10: The Best Job of All

10: The Best Job of All

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

The Best Job of All

I know from experience that you should never give up on yourself or others, no matter what.

~George Foreman

Back when I was in my twenties, I worked in an office in Philadelphia. Each day I boarded the train with my coffee and book, struggling to keep my eyes open so early in the morning. I’d push through the hustle and bustle of the city to my office, and then I’d spend my day there crunching numbers and attending meetings and dealing with clients. My work at the office had its fulfilling moments, like when I got kudos from a client or received a hard-earned promotion. And I was grateful to have a well-paying job at a time when some of my friends and family were not so lucky. But in the end, this job was just about making a living. I wasn’t enjoying “corporate America.”

But it was different on Tuesdays. On Tuesday nights I walked several blocks to a nearby community center to my “other job,” a job that was a world apart from the number-crunching career I had during the day. I’d make my way to a large room with high ceilings where I was greeted by shouts of excitement — “Miss Maggie is here! Miss Maggie is here!” This unbridled enthusiasm came from a group of kids who were all mine to teach, connect with and inspire for the next two hours. You see, on these Tuesday nights, I coached volleyball for athletes of the Special Olympics.

As I entered this large room one particular Tuesday night, most of the kids came running. “Miss Maggie! Can we start warming up?” I had taught the kids the importance of warming up before starting their volleyball lesson, and they were eager to show me that they’d learned well. I gave them a nod and watched them begin their moves.

Looking around, I noticed that Brian was sitting in the corner by himself, as usual. He came from a family that struggled greatly with what they referred to as his “condition.” Unfortunately, this caused him a lot of anger and sadness.

As the other kids started to exercise, I walked over to Brian and sat down. I said hello, but he gave me only an angry mumble in return. I asked how he was doing, and I got a scowl and a headshake for an answer. I had gotten this type of reaction from Brian before, so it wasn’t a surprise. With a limited ability to fully understand and cope with the negativity in his life, Brian often shut down and struggled to communicate at all. Any response at all from him was a positive, and sometimes an angry mumble or scowl was the only response he could muster. And even though he insisted on coming to the lesson each week, Brian’s permanent place seemed to be in the corner, alternating between watching the other kids and resting his head on his knees.

Working with Brian each week, I knew I had to be patient, and this experience taught me a valuable lesson in the power of compassion and perseverance. As I gained Brian’s trust and he started to respond to me, even when the responses were mumbles and scowls, I knew that I had to stay positive and make sure he knew that I was there for him no matter what.

On this particular Tuesday night, as I had done so many Tuesday nights before, I simply gave Brian a gentle squeeze, told him that we’d love to have him join us, and made my way over to the other kids. Once the kids had warmed up, I began my lesson. I was not a volleyball expert by any means, but I had a good understanding of the game, and it was enough for me to teach these kids the basics. The reality was, even with my limited knowledge and skills, there were no easier kids to teach. Sure, there were the occasional squabbles and silly antics that all kids get into, but more than anything these kids were thrilled to be there, learning a sport.

As the volleyball lesson progressed, I saw movement on the sideline. Brian had come out of his corner and was moving closer, intrigued by how much fun the other kids were having. Hesitantly, he approached me and asked if he could play. On this night, Brian had finally decided to move past his anger and take part in the fun. I put my arm around him and replied with an enthusiastic yes, and in return he gave me the slightest hint of a smile. He joined the other kids, and they readily welcomed him. I watched Brian forget, at least for a moment, the things that made him so sad and angry as he enjoyed learning volleyball with his friends.

At the end of that Tuesday night, as I watched Brian and the other kids leave the volleyball court together, I knew that this truly was the job that mattered. I knew that I was making at least a small difference in these kids’ lives, and I knew that the difference they were making in mine was great. No office job, no client praise or promotion, no paycheck could ever compare to the fulfillment I received every week from my “other job,” my work with Brian and the other kids of the Special Olympics.

~Maggie Hofstaedter

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