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!