The rewards of stepping up, even before you know what you are stepping into
We’ve all done it. We’ve also most likely shrunk away from the possibility of doing it. Whether you leap at the chance or cringe at the offer, the question, “Can I have a volunteer?” seems either an invitation to
walk the plank to your doom or a surprise win of the grand prize.
The truth is volunteering can be both a gain and a loss in our lifetime ledger.
I recently answered a pleading e-mail, filled with exclamation points, that can only be summed up as a desperate beg for assistance. No one was in real harm, of course — the conference organizer had been dealt a last-minute diva moment by the panel moderator who bowed out for a reason best described as emotionally driven.
Since I have a reputation as someone who pitches in when needed — it’s that big family syndrome again — the organizer called on me to take over the job. That means I am volunteering many, many hours of my time from now until the fall conference.
Yes. I agreed and I will do what is needed. Without complaining. And it will likely be fine.
I understand these eleventh-hour bouts of drama that throw everyone and everything off.
Ever since I was abandoned as a preschool volunteer for the last-day-of-school picnic, I have been a witness and a survivor of projects, conferences and events where someone did not do as promised — where the other volunteers jumped ship.
Just last year I was on the receiving end of another of those moments of reckless abandonment. My co-leader of a day-long seminar featuring 19 speakers on five panels e-mailed me while I was traveling to Virginia for the conference. Something had come up and she would not be attending. No Plan B. No offer to have someone else stand in. Just goodbye and good luck. Not even an apology.
Oh well, I volunteered for this.
The twist about giving away your time and talents for causes, companies, organizations, institutions and people you believe in is that you never know if you will be repaid a thousand-fold for your
efforts or if the complications will just make you steamed.
I admit that, most of the time, giving my ideas or energy away to the various boards I am on or to the individuals I mentor lifts me up and enhances my life. I embrace the feeling of helping someone who needs it — and appreciates it.
There are other times, however — far less frequent, fortunately — where I find myself biting my lip and lamenting that there are two billion things I would rather be doing than volunteering for this mess.
I guess that’s part of the deal.
You never know which way it will go.
With school back in session this month, a volunteer sheet will be sent home or e-mailed to parents asking for assistance with any of the scores of events and extra-curriculars on the calendar where help is needed.
All of us are in this fall sign-up cycle. At work you may be handed a sheet asking you to commit to either cleaning the kitchen or arranging the monthly happy hour. If your family is like mine, you may already have e-mails circulating about who is hosting the holidays this year, complete with everyone’s side dish assignments.
You never know if a volunteer effort will be glorious or if it will just be another exercise in imagining what you could have done with your time instead.
The reason I most always say yes to volunteering is simple. A stranger telling you how much she appreciated the meal or the event or the advice can have you skipping, whistling and singing all the
way home. Literally or figuratively. The note you get in your mailbox telling you in explicit detail how much your efforts made an impact will lift your spirits for a month. It’s worth the risk, no matter what.
I could count up all the hours I give away and all the energy I spend, and I imagine it would add up to a very long hiatus on a remote island some day.
Or I can count up all the hours I give away and the energy I spend and know any morsel that I get back after an expression of generosity is priceless.
That is why my answer is always yes.Edit Module