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you have never really livedJack is a part-time manager of volunteers at a large animal rescue shelter. His Volunteers do everything from checking animals in to cleaning habitats, interviewing perspective adoptive owners, marketing and raising funds. Besides his volunteer manager duties, Jack is also entrusted with managing the shelter, which is oftentimes a seven-day work week. Jack recalled a day not that long ago that resonated with him. He remembered, “It was a day when major donors were going to be touring the facility. Our parent organization was also sending senior management to have a catered lunch with the donors in our conference room. Volunteers were expected to act as hostesses for the event, and I admit, that pretty much made me mad, but I asked two volunteers, Jeri and Liz, who I really get along with to come, and they decided to bail me out for the day and help.
On looking back at that day, I gotta tell you, I was anxious. I knew that I was a hard worker, a guy who took time with each and every volunteer, so that they could be an extension of me and my drive for a great shelter. I knew that I had brains and talent and was resourceful. I knew I had a head full of knowledge and could wow anyone who came into the shelter with my handle on everything.” Jack stopped there for a moment. “I knew and the volunteers knew that I had the shelter moving along like a well oiled machine. So why was I anxious?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I wanted to show the higher-ups what a great manager I was, and on some level, I wanted them to be wowed and to immediately ask me to move up into senior management. I mean, clearly, a guy like me….” Jack laughed. “A guy like me doesn’t happen every day, at least that’s what I wanted them to see.
But,” he continued, “that day came, and there was a problem with the heating unit and I had to spend my time with repairmen. The senior managers never saw me, not once. Luckily, Jeri and Liz were there. They kept everything on schedule.” Jack sighed. “I was mad, mad at the universe, mad at management and the volunteers, and mad at myself. I seethed for a while in the back room, when Liz stepped in to see if I was okay. I think she saw the frustration I was feeling so she left and came back a few minutes later with a woman about 50ish. The woman had stopped in to make a donation to our shelter. She told me that a few years back, she had adopted a small older terrier named Betsy. I remembered Betsy. Betsy had been rescued from an abandoned house. She was literally found cowering in an empty closet. When we brought Betsy in, she had been so shy, almost withdrawn and we thought that she might not ever get a real home, but the volunteers worked with her until she was adoptable. The woman told me that Betsy lived with her and her mother, but her mother had died last month after a long battle with cancer. She told me that her mother and Betsy adored one another and that she gave her mother a reason to live. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she would always take care of Betsy and she thanked us for rescuing her.” Jack drew a breath. “I had an epiphany right then and there, and realized that I was in this job for the Betsy stories, not for promotions and praise and raises and titles. I had exactly what I wanted. That faulty heater did me a favor. It kept me from trying to be someone I’m not.”
Jack lives in an inside out world, just like every other volunteer manager. I think that deep in our hearts, we are searching for those moments that mean everything to the people we help. The outside world may try to tell us that we need to move up, that in order to succeed we need to have a mouthful of words in our titles. While the outside world might tell us that respect comes with a large office, our inside hearts remind us that self-respect comes from the stories about Betsy, or from volunteers who are inspired by our mentoring, or from clients who make it through their crisis with a volunteer we carefully chose for them.
In the scheme of things, there are those who get to do the work and those who don’t. There’s the medical personnel who save lives and the administrator who makes more money and has a title. There’s the teacher who shapes minds, and there’s the head of the board of administration who makes policy. There’s the volunteer manager who orchestrates pure altruism and the senior manager who sits in meetings all day.
We may not have the largest office or even a quiet one and we may not have the highest salary or even a salary to be proud of, but there is one thing we do have. You know what it is. You feel it inside everyday.