Resolving to Let Go More & Live Fruitfully


Well the first week of the New Year is coming to a close and I’m just now getting around to writing up a post about my plans for the New Year.  Wow…talk about getting off to a late start!  I certainly hope this will not be a trend for 2013. 


For the past couple months I’ve been working on a resolution list that has examined the activities I’ve participated in over the past several years.  I’ve been writing notes to myself since I turned 40 and before then I was mentally checking off what needed to be changed.  This is probably because the year one turns 40 is the year one starts taking an inventory of what is and isn’t important.  Those who are older will understand what I mean and those who are younger probably won’t ‘get it’ until they hit their pivotal year.  


So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been tweaking my list of activities and making plans to eliminate, adjust, and add.  What I found is that I volunteer way too much and I don’t spend enough quality time with those who care for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to volunteer and I think it’s an important activity.  However, I have come to realize that volunteering has become a burden, in some cases an unappreciated burden. 


This realization hit me one evening when I had a conversation with a very nice but paid staff member of an organization which benefits from my volunteer hours.  Actually, I don’t just volunteer, I help run a small portion of the program where this person works and I do this because I believe in their mission.  I also understand that if this organization paid every volunteer they would have to shut down their operations, and honestly I believe too deeply in the leadership qualities taught to young people to just stand by and not help.  Plus, by volunteering I can help provide the benefits my children and their friends enjoy from this organization.  However, as a volunteer I can only give so much of my time and money.  I just thought this was understood by all organizations which benefit from volunteer services.  In 2012 I learned differently.  (By the way I’m not going to mention the organization because I think this thread of thought can be applied to just about any group which has developed a lack of sensitivity toward their volunteers.)


So what did this paid staff person say to cause me to reconsider how much time I was spending with them?  Well, there were actually a couple of comments made.  First, I was told that there were additional meetings I should attend because our district was not well represented at meetings which took place quite a distance from my home.  There was another district with another volunteer who was more active.  Okay, well I know the other volunteer.  We are friends and his situation and time commitments allow him to be more active.  Plus, I didn’t realize that I was supposed to be in competition with another district.  To be honest, the program we both help run is just too small, and being aggressive toward one another would only hurt the overall program.   We should be cooperative not competitive.  Besides, traveling to one more meeting would not only take away from my family but it would also cost me precious gas money.  These are two things I simply can not afford to loose.  


Plus, I already devote about a quarter of a month of free time to this organization.  I simply can not volunteer any more time.  No organization should expect their volunteers to give to the point of a threshold of pain.  Once this happens volunteers will stop becoming advocates and supporters.  Actually, once that threshold of pain hits and is applied for too long, volunteers are more likely to become resentful, regretful, and leave.


The second comment which made me rethink my volunteer hours came when I excitedly stated that I had begun working weekends with another group I used to volunteer with.  Finally, I have a paid position I enjoy and after a decade of volunteerism and parenting it is helping me establish a work history.  I had honestly hoped for a little support especially since I had made no statement of terminating my volunteer position, but what I got instead was a remark about my plate being even fuller and the impression that this was going to adversely affect the organization.  My comment back was simple.  “I have to make money in order to pay for my kids to be a part of the organization where I spend so many hours volunteering.” 


If being told that I should attend more meetings didn’t make me feel resentful I can assure you that being made to feel as though I wasn’t giving enough certainly did.   


So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been making a list of all the groups I volunteer to help, the chores I must complete at home, what needs to be completed around the house, and what I would like to accomplish personally and professionally.  Now let me tell you that the list was long and extensive.  It was so long in fact that it covered 4 legal pages.  Perhaps ten years ago I would have been naïve enough to think I could accomplish every task, but I’m 40 now and wiser.  Not to mention I get tired a lot quicker than I did ten years ago.  


Instead of deleting every item on my list I decided to move them to a ten year tentative list.  I then picked the five things I felt were important and moved them to my 2013 list.  Creating two lists allowed me to not only prioritize but it also provided me with a way to keep track of the other things I feel are important right now.  Will my ten year list change in a year?  Probably and that is okay.  Because ultimately what I was left with was a manageable list for just this year.  


I won’t bore you with the details of my resolution list partially because I don’t think it’s important to divulge too much information, but also because my list is very personal.  However, I can say that my list includes a couple of fun activities which will benefit nobody but me, my family, and my friends.  The list also includes many of the volunteer activities I currently enjoy and help run, but on a smaller scale.


In the end, my hope for 2013 is for personal peace and more focus.  Who knows, perhaps by not giving so freely of myself I might even become more valued to those who have forgotten the value of the “volunteer”.  



Weeding Volunteerism

One of the greatest gifts we can give to others is our time.  Another great gift is the freely given money that we earn.  Each is a type of volunteerism.  Each should be treasured no matter how large or small the sacrifice may seem to others.  We truly do not know what is in another person’s heart.  Nor do we know what value they place on their own time or money.  What may seem like a small sacrifice to one person could be everything to another person.

These are ideas I have been examining in my own life.  In the past I have given money and time to causes, organizations, and groups I feel benefit others as well as me.  I generally give time because the majority of my money must pay for bills and the raising of my children.  When I give my time I gain and sacrifice simultaneously.  I gain because I usually meet wonderful like-minded people.  I also usually bring my children to help so they gain in knowledge and work ethic skills.  Their gain is in essence my gain.

However, I also face losses.  These occur within the realm of quality time with family and personal opportunities.  Instead of volunteering I could be working, or spending one on one time with my family and friends, or even allowing myself to indulge in personal pleasures.  Instead, I give because I love to give and because I usually gain more than I loose.  In the past my volunteer mantra has always followed the idea that when the losses become greater than the gains I would stop volunteering. 

As I am growing older and my children are moving on I am noticing a loss in volunteer value for some groups and organizations.  When I volunteer I don’t expect very much.  If I have a warm fuzzy feeling at the end then I feel that the group has done a good job of valuing my time and service.  However, when I walk away feeling as though they expected more and were disappointed in me no matter what the reason, I feel undervalued.  I have encountered a few groups which use guilt to gain more from their volunteers.  This works only because volunteers have big hearts, but it only works for the short term.  When big hearted people realize they are undervalued pawns in somebody else’s success the loss for both parties becomes great.

We should value our volunteers.  This value doesn’t have to come in the form of monetary or expensive gifts.  Instead, most volunteers would be happy with a smile, a free meal, a little gas money, or a supportive hug.  Most volunteers also want to be thanked and appreciated even when other opportunities call.  As I said before, I have volunteered for numerous organizations.  I have given countless hours of time and money to these groups.  Some volunteer positions have been held for the sole benefit of my children.  Fewer have been held to benefit my interests.  All volunteer hours were given because I believed in the value of the group.  With each organization I am acutely in-tune with who values me and which ones just use me. 

Since pursuing my graduate degree, cycling, and hiking interests I am even more aware of which groups and organizations actually care about me as a person.  Honestly, the groups that care about their volunteers are the ones I will continue to stand by when my children are grown and my future career is established.  This is because I want to be loved as much as the animals, nature, children, history, guests, or causes they love.  I am after all a contributor to their cause and should be valued as such.  The same value should be applied to all volunteers.

I have a feeling the next few years are going to present some interesting changes as I begin examining which groups value me.  Using a library term, it is time to weed out the collection.