Time and trade-offs

This week, I quit my last ongoing volunteer committment and I feel so much lighter.

Volunteering is encouraged in our society, but I seem to lack the personality trait that makes for a happy volunteer. I’ve also noticed that when you give your time away, people don’t value it. I guess it’s human nature not to value things you get for free. Realizing that made my decision to quit volunteering a lot easier.

I especially don’t like groups who use social pressure and guilt to squeeze more work out of people. I resent that kind of manipulation, especially when the group is disorganized and wouldn’t need to ask so much from its volunteers if it were run more efficiently.

These days, I’m much more aware that saying “yes” to something necessarily means saying “no” to a lot of other things (for more thoughts on this, check out Scott Young’s post here). I now reflexively say, “Let me think about that” when I’m asked to do something. This is a big improvement from my old people-pleasing ways. I now ask “Would I rather do this or that?’ to force myself to consider what I’ll give up if I say “yes” to something. Even something as seemingly small as, say, two hours volunteering at the library means giving up two hours of music practice, spending time with my family, writing, working out, loafing, reading or whatever else I might rather do. Explicitly asking myself how I want to spend my time forces me to make a real choice instead of saying “yes” by default.

The only volunteer activity I’ve kept is writing for Postcards to Voters, which is a fantastic organization that allows me to commit as much or as little time as I want with zero pressure and on my own terms. They really seem to understand that volunteers are providing a gift and appreciate any effort, no matter how small. They are also constantly improving their own processes (there’s that deliberate practice again!), which makes me respect them even more.

As much as we don’t like to think about it, our time on earth is finite. Others will gladly seize control of your time, energy, and attention for their own purposes if you let them. Don’t let them.