Volunteer managers: We are a sick bunch, aren’t we? We cry during the movie “Ghostbusters” because we feel bad for the ghosts. We stop and get out of our car to shooo a squirrel across the street even though he looks at us like, “hey, I’m walking here, crazy human.” We smile through pain and wonder how we can be better. Sigh. But no, I’m not suggesting using toilet paper to hastily scribble a “things to do list” with that pen tucked behind your ear while you’re..well you get the idea.
Jeez Louise, what extra work can help then, if I don’t mean staying late and spot checking those packets the new volunteer, Kira put together, because, frankly you don’t trust that she did them perfectly and mainly because you’re so tired of hearing that little huff sound from the events planner when she speaks of volunteers?
Burnout can occur when we feel like we’re not in control. Requests are pouring in from all departments. Volunteers need additional training. Recruitment has been spotty lately. There’s that volunteer that “needs a good talking to,” according to the director of operations. It’s overwhelming.
Some things we can ignore or put on the back burner, but they don’t go away, not completely. No, they are still there. That stuff rattles around in our heads along with things like forgetting to give back the dollar a staff member hastily gave you the day when the snack machine ate your money and you started pounding the life out of it.
So why take on more? The key here is to infuse yourself with an emotion other than the one that is crushing your spirit. The key is to be in control of something, something that lifts you up, that sparks your creativity, that gives you satisfaction. Something you own.
I’m convinced that one of the main reasons I stayed in this profession so long was the freedom to create something (and honestly, nobody gave me that freedom, I just took it). For me, volunteer management sometimes felt like trudging down a long, dark alleyway that eventually opened up onto a fertile plot of ground. I could see the fruits of possibilities taking root there: The trees, the flowers, and heck, sometimes the giant fountain of playful dolphins spurting water in all colors (if I had a really ambitious project in mind).
Creating a project that reflects your creativity, your passion, your idea of wonder injects hope into your veins. Just go to Disney World with a small child and look into their face. Magic does exist. We just need to find it in something we can call our own. We need to find it when we’re frustrated we can’t place highly skilled volunteers because there’s no pre-designed role for them. We need to find it when we see the possibilities our volunteers can offer our clients to make their lives better. We need to find it when our volunteers want to do more. We need to find it when the daily grind wears us down.
I recall the rush of emotions at the implementation of new projects. I felt terror, anxiety and doubt. But more than anything, I was exhilarated. And that exhilaration allowed me to view all my other duties in a different light. The mundane or challenging duties lost their power to crush me. And in my new mindset, I was able to find creative solutions to challenges that previously wore me down.
Successful projects you’ve created give you a new perspective, one in which you are a capable leader. Instead of waiting for some miracle day when everyone recognizes all your hard work, take it upon yourself to show how capable you are. How innovative you are. How committed and talented you are. Don’t wait for overwhelmed staff to give you this boost. Give it to yourself.
Because feeling like we’re not in control leads to burnout. All those mundane duties rattling around in our heads drag us down. But you know what else drags us down? Knowing, and I mean really knowing that a project, or a new way of engaging volunteers would work wondrously and then not doing anything about it. That’s the most soul crushing of all.
Sometimes, (not always-I’ve had a few projects fall flat but I learned from them and started another, better one) a new project, one you own with your passionate heart and creative soul can help put that wonderment back into your life.
It’s ironic. More work = less burnout? Our best hope for encouragement = us?
Yeah, we may be a sick bunch. Wired a little differently. We lift up everyone else. Let’s lift up ourselves. Let’s take control.