, , ,

I have this wonderful volunteer, Magda, who has all sorts of life experiences, college training and has lived in many interesting places. She has dabbled in mysticism, spiritualism and healing. She is fascinating to listen to and a pleasure to be around. Every time she comes in, I carve out some much needed time to sit and talk with her. She not only gives me a break, she makes me think.

I asked her one day about some of the group exercizes she has participated in, thinking that I might be able to adopt some into volunteer orientation. The volunteers always seem to get a lot out of groups, and it gives them a chance to participate and explore.

Magda thought about it and then offered an exercise she felt was enlightening. It goes like this: Two people sit facing each other. They take turns asking the question, “what do you really want” over and over again. The question becomes the nudge into helping people discover their inner hopes and desires.

Thinking this might be something worthwhile for volunteers, I asked if we might try it. Madga went first. I asked her the question and she talked about peace and serenity. I asked it again and she talked about her place in the world. I asked again and she elaborated on her life and her inner desires. It was wonderful.

My turn came next. She looked at me squarely and said, “what do you really want?” At that moment, instead of voicing all the wonderful things I wanted to say or thought I should say, my mind shut like the hatch of a nuclear submarine. Nothing came out. I looked at her blankly, so she gently asked again, “what do you really want?”

Images flooded into my head. World peace? A hot shower? A bowl of Cheerios? I couldn’t think of a thing I wanted. Magda, sensing my frustration, said, “just start small, like a candy bar, or a sip of lemonade.” Again, my mind closed. “I can’t,” I whispered, horrified that I just proved there is something really wrong with me.

Thankfully, she laughed. “Your reaction is not that unusual,” she said. “It mostly happens to people in helping professions. They’re so busy that they never stop to think about what it is they personally want, because they are too concerned with what others want and need.”

That made me feel much better and got me to thinking about volunteer managers. We have to be concerned with the wants and needs of clients, other staff, administration and all of our volunteers. We juggle these wants and needs continually, listening closely to volunteer stories, soothing hurt feelings, and probing for motivations. We are on heightened alert at all times. It’s no wonder that we would fail this exercise. It’s not that we don’t know what we want, it’s that we don’t have time to explore it and so, when forced to think about it, our minds just shut down.

Are we important? No, I mean, do we count as individuals, not just as helpers? Volunteer managers can run the risk of losing themselves in the job. If that happens, we’ll be lousy at all the fun group games. I’m going to guess that you, just like I want to participate once in a while.

So, go look into a mirror and ask yourself this question, “What do I REALLY want?” Don’t leave until you get an answer.