The world turns its gaze toward London today as we prepare to open the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Whether you’re an avid sports enthusiast or just love the pomp and circumstance of it all, it’s hard not to get caught up in Olympic fever. Of course, representing our country on an international stage is something that many of us will probably never experience but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to learn from these dedicated athletes. Here are three ways that Olympic athletes can inspire each of us in becoming more engaged volunteers.

You don’t have to be a professional, you just have to be passionate.
The vast majority of Olympians do not earn their living through the sport in which they compete. Their commitment to train comes from an honest love of the sport rather than the promise of a large paycheck. Many of the athletes that we watch, striving to make it to the medal stand, have day jobs and families and other commitments that they must balance in order to achieve their Olympic goals.

When we make a commitment to serve others, that same need for balance becomes more clear in our own lives. Many volunteers don’t work in social services, yet they have a deep desire to make a difference by participating in projects that will help others. We can be quick to write off an opportunity to serve because, “we’re just so busy!” However, when you are really passionate about achieving a goal, it’s much easier to find that sense of balance. When you seek out volunteer opportunities that align with your interests, beliefs and values, you will discover that the joy service brings to your life far outweighs any time it may have used.

Live a good story.
It’s a common experience during Olympic season. Suddenly, you find yourself cheering for an athlete that you’ve never heard of who is competing in a sport you didn’t even know existed. You can’t explain the difference between FOIL, EPEE and SABRE but all of a sudden, you have tears in your eyes, hoping that the fencer from Kazakhstan pulls off the upset.

What causes such a dramatic reaction? A great story. When the emotional strings start to play and Bob Costas begins to spin the tale, we’re powerless to stop it. We’re inspired by stories of people conquering obstacles, coming back from defeat or finding hope through teamwork. Each one of us can embrace these storylines as our own in the ways that we choose to live. Through civic engagement, our lives become more than a to-do list, they become thrilling stories that can inspire others to follow in our footsteps.

It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s about how you play the game.
Of course, winning is always nice. However, the spirit of the Olympics celebrates more than just victory, there is great honor in just taking part. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee thought this message was “of great philosophical significance.” In his writings, Coubertin considered sport in its educational sense, declaring that “the important thing in life is not victory, but the fight; the main thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

In the nonprofit world we are fond of saying, “we want to work ourselves out of a job.” Whether the issue is hunger, homelessness, educational disparity, bigotry or one of the many other challenges our nation faces; our hope is that some day, these problems will be eradicated. However, the more you understand the full scope of the issues at hand, the easier it is to become overwhelmed and lose hope.

It’s true that we may not see these issues reconciled within our life time. What we can be sure of is that the steps we take today are leading us in the direction of a more just and equitable future. As volunteers, we know that we are making an impact on the communities we serve on a daily basis. We may not know how it will all work out, but we can be assured that as citizens of Chicago, we will have fought well.