30 April 2008

Volunteering my Life Away

I've been told on many occasions that I volunteer for too much. I do too much for too many people, and it's no wonder that I don't have time to do everything that I want to do. I should take better care of myself. I should learn how to say no. I should organize my time better. I should do less.... It seems like the majority of my time is spent in "volunteer" work for one thing or another.

The dictionary defines "volunteering" as:
"1. To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will.
2. To do charitable or helpful work without pay."
Well, I definitely do my share of charitable or helpful work without pay. But, how often do I really have the luxury or performing that service of my own free will? I feel like I'm "voluntold" much more than I "volunteer" to do things!

Don't get me wrong. I like to help out when I can. I feel like I should give back whenever possible. Besides, usually, I'm "volunteering" for something in which my kids are involved. I know that it is important to help out and to be involved in my kids' activities. That's what being a parent is about. It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm being taken advantage of. Then, I feel guilty for not being more cheerful in my service and I end up killing myself, bending over backward to fulfill commitments that I didn't even necessarily agree to.

Last night, for instance, I was up until 2:30 in the morning working on stamping gift bags for the preschool. I've done these gift bags every year since my son was in preschool 6 years ago. One of those years, I didn't even have a child in the preschool! When it started out, the preschool would purchase the gift bags through me from Stampin' Up! I would sell the bags to them at my cost, so I didn't make any money from it, but it did help me to make my quarterly sales quota, so I didn't mind putting in the extra work. Besides, it was only for two classes back then - I think it was about 30 or 35 bags. The next year, they asked me to do the bags again for them. I didn't have any kids in preschool that year, but it was on the same arrangement, so I figured what the heck? So I agreed to stamp the bags again, even though the number needed had gone up to about 45 or 50 . Each year, the number of bags that I put together has grown. That was no big deal, because it meant a bigger order for me... Until last year, when they decided that they could get the bags just a bit cheaper from another source. Still, I was expected to stamp the bags. I did, of course, because my daughter was in the preschool and I felt like I should help. This year, however, I was a bit irritated when the bags were brought to me (a friend works as an aide at the preschool, and the preschool director asked her to bring the bags to my house for me) - and no one even asked if I could stamp them this year! I'm sure I would have said yes, but even so, it would have been nice to have some say in the matter!

This isn't the first time that a task has been dumped in my lap without anyone bothering to consult me about it. I can' t even begin to count the number of times when I have been told at the last moment that I have been tasked to do something and people are counting on me to get it done.... Usually, I rise to the task and I do manage to accomplish whatever it is that needs to be done, but sometimes, it takes all that I have to do it - and often, I wind up pushing aside many of the things that I need or want to do for myself in order to take care of the things that other people have volunteered me to do. So why is it that I feel so compelled to take care of everything, even when I didn't have any advance notice or when I wasn't even consulted on the matter? I don't know, really. I just seem to have the type of personality where I feel like I should be taking care of everyone around me - like a big ol' mother hen.

I seem to push myself harder and work longer and more on those surprise volunteer efforts. Why do I do such things? No one would really blame me if I said no, would they? If I said that I just can't do it on such short notice... Take last night, for instance. When Aimee showed up and said that she had brought me the bags to stamp, she asked where I wanted her to put them. My first reaction was to tell her to dump them into the nearest trash can - and I blurted it out. Of course, she was pretty shocked, but when I backed up and explained my frustration, she understood completely. She even offered to come help me with the bags if I wanted. So then, I felt incredibly guilty for being so whiny about the "request" for help. I know that they have just gotten so used to having me stamp the bags every year that they probably didn't even think about asking me if I could do it again....

Anyway, I just sometimes get to feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. Sometimes, I feel like I just can't carry the weight any more, and I just want to sit down and stop working. Then, I feel guilty for indulging in a pity party and I push myself harder than I really have strength to try to be all and do all for everyone. I guess I just need to find a balance....

So I guess that is why I'm grateful today. There is a volunteer appreciation dessert at the school this afternoon, and I was invited to come. Really, I don't do the things that I do in order to get praise, but it's nice to be recognized every now and again. I wasn't sure if I would be able to go to this today, because I couldn't find a babysitter for the kids. I called every friend I have (except for those who live too far away or those who work during the day), and I couldn't find anyone who could babysit for me. Finally, I called another friend from church. I knew that she would be invited to this volunteer appreciation event, so I thought I'd call to ask her what she was going to do with her kids. (I figured that if she was going to take hers along, maybe it would be okay to take mine as well.) It turns out that she had forgotten about it, and she wasn't planning to go - so she offered to watch my children for me!!! I'm so excited!

I know that it's just a little thing, but today, I just really need to have someone say thank you, you know?

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