I want to start by telling you that I was volun-told to write this story.
Yes, you read that correctly.
When I told NextGen MilSpouse’s Managing Editor Michelle that I gave up volunteering she said, “You have to write about that!” So, I guess I haven’t totally given up volunteering?
Let’s start at the beginning. And by the beginning I don’t mean my life as a military spouse, I mean long before that.
Let’s go back to high school. I was that girl – student government, newspaper, dance team, NHS, tennis team and an outside student organization. Oh, plus school – including as many AP classes that I could take. How I didn’t drink coffee back then, I don’t know. But I was crazy involved with everything that I loved and that never stopped.
Fast-forward to my life as an Army wife. I jumped feet first into joining our FRG as a key caller and our base spouses’ club as newsletter editor, while working a full-time job, going through my first deployment, and starting graduate school. (Don’t worry, this time I had coffee.) Around that time I got this magnet.
To say that this is beyond accurate about my life is an understatement. I love helping others – be it family and friends, an organization that I care deeply about or just helping out my co-workers, that’s who I am.
So when life started overwhelming me during my husband’s reintegration, coupled with grad school, work, volunteering, social life, I cut back.
By cut back I mean I was treasurer for our FRG (which was less active thanks to the unit being home), attending grad school, and had switched to part-time work. I guess that I had really cut out spouses club duties (but still volunteered at special events when I could).
The next year, having finished grad school, I went back to my old habits – this time as co-leader of our FRG, newsletter editor of spouses club and working full-time.
By the time we PCSed the next year, I was EXHAUSTED.
I told my husband that I couldn’t do it all again. While I loved the friendships that I had made and the work I was doing because of my volunteering, it was time to focus on job hunting at our new duty station, oh and figure out what life would be like with a kid because we decided that we were ready to add that responsibility (I mean joy) to our life.
So just like that, my volunteering stopped.
Here’s how I did it.
How I Gave Up Volunteering
Get Your Spouse On Board
This is the crucial first step. Not that my husband was volunteering me for everything already, but being the first line of contact for things like the FRG, him knowing that I didn’t want to take on more in my life right now meant that he didn’t have to say “Let me check but probably” when he was asked if I could volunteer.
Instead, when approached by his commander if I could help out, he said,
“I will double check but most likely not.”
This meant that yes, he would confirm with me, but most likely I would not be volunteering with his new unit.
Stay Firm In Your No
I joined our new base’s spouses club as a member and at my first luncheon they just happened to be starting board recruitment. They asked me if I would join the board. Fortunately my go-to job (newsletter editor) was already filled.
But, I also told them that we had just moved there and I was looking for a job and having a baby and just really didn’t know if I could take on more things. I didn’t want to commit to anything that I wasn’t sure that I could actually do.
If you volunteer a lot, you know that life happens and sometimes people volunteer and can’t make it, leaving you to scramble to find a new person. I’d rather not put someone in that position, so saying no upfront helped me set my boundaries and hopefully allow the organization to find someone that really can take on the job.
Know What You Are And Aren’t Willing To Do
I am still happy to cook something for a fundraiser or event and even volunteer at something if it fits into my schedule. These sporadic volunteer duties are great for my ever-evolving schedule. It allows me to be involved without doing something all the time.
It also means that I can say no when something really won’t work out. Like not working the late shift at an event because I know I can’t stay up that late or working a weekday event because of work. Being honest with yourself and the volunteer coordinator is key.
Don’t Feel Guilty
There are moments that I feel bad.
I really do.
I know how hard it is to find volunteers.
I love helping out these organizations.
I like being involved.
But at the end of the day, volunteering right now is just not in the cards for me. And I have to remind myself of that when I see those sign-up sheets.
Can I make it work? Not if I want to stay sane.
I know that I will volunteer again, but I just can’t do it now.
Focus On Your Priorities
My No. 1 priority after we PCSed was finding a job and having a baby. I knew that if I started filling my time with other things that something would fall to the side.
And, I knew that my job prospects were mostly the opposite direction from the base, so if I did make a long-term commitment, I’d be spending a lot of time in my car and it may be hard to juggle a new job and volunteering. So while I attended events for those organizations that I normally would be volunteering with, I spent my free time applying for jobs. For me, that was my priority.
Sure things could change, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I know that I will volunteer again, but for now I’m not. I stopped cold turkey and don’t regret it one bit.