Thursday, August 2, 2012

Volunteering - Value Your time

They say that volunteering can add years to your life. A person who is busy helping others never gets bored, feels needed, and just doesn't have time to be sick or die early.

I think I must have built up some pretty good "long life" karma over the years. While my kids were young, it was PTA, 4-H, weekly helping in the classroom, Girl Scouts, Little League score keeper, and the Discovery Center of Idaho. While I was running my quilt shop, every semester I taught a two week quilting unit to the sewing classes of the junior high school across the street, and I organized an annual quilt project for the needy. In Washington, I tutored English as a second language, and in Japan I helped teach quilting classes to two groups of women. When I moved to Mexico, I taught ESL to a class of young adults and I helped to found a quilt guild where I gave weekly demos and taught classes.

Then I remembered why I had wanted to retire early - to spend time developing my art and to travel. But I was already so over-committed that I didn't have much time to follow those dreams.

It is so easy to over-volunteer here... orphanages, animal shelters, theater groups, writing groups, teaching English, the annual chili cook-off, church groups, old folks homes, kids' art classes, the American Legion, the Cruz Roja (Red Cross). And that is just a very few of them.

I'm sure it's the same just about everywhere. There are so many interesting opportunities, so many people and organizations that need help. And you suddenly have all kinds of free time since you retired. It can be hard to say no. And it can be even harder to quit once you've started.

I've learned the hard way that it is important to sit down and think about what is important to you at this time of your life. Once you've figured out what your interests and your goals are, look for a way that you can follow your dreams and give your help where it is needed. Be pro-active in your choices. Don't wait until they come begging; volunteer where YOU want to spend your time.

Value your time; you worked for a lot of years and deserve some time to do what you want to do. When someone asks, be polite but firm. If it sounds like something you'd like to do, great! If not, respond with "I'd love to, but..." Don't apologize; it's your life.

After my first year with the quilt guild and the English teaching, I backed off a bit. Instead of teaching, I did some training sessions for the teachers. I let others take over some of the work of the quilt guild. Then, finally, I had the time to do some traveling.

I didn't quit volunteering completely, but I choose when to donate my time and limit it to one-day or one-weekend projects: a single day of tending bar for the chili cook-off, making up trivia questions for the American Legion's Jimmy Buffett Shrimp Boil, donating lap blankets to the retirement home and old clothes to the orphanage thrift store.

There are lots of ways that I can volunteer while still keeping control of my life.

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