I used to be a volunteer junkie until volunteer burnout took me out.
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t volunteer much.
When they did, they didn’t seem to like it.
I volunteered at 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.
Even before I joined the family, I learned the volunteer way.
I started at a softball coach for future nieces and their friends.
I was hooked.
The volunteer high
In addition to softball, I coached volleyball for our church.
I helped with festivals and organizing events.
My husband and I spent our weekends helping wherever and whenever we could.
We felt connected and important, and it was fun.
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, 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 created and edited his senior class video, which showcased all 400 class members.
At the same time, I was the lead parent for his senior picnic, a job I did for my oldest son’s class as well.
Oh, and we planned a vacation immediately after school ended, so packing was part of each day.
To say I was over committed is an understatement.
While each thing was worthwhile, the combination was life sucking.
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 realized I didn’t want to lead volunteer committees and organizations anymore.
it was time to step back and let others lead, so I did.
Becoming a worker bee, showing up to work and going home was lovely.
I rediscovered my love of creating videos and did that for several people.
I learned I can throw one heck of a picnic for 400 students, but it was infinitely easier to show up to work my shift feeding the students and leaving when my time was over.
While I was able to throw a fun graduation party for my son and pack for a vacation while volunteering several hours per day, it was more fun to do it without ignoring my family and home in the interim because I ran out of hours in the day.
I learned that pulling an all-nighter isn’t as much fun as it was when I was younger, because I don’t recover as quickly as I used to.
From all of that, I realized that even though I can do amazing things when I have to, I don’t want or need to put that amount of pressure on myself anymore.
Someone else will step up, or they won’t, and it’s okay either way.
Recovery from volunteer burnout begins
The first recovery step was learning to say no.
The freedom was scary at first.
So much of my idea of who I was came from my volunteer work.
I had to redefine myself completely, but in the end, I felt so 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 the needed adjustments and changes.
I only said 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, a new career and creating my best life.
While I loved my volunteer days, I feel much better now that I’m in recovery from a huge case of volunteer burnout.
Redefining the volunteer life to avoid burnout
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 keeps spinning when 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!