Welcome back to our periodic column, Boundary Boss, all about setting boundaries to improve our lives.
Today we tackle how to set limits on our volunteering.
Volunteering is awesome! I am volunteer-in-chief! It’s how the non profit, church, community, school worlds go ’round. But all too often, we let volunteering take over our lives to the detriment of our family or job or health.
I had dinner with a friend one evening when she shared about recent uncomfortable conversation. She’d agreed to substitute teach when needed for a children’s Sunday School class. If you’ve ever volunteered for any kid activity, you know how generally short-staffed groups are on volunteers. The next Sunday, the organizer approached her with details of the year’s curriculum since she’d designated my friend as the class leader!
My friends eyebrows shot up and she politely replied, “Oh no, I’m sorry. I volunteered to substitute if a need came up. Not to lead.”
“Oh I know,” came the pleading reply, “but we don’t have anyone to lead the class and we so desperately need you to serve this year.”
Worthy, worthy is this cause. But it wasn’t something my friend could take on. She already had competing church responsibilities not to mention a husband and kids to juggle on Sunday mornings.
She wisely replied (because this friend is SO wise), “I’m sorry. I cannot lead this class. If you need me in a pinch, please call. But I cannot serve every Sunday.”
After sharing the story, she looked at me and said, “I don’t mean to sound uncaring, but my dad taught me to ask, ‘is this my problem?’ And this was her problem, not mine.”
We have plenty of our own problems. All too often, we adopt other’s problems as ours too. But we need to ask, “Is this my problem?”
I’ve seen this happen personally. My husband agreed to help support the coach for our kids sports team. He was named head coach because “there was no one else.” Well now, that’s not exactly accurate, right? There were a dozen parents. Why did he need to serve as head coach just because he offered to help?
I’ve had this happen in organizations I work in. If you don’t lead this project/gala/fundraising, it won’t get done.
Ask yourself: is this my problem?
(That sounds so mean, I totally realize that. I wish you could hear my voice. I’m saying it all so earnestly.)
Your job, kids, marriage, health are your problems. If you can distance yourself a little from the ask, then it will help you discern the correct answer.
If you say yes to someone else’s problem, then you say no to something on your plate for which you do have principal responsibility.
So the next time an ask is pressed on you, ask yourself some key questions:
- Do I want to do this? Would I enjoy it? Does it fit my skill set?
- Is this my problem? Do I have direct responsibility for the outcome?
- What do I sacrifice with my yes? Who suffers if I agree?
- Do I really have time?
Take a step back and don’t allow yourself to give a response on the fly. Think about it. Set boundaries. Your life will be the better for it!