Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stepping Up To The Plate

By Martha Reed

A friend of mine asked me the other day just how many projects I volunteered for. Counting the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, and some work at my church, and the other odds and ends I probably volunteer to do something about twice a month. She thought this was extraordinary and asked me what I got out of it all and the best I could come up with was that: 1) it keeps me busy and out of trouble, 2) I get to meet all kinds of interesting new people, 3) I feel better about myself, and 4) sometimes I even run across someone who would make a great character or a situation that fits a plot. The bottom line is it beats the heck out of sitting around staring at the tube.

That made me think of how I came to volunteer. I think I knew instinctively from an early age to offer help without expecting a reward mostly because it was expected of me. Maybe I didn’t get the carrot but I never needed the stick, either. Plus, I learned that volunteering was one way to make sure you always got included in all the fun stuff - indispensability is a powerful tool.

It also helped that I have a very curious mind because curiosity overcomes a lot of situations I might otherwise skip out off because of caution or shyness. I have followed my curiosity down into the holds of ships, into a stall at a Texas State Fair occupied by a very regal and pedigreed stallion, into a Pow-Wow in the middle of Oklahoma. Curiosity has helped me peer into the La Brea tar pits, discover a natural Etruscan spring and wade through some scratchy New England cranberry bogs. When someone asks me if I want to go explore, I volunteer a “Why not?”

My point is this: I want to encourage everyone to think about volunteering at some point this week. Just do one thing and see where it leads you. Don’t be shy. You don’t even have to know the person you’re helping. Just open yourself up to the opportunity and follow it out. More importantly, take a deep breath and volunteer to lead somewhere. I work for some tremendous organizations and everyone helps out but for some reason people hesitate when it comes to stepping forward and taking on a leadership position. Why is this? Is it because we’ve been trained to stay safely in the middle of the herd and that if you lead you might make a mistake? I really don’t know why this is, but my friend and I agree that we see it over and over where the same six people do the same six things. How do we grow the audience participation?

Of course, I do know one way that works, especially in the ‘Burgh. Win the Stanley Cup and all kinds of people show up!

GO STEELERS! GO PENS!

6 comments:

Annette said...

Then there's the other side of the coin...those of us who are desperately trying to train their mouths to form the word "NO."

Personally, I think having coordinated the Pennwriters conference has filled my volunteer-to-lead quota for about five years. Or it should have. But no doubt I'll be foolishly raising my hand for another task one day soon.

Martha Reed said...

Annette, you have dispensation for at least five years!

Since we're on the subject, have you decompressed yet? Hit that point where you wonder, okay, what next? I'm always surprised the day after a big event that all that work is OVER.

Annette said...

Martha, I'm still waiting to "slow down." I'm still dealing with some after-conference stuff. Plus everything that's been needing done this spring got shoved off until after the conference, which means I'm still playing catch-up.

As for "what's next?" I've been writing! I always said that was the plan.

Martha Reed said...

and I can't wait to read it.

FYI: I finished Chapter 18 myself on Saturday. Holy cow - it looks like I might actually finish it...

queenofmean said...

I believe you are preaching to the choir here, Martha. The big complaint among volunteers: it's always the same people doing all the work.
I know I can't just sit on the sidelines & not help where it's needed. Sometimes (okay, most times) I feel like I'm in over my head. But, hey, if those who DO step forward didn't, a lot of good deeds would not get done.

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