When I lived in Knoxville, TN, the college football team, Tennessee Volunteers for UT, ruled during football season. The locals had sayings like “Orange You a Volunteer?” and Rocky Top Tennessee was a song they sang with gusto and pride.
Tennessee Vols came by their name honestly: history shows them helping out at the Alamo. And future generations have always stepped up to the plate to give aid and assistance in various capacities.
Actually, I find the USA itself to be a country filled with the volunteer spirit. Our rescue teams were the first to show up in Greece, Turkey and now Haiti. Individually, we are a nation of spirited “givers” in churches, schools and organizations. Even our beloved writing organization, the RWA and its sister chapters can’t run without its volunteers.
I know. I’m one of them. But not in a big way. How I help is small compared to the help so many others give and to the time others give to RWA and my local chapters, Southern Magic and Heart of Dixie.
So before I go on, let me say THANK YOU. You all rock.
That being said, I want to say, before one volunteers to do a task, know how much time it will take and how it will interfere with your goals; especially your WRITING goals. I evaluate every volunteer duty I agree to do, within the RWA and in my community, in terms of the impact it will have on these things:
1) My family
2) My health
3) My writing time
I also evaluate anything I am asked to do in terms of how they fit into my TOP FIVE PRIORITIES. They are:
1) Family’s emotional and physical health, including my own.
2) Pursuit of a professional writing career
3) Household maintenance-clean, shop, run child here and there
4) Preparing my DD for college; traveling to visit colleges
5) Positive social interactions
If the volunteer activity doesn’t enhance or fit into my top five priorities and/or the volunteer activity INTERFERES with these priorities, I say no. No explanations necessary. Period.
Why? Has anyone met that volunteer who says YES to everything any one asks of her/him who then drops the ball because they are TOO BUSY and they use work, life etc as the excuse? I know people like that. I’ve also made that mistake. I thought I’d stopped making the mistake, but I did say yes to a few things last year that interfered with my writing and my enjoyment of my family because I was so caught up in the moment. I fulfilled my obligations in one instance. In another, I quit citing family reasons. And the next time someone asked me if I would do something, I asked “what is entailed?” And I asked “if life hijacks me, are you okay with me quitting?” After I received my answers, I said yes to both requests.
Face it. One feels a bit “important” and “special” when one is asked to help. One wants to “belong” and volunteering is a way of making friends and becoming part of a group. People are vulnerable to this compulsion. I was. Especially after a move where I had to make new friends and wanted to fit in.
Lesson learned. I had forgotten my priorities. And before I started this new year, I made sure I had them listed and TAPED to the the cabinet door next to the fridge and my calendar, also next to my writing area, and IN MY PURSE.
I’m not saying don’t volunteer, I’m saying volunteer wisely. This is super important for writers, published and unpublished, to remember before they say yes. Many of us have jobs and families taking time away from our writing. If we say yes to everything, when do we write?
Ultimately, if something is going to happen, more than one person should run the show. Many hands make light work. If there aren’t enough people saying “yes” then we need to stop and evaluate the production of the show.
So volunteer. Be part of the team. But remember your top priorities and understand how saying yes will impact them. Ask a lot of questions. Evaluate your time commitments first. Say you’ll get back to them after you check your calendar. And remember this too, it’s okay to say no without explanation.