I have a magnet on my fridge that says “Stop me before I volunteer again.” I bought it because I thought it was funny ... and I had misplaced my mug from college that said the same thing.
So you can probably guess that I have a bit of a problem saying "yes" to every volunteer opportunity that lands on my doorstep. It started in high school, so it’s only natural that it has extended into my life as an Army wife.
Why so much volunteering? I see it not only as a way to give back but as a way to meet people.
So I volunteered. And volunteered. And volunteered again.
Why didn’t anyone tell me I didn't have to volunteer for everything?
I first volunteered to be a Point of Contact (POC) for our SFRG. Then I joined the board of our Spouses' Club as the newsletter editor. Each had their various duties and meetings, and of course, there were extra events as well. I made some great friends in the meantime and pretty quickly I became overwhelmed. I had very little time to get my work done, let alone have a social life.
It took a while to acknowledge that I didn’t need to do it all,and that I needed to quit.
But I’m not a quitter. I had set goals for the year and wanted to meet them. So I found appropriate times to step down (when my husband switched battalions after deployment and the end of the board year), but the yearning to help out is still there. But I realized a few things over the last year of being so overbooked. These are the rules I've made for myself.
Rules for the person who volunteers too often
Know your limits. I didn’t know my own limits when I kept saying yes, yes and yes. Looking back I’m not sure how I would have known that it was too much for me to handle in that moment, but when it comes to time commitments in a new place, taking it one at a time is better than jumping all in. I know now that for our next duty station. I will take it one at a time, and not commit until I know it’s the right fit.
Say "no." But not to everything. Before I say “no” I ask what the time commitment is and figure out if I have the time. It’s important to know if I’m expected to attend every meeting, when those meetings are, if I am expected to be at every event, and what my duties actually would be. But even if I realize that I don’t have the time: it’s REALLY HARD to say no.
For instance: at my last luncheon as a member of the the Spouses' Club Board I had to remind myself that I don’t have time and not say, “I’ll do it again!” But I did decide that I would still be a member, go to events, and help out when I can, but just can’t sit on the board. And to our single friend who is in need of an SFRG leader in our battalion? Must. Say. No.
Set priorities. Is your priority your career? Family? School? Whatever it is, find what works with your life. Whether that means it is flexible hours or you can bring your kids or you can do the work from home, find out! Will this position allow you to still have time for your priority? If not, say no.
Did I wish someone had told me not to volunteer for everything? Yes. But I learned something about myself -- that I don't need to volunteer for everything. And if you do see me signing up for another volunteer position – please remind me of this post.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Jessica Hall moved to NYC for college, where not only did she discover her love of magazines, food and travel, she met her Army husband. Hall is now the Director of Marketing and Communications for United Through Reading.