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So, Monday morning at oh, about 8:45, a prospective volunteer, Josh pops into the office. Unfortunately for me, I have an office that is accessible from the street. No receptionist buffer, no long trek to get to me; I’m smack dab in position to be the first breathing being you encounter. Now, this is not just any nutso morning. No, this is the morning after an entire week, including Saturday, all day Sunday and Sunday evening of continuous events culminating in a huge one on Sunday.

Why would I come into work on Monday after such a week? Smaller events were happening Monday and there was much to still be done. Anyway, there was also a meeting involving volunteers that was to start at 9am and I knew that the volunteers would wander into my office because they had not been informed as to where the meeting was being held.

So two staff members were in my office while the volunteers poked their heads in, asking questions about the meeting. In the midst of it all, Josh walks in. The staff members finish their conversation and leave. Josh, who I had spent an hour and a half in a walk-in meeting the week prior, asks me, ” I was cleaning out my library at home and wanted to know if you could use some books for the patients to read?”

Are you kidding me? Do you walk up to a fireman who is unraveling a hose and ask if he likes apple turnovers?

I let it show. I let all the stress and overwork and bleary eyed tiredness show. In all my years, I’ve not done that but once or twice (ok maybe more, but not a lot) and every time I’ve felt really exposed. No, no, gotta have this cool, collected persona. The volunteers don’t need to see the stress and the work, that’s not their burden. I apologized to Josh and explained that this time was not an ideal time (which is why I explained to him last week that I could not contact him until later this week but he did not listen) Sigh, so I ended up spending another 30 minutes with Josh so that he did not leave with the feeling that he was a pest or a burden.  (Isn’t he though-so far, I mean?)

Josh is a retired early, very cerebral man with no partner, children or other relatives close by except a mother in a town a few miles away. He told me initially that all the “fun” stuff he was supposed to do in retirement was starting to get old. After an hour or so, he told me that he thought he could really fit in with us and that I used “the type of words that made sense to him”. These words I used were “meaningful experience”, “journey”, “path”, “not just a number”, etc.

So, Josh is a person who will be a really good volunteer. He just caught me at my worst on Monday. There are people who will, when poking their head into the office, say “oops, I can see you’re really busy” and people who don’t or won’t see it at all. That’s where the stress trap lies.

Snapping at Josh is just as much about me as it is about cleaning up the relationship with him. I created my own problem by letting stress show. I had to spend another amount of time I honestly wasn’t prepared to spend answering his questions. I will have to call him the end of this week and be prepared to have an action plan with him or he’s gone.Volunteers can give us lip service by saying they understand we are busy, but the truth is, they want our time. And they need our attention.

Now, the question is, “do we stop recruiting volunteers when we are at our own personal maximum?” No, we don’t, because there is always that perfect shell hidden amongst the broken ones and as we walk the beach, we are trained to look down.

If Josh is indeed that perfect shell, he will overlook the stress and insanity on Monday. I sincerely hope he will, for our patients’ sake, for his sake, because I know we can work together and he will do great things and ultimately for my sake, because, even though I know I’m human and sooo incredibly capable of failing, I want to think, somewhere, deep, down inside, I’m a fairly good volunteer manager.

We’ll see. It’s not showing today. A good night’s rest takes care of that. Or maybe, that little voice after a chance encounter with a prospective volunteer jolted me back to reality. Take it easy and try not to let it show.