I used to be a volunteer junkie. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t volunteer much. When they did, they didn’t seem to like it. I did some volunteering in a children’s hospital while in college, but that’s about it. I didn’t understand volunteering until I met my husband and his amazing family. This family volunteered for everything. They volunteered to coach, organize and participate in any way for several organizations. They even had their children help out when they worked at carnivals and festivals and spent several hours helping out in more ways than I can count. My first volunteer experience was coaching my nieces in softball. I was hooked.
The volunteer high
When I had kids, some of the volunteering stopped until my children started preschool. So many of the moms complained about being the classroom volunteer, but I loved it. I loved getting to know the kids and teachers and hanging out with my own children too. Then they began elementary school and volunteering almost became a part time job. I participated in everything I could and had so much fun. It kept me busy and happy, but surprisingly, as my kids grew older, there was a cost, and it wasn’t pretty.
The last few weeks of my middle son’s senior year I was in volunteer hell. I was one of the lead parent volunteers for his senior class activities. I was creating and editing his senior video, and I was lead parent for the senior picnic, which I also did for my oldest son. Oh, and we were leaving for vacation immediately after school ended. To say I was overcommitted is an understatement. While each thing was worthwhile, the combination was overwhelming. The irony is that I volunteered to help my family, yet they were the ones I neglected because of the volunteering. In general, they dealt with my commitments with grace and patience, but my lack of focus as a mom certainly showed in my home, the lack of family dinners and the final report cards of two of my children (their worst quarter ever).
Climbing out of the abyss
Although I felt some guilt for my mom fails, I’m grateful for the awareness I got. I decided in the volunteer world, I didn’t want to be in charge anymore. Becoming a worker bee, showing up to work and going home was lovely. I learned I love to create videos with others’ pictures, and I’m good at it, except when the computer randomly deletes the file I’ve been working on for days. This is when I’m grateful for a computer savvy husband and son who know how to recover auto saved work, and I recommend that everyone have at least one computer genius in the family. I also learned I can throw one heck of a picnic for 400 students, a fun graduation party for my son and pack for a vacation in two weeks. I learned that pulling an all-nighter isn’t as much fun as it was when I was younger, and I don’t recover as quickly either. From that, I realized that even though I can do those things, I don’t want to anymore.
I felt much wiser, I said no to a new volunteer experience that would have helped out a friend, but wasn’t something I wanted to do. Thankfully, my understanding friend sensed my volunteer burnout and didn’t push. After enjoying a wonderful vacation with my family, I made adjustments and changes. I learned to only say yes to volunteer opportunities that made me feel great, not the ones that needed someone to fill a spot. I volunteered quietly, and I invested time taking care of myself, my family, my home, my career and creating my best life. While I loved my volunteer days, I feel much better now that I’m in recovery.
I still love volunteering, from afar
If you still love volunteering, hurray for you! The world needs you and your amazing energy. If you’re like me and need to step away, hurray for you too. Taking care of yourself is important work. I hope you got there before I did. If you’re thinking you feel like overwhelmed me, speak up. Ask for help. Graciously bow out where you can. It’s amazing how understanding people are when you tell them you’re burned out and exhausted and need to take care of yourself and your family. If you’re afraid, understand that the world will keep spinning if you step away. Yes, you may feel a twinge of guilt, but better to feel some guilt for stepping away than feel guilt for failing your family or yourself. You can do this and live a life that lifts you up rather than tears you down. Be brave, Be bold and live your best life. As always, thanks for being you and have a great day!Click here for ways to support the Moving Toward Better mission.