Volunteer Fatigue and You!

When your volunteering your time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that energy is finite.   Especially in the world of construction where your body is taxed heavily.  Many times the energy output is strong from a few hours, to a few weeks.  There are those who seem to be applying for their angel wings, but for many a realistic expectation of output is important. What we don’t want is broken people.  This message then is for those who are getting out there and helping in your community already, and can feel the energy dwindling.  As a disclaimer, I am writing this as a fellow human.  I am not an expert, I am writing from the front lines.  I myself experience fatigue, which makes this a lesson important for me.

As a side bar, for those still watching the action on the TV, wondering what all the commotion is, my plea is for you tp get out there and help. Experience the first stages of fatigue, do something that will help you learn who you are.  Most importantly, it will help others in the process. After volunteering, then reread this post.

How to manage Volunteer Fatigue:

1. Understand that energy needs to be replenished.  I was speaking to Michael Hyatt the other evening about this same issue.  Our capacity for energy output is like a bank account.   Continual volunteering can make significant demands on your account at which point a deposit is made necessary.  Eating, sleeping, resting, hanging with friends, reading, mowing your grass, day dreaming on your porch, having a drink can all be ways of replenishing energy.  The important thing here is to check your account, don’t ignore it.  Be realistic with how you feel and make adjustments.

2. Understand where you fit in. Perhaps the worst situation is to show up to volunteer and then stand around without any idea of what to do next.  This is an energy killer.  You can blame it on others, but remember, its important to know what you should do, and shouldn’t do.  A tone deaf construction worker shouldn’t volunteer to sing in a fundraising concert at the local coffee house.   Put yourself to work doing what you love.  One exception would be initial cleanup.  I suppose if you have never cleaned anything, you shouldn’t start at a disaster site, but most are familiar with taking out the trash.  This is an area where most able bodies can fit in.  Just keep a tab on your energy.  We all have different levels.

3. Leadership is pivotal.  Perhaps you are the leader, perhaps you need to ask for one, or perhaps you need to become one.  A leader points the way, encourages, gives energy where there isn’t.  A leader is one who can actually make deposits into your account.  By bolstering the ideal of volunteering, by bringing clarity to a situation, by giving hope and praise a leader can help keep volunteering alive.  As a note, we are all leaders in one aspect or another and its important to foster that inside all of us.  Now be warned, leadership is not bossiness.  There is no guarantee for safety when a tired throng of volunteers is set upon by a bossy individual.

4. Allow time for your normal life.  Dropping your normal life cold turkey for volunteering is probably not the wisest of things.  Some have families that need tended too.  Jobs that must go on.  Finances, yard work, even might I say hobbies.  Its funny, the first day of cleanup after our flood on Monday, all I wanted to do when I got home was to mow my lawn.  If my home front is a mess, its hard to go out in the world and make things happen.  I felt guilty as if someone would look at me and feel that my energy was displaced in the time of crisis.  Budget your time where things that don’t matter, like 5 hrs of TV watching a day, can give way to things that matter.  Volunteering, watching your neighbors kids while they volunteer etc, cooking a meal at home, romancing your spouse.

5. Longevity is the key. By budgeting your volunteer energy, hopefully we all can commit for the long run.  If you don’t think this is important, read about our response to the earthquake in Chili in March. If we end up broken, exhausted, out of energy, the world will be a darker place.  The opposite though is to completely ignore, shut off the neighbor across the street.

If you haven’t been volunteering, you might find out that by helping others, your life will change for the better.  I dare you to find out.

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