Friday, April 30, 2010

Using your gifts in volunteerism

This is a re-post of a journal I originally wrote 10/08/09 and posted on Cafemom. I stand by my position as much today as I did 7 months ago and feel that this is a prudent time to revisit the subject.

I have been thinking a great deal about volunteerism and the use of our personal gifts lately. I volunteer quite a bit and often wrestle with whether or not to take on a volunteer opportunity. When I first started volunteering on a regular basis, I would pretty much say yes to everything and then I would find myself burned out and resentful rather quickly. Over the years I have learned that it simply makes for a smoother ride for all involved if I limit myself to jobs that I am really good at. It just makes so much more sense. I also never realized that in my eagerness to jump in with both feet that I was hindering others from realizing their full potential as part of the group. This realization brought me up short.

We are all gifted in different ways. I am going to use my Christian perspective here, but I believe this message is relevant to everyone, no matter what your faith base. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-28 we are told that everyone has a different, unique gift and that we should use that gift in alliance with one another. This passage also uses the body as analogy to show us the significance of each part. No matter how small or large, each part, when working correctly, makes its contribution to the smooth operation of the body as a whole. So it is with people. In a group, every person has a significant role in the group. Whether it be large or small, each member must pull their own weight or the group will fall apart.

To add to this analogy, I would like to offer this - not only does every part of the body have to be in proper working order, each part has its own unique role and shouldn't take over the function of another part. If it does, then the part being taken over dies away. For example, take a person with a particular problem with his left eye in which his eye is not communicating with the brain and therefore the affected person cannot see very well out of the left eye (amblyopia). It is not that the eye lacks the capacity to see, it simply lacks the brain recognition necessary for sight. Over time the right eye takes on more and more of the seeing power, the left eye get weaker and weaker until it finally stops functioning all together. This in essence renders the person blind in the left eye. The right eye sees most things well enough, the person is able to function well for the most part, but he is still blind in that left eye and the right eye is being strained beyond its capabilities. His body not functioning at maximum levels.

This situation can be avoided all together if the doctor places a patch over the stronger right eye of his patient, thus forcing the left eye to increase its development of communicating to the brain. If all goes well at the end of such treatment, the patient most likely will be able to see clearly through both eyes. At this point, the body is working as it should; all parts are pulling their own weight and everything is in balance.

I have seen this scenario played out many times in various volunteer organization. We are so passionate about the organization itself, we are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the group running, even if the job we take on is not in an area which we are gifted. For a while the organization will operate well, but after a while the strain of overwork will cause problems for us. What we also don't realize we have done in our zeal is that we have taken away an opportunity from someone who is actually gifted in this particular area to serve the organization. Pretty soon that person becomes discouraged at not being used and stops working completely. Then we find ourselves in a really bad position; the whole organization is limping along instead of racing to the finish line because everyone lacks direction and motivation. It is time to regroup, but we have lost valuable time spinning our wheels doing work for which we are not suited and caused others to feel frustrated at not being able to do what they do best.

It is easy to stay motivated when we are doing something for which we have a talent. When everyone is working toward the same goal, in various roles for which they have a gift, then the group really shines. So, we really have to be careful in our areas of service to be cognizant of not only the goal, but also our position in helping that goal blossom. We want the organization to have unity and strength and this comes when all people involved are working the way that is right for them. Then we really don't have to worry about the rest of the group and we are free to focus on our own activity. We should never allow our own motivation to take over the opportunity for someone else to serve. When we are all using our gifts, then no one feels overworked and no one feels under-appreciated or unfulfilled. We end up with a group in which our goals are accomplished and everyone is a winner.