Over the years I’ve tried to pay attention to my ability to do various things. However, I don’t always manage to notice the relevant patterns until I’ve ended up in (multiple) difficult and/or embarrassing situations.
Volunteering was one of the patternless things in my life until this month.
From the time I was 12 years old, I volunteered once yearly at an amazing rummage sale. It covered several acres and has only gotten bigger in the years since then.
Volunteering at that rummage sale was one of my very favorite things to do as a teen and young adult, through my mid-20s. It’s run by a charitable community group in my former town and I volunteered as many hours as I could possibly manage during the two weeks preceding it and even during the sale once.
Some days I would volunteer from 7am through 9pm just because I loved doing it. Being able to pre-buy used books before the crowds descended was a side perk, for sure, but I loved everything else about the job too.
I loved organizing the books, hanging out with fellow bibliophiles (book lovers) of all ages, being fed, having unlimited free coffee available, and even having access to everything I could possibly need to do my job. Need a bookend? Check in the knicknacks room! Need tape or paper? It’s with signage supplies! Want a tablecloth for the fine and antique books table? Check the pile of linens over in bulk clothing!
The experience was a vacation from my real life that involved being surrounded by literally thousands of books while helping a charitable organization raise money to help my community.
For me, life doesn’t get much better than that!
After we moved away from that town, I sought out other volunteering opportunities, knowing that volunteering was enjoyable for me and helped others – something that I’ve always tried to do.
Unfortunately, those volunteer opportunities were different in a very fundamental way than my previous experience had been. They weren’t once a year, fully immersive opportunities. They had less of a workload on a day-to-day basis, but were also quite ongoing.
It’s taken me nearly a decade to realize that I don’t do well with ongoing volunteer positions. I’m all motivated at first, I do stellar work that’s above and beyond what most volunteers do, and then…
I get overwhelmed, gradually lose my focus, and eventually just stop. Of course, I do all that while feeling incredibly guilty about my inability to manage the simplest of tasks or even contact people for help.
Most distressingly, I’ve found that I have a great deal of difficulty resigning from such positions too. The day-to-day workload is so light that I always think I can manage to get back into the swing of things, there’s nobody to fire me for letting things go, and I just kind of slowly disappear until my job completely stops being done.
I’m in the process now of resigning from my main volunteer position with a local support group. I have new people lined up and we’re meeting in the next couple of weeks! I’m hoping that I can successfully manage to hand this organization over to them and leave. I have to do this before the guilt pulls me down into a deep depression. I already feel worthless since I haven’t properly fulfilled my duties in well over a year at this point.
In addition, I’ve found myself needing to resign from being a moderator in several Facebook groups and on a sizable message board. I’m not sure how long it will take for me to go through with it, but I know I have to resign soon.
It’s not fair to myself, to the groups, or to the other moderators for me to be hanging on like this. They need to be able to replace me and I need to not have the weight of my undone duties hanging over my head.
BUT, recently, I rediscovered my love of volunteering at one-time/once-a-year events. Those are the volunteer positions in which I truly thrive.
Earlier this month I had an opportunity to volunteer for an event through my sporty kid’s sport’s organization and it was amazing! I volunteered for a good 18 hours over the course of one weekend and had an absolute blast doing so. I hope they do it next year so I can volunteer the same way again!
Now, given my recent experiences with volunteering, burning out, and feeling useless in other groups, I had originally signed up to volunteer for only 4 hours. I did that because I really wasn’t sure how much I could handle, but once I was there and familiar with the venue and what the different volunteer positions involved, I was all in!
So, from now on, I think I’m going to stick with short-term volunteer projects that only last for a couple weeks at most. Semi-permanent or permanent positions, on the other hand, seem to be best avoided. I know that I have issues with both continuing and quitting volunteer positions that are ongoing and I need to respect those challenges in myself.
I’m thrilled to rediscover how much I enjoy and look forward to volunteering at short-term, once-a-year events! Those are clearly the types of events that I should seek out and help with. I came out of that weekend energized because I had helped people and done a good job all while respecting my limitations by not signing up for too much before I knew that I could handle more.
Most importantly, I know now that I can volunteer and help out in my own ways while respecting my specific needs and limitations.
When I volunteer that way, everyone wins 🙂