A couple months ago, I decided that I needed to write a book. The title will be How I Stopped Volunteering for Everything and Nobody Hated Me Because of It. A bit of a mouthful, sure… maybe it needs some work. But, I came to realize I had a problem with volunteering and I needed to do something about it. The biggest red flag was when I realized that while I didn’t volunteer for things because I thought it would make people like me more, I sometimes did it because I worried they would like me less if I didn’t.
So the first step is this year: research. Which means I actually have to stop volunteering for things. This summer, I was approached about an “upgraded” position with the PTA.
I should note that I had never actually intended to get involved with the PTA. It just sort of happened and I suddenly had responsibilities and a title and wondered how that happened.
I held my breath and typed back the words I had prepared for moments like this but had never used: “Thank you for considering me for this position, but I must decline.” I didn’t offer an explanation. I didn’t offer to do the job in case they didn’t find someone else. I just said no. And the PTA president has been fine with it.
I did say I’d keep doing the job I’m already doing for the rest of the year and train the person they find to take over.
Another time this summer, I accidentally volunteered to be cookie mom for Katie’s Girl Scout troop.
I’ve been given a hard time about the word “accidentally” because how do you do something like volunteer by accident? I think a better description would have been “by reflex” or “on autopilot.” I had already sent the email saying I’d volunteer before I had time to remember that I am doing my non-volunteering research.
I stewed for a day or so, trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I decided to come clean to the person I had volunteered to and explain the situation. This time, I did offer to do the job if she couldn’t find anyone else. But, she was awesome and totally supported my effort to stop volunteering. She even found someone to fill the spot.
And then, I shed another position. It was a small one — just an hour or so a month, but it gave me lots of grief because I kept forgetting about it. It wasn’t hard, and I actually liked the work I was doing, but I ended up feeling terrible about missing it when I did, or stressing that I was going to miss it, or remembering at the last minute and having to reschedule everything. So I ditched it. I know they will find someone else.
I’ve still got other volunteer jobs, and they’re keeping me plenty busy. But I like these jobs now, and I feel like they are more manageable, and enjoyable because I have chosen them instead of just doing them. They are enough, and I am starting to feel like I am enough, too.
And nobody seems to like me any less.
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