Four Questions for the Chronic Volunteer

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I’m convinced there are a lot of women sitting in meetings making grocery lists on scratch paper or daydreaming about sandy beach vacation induced naps. I also have on good authority that a woman’s schedule can quickly be overrun with countless organizational get-togethers and frenetic activity revolving around chronic volunteering.

Friends, this can quickly become breeding ground for some B & R: burn-out and resentment

I’m not sure there’s wisdom in creating a mental tally of gold stars for oneself simply because the calendar looks like a crossword puzzle. To be honest, I worry about women I know and love when they proudly list off a daily schedule of meeting to meeting schlepping , only to stop for a triple tall mochachino because their tank is completely dry. If a woman’s kitchen island is consistently covered in scraps for to-be-made school art projects while the minivan sits in the driveway stuffed with sports gear for a whole team…there needs to be a pause and an evaluation.

Believe me, I’m not picking on women who volunteer precious time to help with school and the community. As a teacher, I personally benefit from this selflessness.  I see the results of the same select few in my own town and am extremely grateful for their sacrifice. I enjoy the school book fair and library events as much as any mother in my area. I do feel these volunteers frequently for-go their own needs and secret desires because either a) an excessive volunteer schedule has been modeled for them by their own parents or b) they feel their own worth only when they are serving.

As women we naturally take a look around the “camp” and see the needs.

We are do-ers and problem solvers .

Many of us are first in line when it comes to bringing the chips and dip, chaperoning the annual aquarium fieldtrip, or addressing the gala invitations. We know that such tasks, events, projects and programs won’t just magically appear and run well without people there to create the magic. Yet, I challenge these service-minded women to identify the volunteer opportunities they feel deeply committed to, with a head and heart-filling connection. Now, I might be making the sorting of art supplies in your child’s Kindergarten class sound far more meaningful than it will ever be, but the main idea here is:

What matters most to you?

Let me dwell in a sea of honesty and self-deprecation and tell you that I am not first to raise my hand when the PTA comes a-callin’. I discovered years ago that this was not an environment where I thrive and present my best gifts. I also recognized that internal eye-rolling and nervous nail biting is not something that will help my kids’ school programs. There was some interior battle going on for awhile with those awful snotty mean girls living in my subconscious. They try their best to convince me that “good moms bring cookies to PTA meetings and they stay late”. I was finally led to the self-realization that I would be better off serving somewhere else.

What did I choose?

Women with breast cancer, dogs who need homes, a small school in middle-of-no-where Kenya, and a group of kids at a local high school who are risk of not graduating. In taking inventory, I found that my superpowers include capturing the spirit of people and animals with my camera, helping to create a fundraising event, writing, and building relationships to support growth. I will not be found alphabetizing novels in my kids’ classroom (much to their relief, I’m sure) or cold calling people for donations. It’s taken me years to recognize my “triangular shape peg-ness” when faced with circular shaped holes in the land of volunteerism. It’s taken even longer to not feel guilty about it. We should serve with joy and an excited heart…I believe this happens when we recognize that the gifts we possess are specific…diverse abilities and talents are poured into chosen people for a reason.

Yet, I will say that everyone can wash dishes, put away chairs, serve at a shelter, or cook for a neighbor in need. These circumstances pop up all over the place (especially when you’re part of a church community) and such serving is joyful, fulfilling and valuable. Whether a person chooses to wash dishes at every church picnic depends on their burning desire to serve in this area. It’s possible to have a running schedule for a cause you believe in and sprinkle in the occasional Sunday school teaching opportunity. Yet, trouble brews when the list of causes and occasional opportunities overshadow a day-to-day existence and already-packed schedule. Visualize the Sunday school gig being parlay-ed into  a month-long thing because there’s a constant need and someone is not able to say “no”.

Are you that woman?

That selfless, I’m-here-to-help, whatever-you-need, “Oh, it’s no trouble”, “I don’t mind at all” sweetheart whose volunteer list is rolled out on the floor like a roll of Brawny paper towels? Do you ever ask why this is? Do you kick yourself around the block for over-committing yourself?  Is there exhaustion, resentment, complaining…burn-out …loitering in your heart? This is a good time to grab your own lapels (hard to do, but so effective)….

blogsimplicityQuestionstoAsk

1) Which of these volunteer opportunities have significant meaning and personal investment in my life?

2) Which of these opportunities would be the easiest to let go of?

3) What will I say when I tell this organization that I’m no longer going to be volunteering?

4) How will I keep myself from taking on more opportunities to serve when I’m trying to pare down?

It’s a cycle friends…even (gasp!) an addiction of being available to do what others ask of you 24/7. Own your gifts (maybe that’s the first step—really identifying what those are) and then plugging into a few places that fit into your life. Pray and ask for opportunities to jump in your path that will Lego themselves into your gifts without force. We’re not talking about wedging yet one more commitment into your schedule like stuffing a pro wrestler into a pair of Spanx. It shouldn’t be stressful and a source of moaning and complaining (that’s your first clue that it might be best to let it go).

If you’re smiling and humming while driving to volunteer somewhere, that’s a good sign.

Go with it…and don’t obsess that you can’t fit in more.

More does not prove your worthiness.

You are worthy simply because you are.

Part of that worthiness lives in the gifts you use to serve others.

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2 thoughts on “Four Questions for the Chronic Volunteer

  1. our school’s PTA (it’s counterpart anyway) has a push to “match our volunteers with their passion” we are a public not for profit charter school with 36 hours of parental involvement required per year–BUT we write and receive a lot of grants for teacher training (waldorf teacher training) and one of the big qualifiers for us is having our volunteer hours recorded and reported–the more hours logged the more involved we are the more we receive to train our teachers(our district doesn’t really throw charter schools a bone we pay for everything even our electricity but I digress) so when we work to match our volunteers to their passion the work they do is a pleasure not a hindrance not another commitment but a “hey I love doing this!” I’d rather cook a meal and feed 200 hundred people than be stuck working at field day in a water ballon booth–when you do what you love it’s not a painful commitment BUT I do understand over committing and I’ve been guilty and had to pull back

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