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Guilt makes the world go 'round

The note read, "We need parent helpers for field day." Code words for: Your kid will be the only one with no mommy there if you don't show up.

Ahhh, guilt -- the best recruiting trick in the volunteer handbook. And we women are the first to succumb.

All it takes is an empty sign-up sheet and next thing we know we're committed to weeks of collecting the junk for the annual rummage sale. A well-crafted ad campaign can make us feel personally responsible for the rain forest, and if the Save the Cat Foundation needs our help? Well, how can we possibly say no?

Guilt may induce you to sign up for some thankless task, but it quickly loses its motivational power as the job wears on. And that's where the whining comes in.

We volunteer for something we really didn't want to do, and then we whine, moan and complain about how tough it is, completely oblivious to the fact that the person we're complaining to usually is another volunteer. Or at the very least a stressed-out, underpaid professional who would just as soon do it themselves as listen to us grumble.

A friend of mine signed up to help with the kids' picture day and then had to cancel at the last minute when her daughter got sick. After the volunteer coordinator snapped at her for her inability to find a replacement, my friend decided "if that's the way they treat their volunteers, I'm not going to help them out again."

We all want to be appreciated, but sometimes there's just not enough love to go around. As someone who's been on the receiving end of the last-minute cancellation phone call, I can tell you, I usually deplete my short supply of sucking up skills getting everybody to sign up. Mollycoddling them during through the process is more than I can muster.

If a volunteer drops dead from exhaustion in the middle of the woods, does it count if nobody sees her? It depends on whether she wanted to do the job in the first place. Volunteering to ease our guilt or because we expect a heap of big "thank yous" along the way is the wrong starting point. It breeds resentment and makes us cranky as all get out.

Before you settle onto the couch, let me tell you the world really does need your help. And if you're trying to break out of your own funk, giving to others is one of the fastest ways to do it. But instead of simply responding to somebody else's desperate plea for help, take the time to create a meaningful experience for yourself.

People rave about working on Habit for Humanity houses because there's visual proof of their progress and they become emotionally connected to the outcome. The secret of actually enjoying a volunteer experience is figuring out what you're good at and applying your skills to a cause you believe in. Choose to put your talents into service and you'll lose the guilt that sucks you into indentured servitude.

It's not about racking up enough merit badges to get you into Martyr Hall of Fame. It's a chance to change the universe, one task at a time.

I think you're the perfect person for the job.

Field day starts at 9. Wear your name tag and be on time.

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