The Revolution of One, Step 2: Identifying Your Strengths


One of my major goals for the next year is to realign my life, so that it is reflective of my priorities and belief system. I have a mishmash of donation/volunteer meanderings that put a bandage on my guilt about not doing enough. I’m ripping off that bandage, shedding the guilt and figuring out how to better give of myself, my time and my money.

In Step 1, I listed the basic causes for which I would like to do more. Step 2 involves being honest about what my strengths (and weaknesses) are in regards to what I can do. Unless I am honest with myself about my capabilities, I will not effectively spend my time or money supporting the causes in which I believe.

Charities and volunteer organizations will tell you any help in any form is useful, but we know that we are more likely to do what we enjoy, what feels like helping to us. There have been many volunteer events that I’ve shown up for, where there were too many people and I stood around for hours doing essentially nothing. Yes, it’s better to have more than less, but I used up my time and energy and contributed nothing.

Bureaucracies, unfortunately, tend to waste a lot of resources and I can’t wait for them to get more efficient before getting down to business. I don’t suffer fools lightly, which is problematic, given my history of being a fool on numerous occasions. However, as an introvert with a developing rebellious streak against authority and organizational bloat, I have to set my own course and find my own options.

STEP 2. What can I contribute to the causes that are important to me? What are the skills and strengths I bring to the table? What brings me joy to do for others?

I volunteered to chair a fundraiser walk-a-thon for 600+ students at my daughter’s school in the spring. While having several “what was I thinking moments?”, this volunteer opportunity plays on my strengths – organization, multitasking, hard work, coordination.

I know that if volunteering requires chatting or standing at a booth or table promoting something, I’m going to be irritable within the first 10 minutes.

If volunteering requires that I sit around in meetings while people try to aimlessly get things done, the cussing in my head will shortly be showing up on my face and in my body language (arms folded tightly across my chest, sprawled out in my chair like I’m at home on the couch, pained and twisted expression on my face). I’m the jerk who pipes up “Are we about done here?” Yeah, I’m a real prize in meetings. Not a strength.

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t do volunteer stints that challenge me. I regularly volunteer at my daughter’s school. I’m not really a little kid person. I feel like Frankenstein, but those cute buggers keep handing me metaphorical flowers – smiles and hugs. I’m not good at it, but it’s such a lovely experience that I keep going back.

Many years ago, I volunteered at the Special Olympics, escorting one of the competitors around. I hadn’t spent any time with this person, nor they with me. It was awkward and I ended up feeling like the one with special needs (what a euphemistic phrase – don’t we all have special needs?). It was too brief a time to understand what they needed or to connect to feel useful.

When I was in college, I went to a nursing home and wrote out Christmas cards for those who wanted to send cards, but found writing difficult. And just like when I was a Girl Scout, doing the same thing, my “people” would depart this world on a regular basis. I stopped going because a lady I’d grown particularly fond of passed away and I didn’t know until I happily showed up to read her a book the next week.

As I hit middle age, I have a higher level of acceptance of mortality, so helping the elderly is back on my radar. I am able to imagine being isolated, my peers and family gone or living far away. I can empathize more effectively and my experiences with my own elderly relatives have made me more comfortable.

These are the keys to me effectively volunteering – developing relationships and having time with individuals.  I’m good at organization, problem solving, public speaking. I have writing skills, bread baking skills, literacy skills. I enjoy these things and some of them, I’m very good at doing. Small talk, sales, meetings, quilting – not so much.

Take a moment.

What volunteer experiences did you really enjoy? Or dislike? What are your particular strengths and weaknesses?

How do we translate these skills into helping others and supporting the causes we find important? Tune in this weekend for the remaining posts in this series The Revolution of One, Step 3: What to Do, What to Do? and The Revolution of One, Step 4: Turning Beliefs into Action

On an administrative note, this is the last day to submit an entry for The Green Study Holiday Humor Contest (by 12:00pm US CST). There have been some wonderful entries and I’ll be announcing the winners in tomorrow’s post!

27 thoughts on “The Revolution of One, Step 2: Identifying Your Strengths

  1. Green Study – Would you please get out of my head and quit reading/writing my public thoughts! 🙂 This is so crazy that you and I are at the same place right now! You are laying out the blueprint of what I plan to do this year.


    1. Great! I’d love to hear what you finally come up with for a “plan”. It really is a process to figure out what will work for each individual, which is why I’m trying to break it down into manageable planning steps.


  2. One thing I do is use my writing skills. A former colleague of mine, from my Ogilvy days, started a Foundation a couple of years ago, in New York, to stop abuse. He is a victim, himself. I do a lot of pro bono work for him. It is a cause I believe in, he means a lot to me and it is a great way for me to help, get involved and support a cause that I am interested in. Over the years I have done it very often for various causes and charities I want to support in what I feel is a meaningful way. I have sat on a couple of Boards, where I felt I could do meaningful work; and as I have mentioned, my hospital volunteering is something I truly love. I work in areas where I can use skills I have (emotionally charged) and I feel like I am really helping people.


