Are You Really Doing That For Free!?

There are greater rewards than money

For 19 days, I volunteered at the Olympics and rarely did a day pass where one of my friends or family members would ask; are you really doing that for free?

Just looking at the featured image will tell you, I was paid in something more valuable than money. The woman in that picture is my friend’s mother on her 86th birthday. Fortunately, I had that day off! The joy on her face when I shared my pinned-up lanyard with her is priceless. To me, it’s a reminder of the power and stories the Olympics bring to people all over the world. Fans or no fans,The Olympics is the world’s largest envent.

I didn’t meet any current athletes, though I did see my share of past Olympians. One older gentleman even went through the security check wearing his gold medal. Wow! I had opportunities to converse with people from all over the world. I shared conversations with IOC members, National Olympic Committee (NOC) Directors, and volunteers not just from wideoff places but from my own neighborhood, too. Hopefully, some of these people will remain friends for years to come.

This is a picture of me and my new friend Anad. He is originally from India and worked as an Olympic Family Assistant (OFA). He is kind and helpful. An OFA is like a host parent for the NOC and IOC members. They help their assigned NOC members to navigate the city and its intricacies, arrange transportation and ensure that their guest’s needs are met (as much as is possible during a COVID lockdown) while visiting for the Olympics. Anad, like me, was always smiling. That may be one reason why his guests always seemed so happy when they came back to the hotel. Working with him was a joy I would have never had if I’d been worried about how much I wasn’t getting paid.

I gained the title of Pin King because I had more pins than anyone on the team (22 pins in 19 days). As I stated in Giving Smiles and Solving Problems, some of these pins were given as a token of gratitude. Others were dispersed in moments of joy and serendipity.

Like this necktie from Tonga. It was given to me by a member of their NOC as she was getting ready to depart for the airport. These Olympic mementos can not be bought. In fact, to me, they are priceless.

I’ll never forget (and probably will embellish in the years to come) the second Saturday of the Games. I was working the information desk at NOC headquarters, and the electricity was phenomenal. People waving flags in the lobby, folks announcing their countrymen and women making medal rounds, others dancing through the lobby, and the general sense of camaraderie. One person even left a wooden sculpture at the Accommodation Desk as a gift of friendship. So much fun!

I am so tired of working at home alone all day, every day. There is no telecommuting at the Olympics. What a breath of fresh air it was to get out and meet people every day. I was reminded of the serendipitous experiences that can happen when in the presence of other people. Interacting with both customers and staff was an opportunity to sharpen my communication skills and flash the humorous side of my personality. I even gained strength in my legs from all the walking!

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
Photo by Kashish Lamba on Unsplash

I found a new taqueria that reminded me of being back in California. I was not expecting much. But when I filled his mouth with the tacos, I was overwhelmed with joy. Taco Rico was almost like being back home. If not for the Olympics, I never would have found this gem.

And speaking of memories of home, I can’t remember the last time I had a Reuben Sandwich. The one I had at Ark Hills Cafe on one of my lunch breaks was fab! It brought back memories of lunch with my grandfather, who passed away earlier this summer at 100-years-old.

By Ernesto Andrade - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3022275

So did I work for free? Not really, I gained valuable volunteer experience, met some amazing people, reminisced of home, ate some great food, and have memories that will last a lifetime. Those things are far more valuable than cash.

Originally published on Medium.com

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