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Photo by Carlos Cu00e9sar on Pexels.com

We, volunteer managers can get stuck in a rut, even though our days are varied and utterly unpredictable.

I remember acknowledging I was stuck in a rut when I realized I watched out my open door every morning to see if the marketing director was wearing hose, because our policy attire required hose and she was never reprimanded. Yeah, sad, I know.

Recognizing a rut

But it made me recognize I was in a rut. I would arrive, sit down with my coffee, answer emails, make phone calls, then prepare for training, meetings, check ad responses, gather stats and set up interviews. All problems and crazy situations were just bumps in the rut road. Even the volunteer who removed taxidermy from a patient’s home because he couldn’t stand the deer looking at him became a routine challenge.

Ruts are the dangerous, motivation killing, brain numbing enemy of creative volunteer managers. Ruts destroy our ability to move forward.

We can be in a rut and not know it. We move slower. We take on nothing new. We look at the volunteer who, without permission, is rearranging the front office every time she comes in and think, “so what.” Every task and every question seems like another stone on our chest.

Does a pandemic kill a rut?

Even in a world altering pandemic that changes everything, our new routines can seem like weights because we haven’t fixed our old ruts. The rut just went in a different direction.

New circumstances don’t automatically alter old perceptions and old inner challenges. New circumstances often add to the burden.

How did I get here?

So, how do you get out of a rut? For me, the first thing is dealing with my internal perceptions of the rut I created. By that I mean looking at how I perceive the things I’m doing. For example:

  • Q: why do I care that the marketing manager is not wearing hose?
  • A: because I feel there are different sets of rules for favored staff and I’m being treated unfairly.
  • Q: why do I sit and answer email instead of doing something else?
  • A: because it’s safe and I don’t have to interact personally cause I’m unmotivated.
  • Q: why don’t I care that a volunteer is rearranging the front office without permission?
  • A: I do actually care, but I don’t want to upset the volunteer by having an intervention, it’s so hard.

Turning the wheel

To get out of a rut, you have to consciously turn the wheel and find another road. Start small by varying your routine. Read emails at the end of the day. Ask a volunteer to make phone calls. Eat lunch at 10am. Vary your routine so it becomes obvious that it’s not about the order in which you do things, it’s the effort you put into each task.

Take lots of mental breaks. Lots. Lots. Lots. We, volunteer managers need mental breaks in the best of times. Have your quilting or model airplane or unfinished painting nearby and stop, work for a few minutes on your hobby/project/silly fun doodle/whatever during the day. Clear that brain.

Take stock of all your successes. Begin (if you haven’t already) to record inspiration-get a notebook and write down the things that inspire you, including quotes, stories, testimonials from volunteers, family, staff, community and your own experiences. Keep these nearby.

Be un-perfect

Purposefully forget to do something. Yep, not a typo. Prove to yourself that perfection is not the goal and instead, perfectionism drives you into a rut. Own your less-than-perfect self un-apologetically and don’t hold yourself to a standard you’d never place on a volunteer, other staff member or a person your organization is serving.

So, I took my own advice and I wrote this post in one sitting, no revisions, re-thinking etc. It’s a mess, I know. Oh well.

Perfectionism is for rut-dwellers.