    1. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, volunteering should involve some sacrifice of time, money and effort, but like any habit, there has to be a level of reward or satisfaction to continue doing it. Using our skills, putting our time where we feel it is useful, doing things we enjoy – these are all great foundations for a lifetime habit of giving. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and examples!


      1. You’re welcome. There is a volunteer activity at the hospital where I volunteer, you might enjoy. Perhaps, if a hospital where you live, has patients in this situation, they would start an initiative:

        This hospital has many seniors who ‘live’ their while waiting for placements in nursing homes. Which can take years. Many, many of them never have visitors. So we have this initiative called Project Lilac. Different volunteers visit them. 3 times a day to visit. To chat, to read to them, to help feed them, whatever they need. Your ‘shift’ is regular so they get to know you.

        Given your interest in seniors you might enjoy something like this. Also, does your community have a Meals on Wheels program?


        1. Those are great ideas and I have Meals on Wheels on my list as well (things to check into). My mother-in-law lives in an independent/assisted living building not far from us and I’m also checking out the volunteer opportunities there.


  3. I generally prefer physical type work nowadays i.e., feeding, setting up, cleaning etc. Years ago I did more “heady” stuff however I know there’s a great need for worker bees to make things happen. For me there’s a certain gratification I get out of doing the most humbling work.


    1. I like a balance of physical and mental work, but I also know a lot of people just want to be told what to do and not think about things. If I’m willing to do the brain work (I do accounting, taxes, payroll, etc.), it is one of the skills I can offer.
      One of my favorite jobs ever was building bridges and mulching walking paths at a park reserve. I love working outside, so I’ve done gardening and weeding for people.


  4. This is precisely the way to go about helping. Sometimes warm bodies are all that is needed. Other times someone to fire up folks. It depends.

    But you’ve challenged me to try and fugue out my priorities and abilities.


    1. When it comes down to juggling how I spend my time, I’m just a little less willing to show up in case I’m needed. As I seem to have less time and feel more frazzled, I’m trying to go into the new year with an actual plan. Whether it is worse or better than what I’m currently doing remains to be seen!


  5. I like where you’re going! Pete’s comment resonated with me. For those who enjoy simple physical labor, a stint with a Habitat for Humanity crew makes for a fun and productive time. They’ll put you to work according to your skills and ability. (I’m very anti-social, but even I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve done it. And I’ve never seen anyone standing around with nothing to do–way more a case of it being hard to find a moment to take a break.)


    1. Habitat is on the list, too. I’m trying to find ways to have my daughter with me as well and Habitat can always use cookie bakers – they give cookies out to the volunteers. I’m working on a list of ideas for Saturday’s post.
      Standing around drives me nuts. I’m pretty proactive, so if there is something to do, I’ll jump in and do it. It’s those scenarios where there is literally nothing to do but chat with the other volunteers. I’ll often volunteer to go home then!


  6. I love sharing time with old folks. When I took care of my cousin, I was in a care center every day, I guess I miss that. Maybe I should get back to it?


    1. I think it always helps if you enjoy doing something. Since there are always nursing homes and care centers, even in small towns, it’s easy to find one. Sadly, so many of the residents are simply left there to fade away. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go out that way. I hope that someone will still talk to me, besides underpaid nurse’s aides.


  7. I am the irritable aimless meeting attendee rudely interjecting “are we about done here?” when the bureaucracy gets in the way of getting things done . . . I am not a quitter, but have had to walk away from a couple volunteer stints after exhaustive rounds of that scenario. Volunteer time may not be 100% stimulating and fulfilling all the time, but it is important to periodically reassess how you want to spend those usually limited volunteer resources and hours. In the end both you and the organization you volunteer for are better for it. Good post as we look toward 2013 ~ Cheers! ~ Kat


    1. Volunteering, like any other habit, is easier if there is a sense that I am actually doing some good. Right now, I feel like I’m expending energy in a lot of directions with no focus. With limited time and resources, I want to be more deliberate in my intentions. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kat!


  8. I’m really liking this series – I have never given the process a lot of thought or looked for where I fit in best. I tend to end up either doing the design or the grunt work – whatever is needed. I find I prefer connecting, so no matter what the task is I get more out of it if I make a personal connection, either with someone I’m helping or someone who I’m volunteering alongside.


    1. I think the connections made while volunteering are really what is most enjoyable for the helpers and those being helped. I’ve been in situations where I volunteered and it was such an “us” and “them” scenario – people can be quite resentful of charitable help when it’s set up like that and it feels fairly sterile to the volunteers.


      1. So true. I went to Joplin several times after the tornado – every time I went I was connected with someone who needed help or wanted to help, and I feel like I left with new friends.


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