Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Never Volunteer. Well. Sort of.

This may seem counter to my overall message of help and bribery, but it fits in just fine. Before I explain how, however, I would like to give you the story my father gave me on the topic of volunteering that illustrated why not volunteering is a really, really good thing:

Dad and a bunch of other young men whose heads have been freshly shaved get off the bus for the first time at the Marine base for their very first day of boot camp. Carrying their supplies, they line up outside the bus and are confronted by a drill sergeant.

The drill sergeant says "I need 2 volunteers!"

Two hands go up. My father is neither of those two men.

"You two, report to the barracks to clean the toilets! Everyone else, drop your stuff off and head to the mess hall. And Gentlemen, let this be your first lesson: never volunteer."

The moral of the story is that you should never volunteer when you do not know what you are getting into.

This, in general, is a good lesson: don't leap into something without knowing what you're leaping into. I'm sure there are some Mammoths (not especially known for their leaping, but let me have this metaphor!) that wished they'd thought it through before moseying through the tar pits.

It is not always possible to know what's around the next corner, but when you do know, then volunteering might be an option; as I note in my early blog posts, bribing people in advance is a really good idea. Volunteering can be a method of doing a good turn for someone or some project either in thanks or to bank up good will...who knows when you'll need it?

When volunteering, know and enforce your boundaries. Which is to say, volunteering to give a brown bag to five people about X process is very different than when upper management thinks that's swell and wants you to do it at the quarterly meeting for 20 minutes with full PPT presentation.

When you are volunteering, you are agreeing to do a service for a charity or someone else in a charitable way. Many people who are involved with volunteer work capitalize on the fact that we do not like to disappoint or upset people, and put themselves more in a customer seat than in the seat of someone who is--at least in this case--getting something for nothing. Since customers give us money, we work our butts off to make them happy. But charities and folks receiving charitable energy/money/etc. do not have to receive the same quality level of service; its always good if you can put in your best effort, but if you're doing someone a favor, at the end of the day, you're still the one doing the favor--you get to decide the parameters of what you are willing to do, and subtle or not-so-subtle pressure by them should not change that...whether you're giving money or time to build homes for families in need or running that document to the fourth floor for your boss down the hall.

Now, if I could just tattoo that last paragraph on my forehead (backwards), I could work on one of my own weaknesses, which is, as you have guessed, maintaining boundaries around volunteer work. I am a sucker for someone in need.

On that note, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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