serving on the board of a national charity may be all very well for Finkelstein, but he's clearly a man whose karma has truly been chameleoned (to paraphrase Culture Club). But what about you?
You might want to go to grad school or college at some point—but for now, let's say you're living in shared housing in Southeast, living from paycheck to paycheck, and looking for an eventual route out of your job at the grocery store.
You might be interested in mental health, gay/lesbian issues, or prison reform. Perhaps you like the idea of working with veterans, or of working with a museum of some kind. Or maybe race issues, or government oversight? Go ahead, search the website. The opportunities are there.
If you fancy leaving Portland for good, we'll miss you. But there are international opportunities galore—let's hope you come back with all your experience and enthusiasm intact, eager to foster change.
"People don't necessarily need to intern, change careers, or even connect with a nonprofit to feel they're doing some good," Finkelstein says. "There are many who have connected on Idealist with strangers in their hometown to start community improvement groups around the world—from Afghanistan to Zambia."
The idea of some of these groups is for like-minded do-gooders to do something positive for a stranger, or group of strangers, once a week. If changing careers sounds too radical, perhaps there's something you can do with your existing skills to make a difference.
"I met a woman recently who worked at a record company," Finkelstein says. "It was her job to travel the world and discover new bands and sign them, and while most people would be envious, for her, she found it unfulfilling."
"For some reason, she was really into quality of life issues for farm animals," he continues. "And instead of quitting her job, I suggested one option could be that she pull together a benefit record or concerts using her connections."
As we're talking, Finkelstein suggests I establish a workshop for young, unmotivated hipsters in association with the Mercury. Something to get our readers on their feet and inspired.
"We can get the hall at PSU," he says with a grin. "Something along the lines of 'Hey, hipster. Get off your lazy ass!'"
Of course, I'm not sure I can be bothered, and mumble that I might just write the article, but I guess that's half of Finkelstein's point. Idealist.org wants to reach out to Portland and beyond, to anyone, any organization that can help people do more good. It wants to challenge them, and make them think harder. The experience may feel rather unnerving, but it's positive, and I'll give him credit where it's due.
That's why Finkelstein bid in the Mercury's charity auction, thereby forcing me to drop by and meet him. That's what I call entrepreneurial creativity. And it's also why, if you're interested in getting something karmic off the ground for yourself, or for others, you should probably arrange to meet him soon, too.
Meanwhile, I'm off to email Planned Parenthood.