On volunteering

A little backstory on how this came up: last year, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I was so impressed, I followed her on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog. On Facebook, she often asks questions of the “Do you do X or Y?” or “Do you do X, and why?” variety. This week, one of her questions was about volunteering.

My first reaction was that I barely have time for work, writing, and family. I don’t have time for that beyond the very little I do to support my son’s band (work in the student store roughly once a month and bake occasionally). Then I wound up swamped because I was working on two different things I’d volunteered to help with (for SFWA and GSSW, two different writers’ groups I belong to), and the only reason there wasn’t a third was all the snow and ice this week (this being the week I was supposed to work the student store).

Then, thinking about it further, I realized I’m actually a permanent volunteer because I’m a moderator at the Forward Motion for Writers forums.

I always tend to think about volunteering as going somewhere on a regular basis — I’ve considered volunteering at the local library for example — but that doesn’t cover much of my actual volunteer activities. What the activities have in common, though, are that they’re things I enjoy doing, things I feel competent at. I don’t have to work in a soup kitchen or visit a nursing home or spearhead some grassroots organization. I literally can make a difference doing things that suit my personality.

Part of me still wonders if I’m cheating somehow — wouldn’t it be better to run for office in GSSW, or be active in the PTA, or . . .

Another part tells me I am being useful, an we can’t all take on the same tasks. I think that’s the part I’ll listen to.

What about you? Do you volunteer? How do you decide where to put your time and energy?

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  1. I had this same conversation with my parents years ago. They had to point out that things like being active on writers groups, moderating, teaching classes, and helping people out is volunteering, and that it takes a lot of time. Because the people doing it often don’t count it, there’s this sense of not doing enough. As usual, you’re an overachiever :).

    • Yeah, seems strange that all that stuff I do as a matter of course actually counts, you know? 😉

      And it sounds like, as usual, you’re right there with me.

  2. I volunteer. I feel it’s an essential part of being a fully functioning human being. I volunteer for my project management chapter (profession), and volunteer for the Northern Gila County Fair (community). I do random acts of volunteering, like spend an occasional Saturday morning working with the Forestry service doing trail maintenance (hobby). Sometimes the volunteering takes big bites of time, sometimes not. And yes, helping moderate a web site is volunteering. Congratulations and rejoice in using your talent and enthusiasm helping others.

    • That’s a great amount of volunteering, and it’s really varied as well! Congrats on all the ways you give back.

  3. I typically overload myself so volunteering is difficult. That said, the kinds of things that work best for me are online, and when I have a little control in the timing. My role as an editor and submissions manager at Waylines is all voluntary. I volunteer for certains things in my writers’ groups as well.

    My daughter and I have been thinking about volunteering at a cat shelter we like, but I haven’t figured out how to fit the time in just yet. We’re trying.

    • Yeah, it seems easier to volunteer for things online because I’m always here in cyberspace anyway . . .

      Good luck figuring out how to fit the cat shelter in! 🙂

  4. I’ve had to cut back on my volunteer activities because I’m taking care of my mom who is in ill health. But mostly what I do is cook for our church activities and the local family shelter and a rotating homeless men’s shelter. Cooking is my thing. When I am no longer my mom’s primary caregiver, I’m going to take training and volunteer to teach people to read. That’s been on my “bucket list” since I was a teenager.

    • Caregiving is a huge amount of time and energy!

      Cooking is a good thing to do. 🙂

      I did volunteer with the literary group at the library in Berkeley, back when I was trying to figure out what to do with myself if I wasn’t going to be a scientist. I worked with this wonderful woman from Nepal who wanted to be able to read road signs and pass her driver’s license test. I’m glad I did it once, but I found it challenging and much slower than I’d expected. Good luck with it!

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