On “Volunteering”

dandelion-111014_1280You know those personality tests — Myers Briggs, or the one that identifies your brain tendencies by color?  According to those tests, some people really are altruistic. I know, I was surprised too.  Folks of this type want to do good, change the world, make a difference and all that.  My personality profile does not include this trait.  According to Myers Briggs, I am an INTJ:  Introverted, Intuitive (why they use “n” for Intuitive is beyond me), Thinking, Judging.  Basically, I know that I’m right and I’m not going to tell you why until I can’t stand it anymore and then I have a hard time considering that you have feelings.  In reality, I tested pretty close to center, so whatever.  My point is, I don’t want to save the world.  I care about the world, for sure.  But I don’t feel the need to be the one to lead the saving charge.

Yet I find myself, at this particular cross road in life which has lasted a couple of years longer than I thought it would, being a “volunteer.”  I use the quotation marks because sometimes what I am doing does not meet the definition of the word.  For example, my son’s ski club requires a certain number of volunteer points or we have to pay them a bunch more money.  So I stick stamps on envelopes for the annual fundraiser, work the coat check at said fundraiser and stand frozen at the bottom of the race hill with a hand-timer and a clip board marking the time for each racer. (I refuse to stand at the top after an unfortunate incident involving a coach’s flung wad of chewing tobacco … but I digress.)  Basically, my ski club volunteering amounts to doing whatever earns us enough points to keep the check writing to something just under astronomical.

Over the years, I’ve volunteered to help with all sorts of things, like organizing banquets and decorating/shaperoning/whatevering the homecoming dance.  Way back when, I worked in the nursery and later children’s church.  (Those toddlers were tough, let me tell you.)  More recently, I found myself chief minion for the high school’s graduation next week.  I’m not sure how that happened.  Someone asked me if I could “help,” and suddenly I was the contact person for all minions.  Leader of the minions.  Wooot!

This spring, someone told me that she volunteers for Junior Achievement.  Six one-hour sessions over three weeks. “I could do that,” I thought, “How hard could it be”?  I sent an email to the JA organizer and told her to sign me up.  My husband, knowing me so well, looked at me sideways when I told him what I had done, “What do you get out of it”?  Really?  It wasn’t enough that I was going to give of my time and vast professional and personal knowledge about the ways of the world to a bunch of curious-minded seventh graders?  He knew me very, very well.

Why had I done this?  Assuaging guilt?  Like I would be a complete loser if I didn’t get out there and do something productive sometime soon?  Maybe some of that.  Validation?  Proof that I am still relevant and worth something, even though I’m not going to work every day?  Yup.  Most likely.  But I really couldn’t say.

It took a fair bit of time for me to prepare.  I had to read the materials, watch a bunch of videos, gather stuff, think about what to say and worry about how to react to the kids who would give me a hard time.  Then I had to face those 27 kids, some of whom were so sweet I couldn’t stand it, and some of whom I would probably punch if I had to deal with them on a daily basis. And I was reminded that teaching is really hard, that kids are for the most part awesome, and that sometimes the curriculum should be pushed to the side so that we can play more games.  What I got out of it was a fairly awesome reality check.

So maybe I am not the altruistic volunteering type.  I lack zeal.  I have no zest for getting in there and making a difference. I accept this about myself.  For a long time I beat myself up about not serving on non-profit boards or organizing fundraisers or heading up the PTA.  Enough.  I am not that person.  Ask Myers Briggs.

Bless all of those who schedule the meal deliveries for friends who have gone through surgeries.  Who set up the food drive boxes before Thanksgiving.  Who build houses for low income families.  Who buy the card and cake for a colleague’s retirement party in the conference room down the hall.  Who realize their altruistic selves from giving in this way.  Bless!  Them!

What I now know about myself is that I need a quid pro quo in order for my volunteer satisfaction to kick in:  a reduction in cash out the door, knowing that a friend’s load will be lightened, or realizing that I will get back from an experience with those JA kids so much more than I ever gave them.  I’m an INTJ, what can I say?

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