I Wouldn’t Do It If You Paid Me!

This past weekend, more than 500 volunteers worked together (often in the rain) to bring Denver’s largest celebration of LGBT pride to life. Most of these folks worked nonstop throughout the weekend and for their efforts they received a t-shirt and a couple of meals. As an employee of the organization that hosts PrideFest, I had the pleasure of being the official “weather spotter” for the festival. From my desk 2,200 miles away, I monitored the NWS for any severe weather alerts and passed those along through Google Hangouts. From the pictures and comments coming across Hangouts over the weekend, I’d say everyone had a phenomenal time and would probably volunteer to do it all over again next year.

On the topic of volunteer work…a certain family member and I have had an ongoing debate for years over the merits of doing something just because you want to versus doing it because you expect to be paid. She’s a capitalist through and through and while she can see the advantages of volunteer work, she sees it mainly from the organization’s perspective – free labor = low overhead. Her favorite expressions might include: how can you make any money if you give things away? and I wouldn’t do that if you paid me! God love her, this is the same family member who once asked: why would anyone want to write a book if it wasn’t going to be a bestseller?

Doing good for the sake of doing good, that’s what volunteer work is about. It’s not about money. Whether you are volunteering with an established organization or creating your own volunteer experiences (like picking up garbage while you’re out for a walk or cutting your elderly neighbor’s lawn), the benefits, without a doubt, go far beyond what you might imagine. Your self-esteem will rise. You will make someone else’s day brighter. You will make your community and the world a better place to live. You may even learn something new or have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something you’ve always dreamed of.

I’ve been a volunteer somewhere most of my adult life. The experiences that I’ve had would never have been available to me if I waited until I was paid to do them. In fact, a lifetime is not even long enough to acquire the amount of education and training required to get paid to do some of the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do simply by showing up.

I’ll never be a lawyer, but once I volunteered as an actor in a mock trial.

I’ll never be a doctor, but my time with the Red Cross taught me how to help my community in a disaster.

I’ll never be a marine biologist, but a summer of sea turtle patrol gave me the chance to witness firsthand the life of one of the sea’s most amazing creatures.

Marking our first nest on Venice Beach (2014)

I can’t go back in time to visit the 1800s, but my year at a pioneer museum taught me to value the simpler ways of life.

Me and President Lincoln…honestly…

I can’t singlehandedly end global food waste but manning the compost and recycling station at VegFest gave me the chance educate others on why it’s so important.

And I wouldn’t have the job I have today, if I hadn’t first volunteered to do something as simple as answer the phone.

I probably won’t ever win the debate with my family member. It’s hard to convince someone to see things differently when they are wearing the same worn out glasses every day. And that’s okay, I still love her anyway, and am grateful for the lessons that our spirited discussions have taught me. Namely that she is right about one thing – when it comes to doing good things for others and my community, I wouldn’t do it if you paid me! I will; however, gladly do it for free.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities near you, visit www.volunteermatch.org.

Already a volunteer? What are some of your most memorable volunteer experiences?

**Angie has been right along with me on most of the volunteer gigs listed above. That’s her in the cover photo, collecting marine samples with Florida Fish & Wildlife. She asked that I add in that she feels the same as I do when it comes to volunteering and even though it was a pain to get up at 4 AM, doing sea turtle patrol was by far the highlight of her volunteer resume (so far). This summer, we are volunteering with Society of St. Andrew to glean the Nashville Farmer’s Market. We take unsold produce that would have gone to waste and donate it to local nonprofits, like the Nashville Rescue Mission. It’s a rewarding experience and one that we would probably never have known about if we weren’t for our 2018 Food Waste Project.

Phobophobia: The Fear of Being Afraid

Angie hopped on a plane on Saturday afternoon, bound for Texas and all the fun that her annual visit with her parents entails. I always tease that she’s heading off to summer camp, because just like a summer camp, she almost always returns with some sort of handicraft. One year they made butcher block cutting boards. Another year it was coat racks. And last year, I think they made a table out of pallets. That one did not come back to Tennessee, thank goodness!

This year things could be different though. About a month ago we received one of those calls that no one likes to get. Angie’s mom was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. At only 22 beats per minute, her heart had practically stopped. I won’t say that Angie’s mom is the pillar of health but there was absolutely no indication until that day that she had a heart problem. In fact, she was outside working when she collapsed. I hate to sound cliché, but it really is the truth – you never know when something will happen that changes everything in your life.

Angie’s mom now has a pacemaker and a cabinet full of medications that she never took before. She’s supposed to watch what she eats and exercise, but much like my own mom, age comes with a certain amount of stubbornness and fear. For as much as they fear dying, the fear of change is sometimes even more dreadful.

Watching our parents age, brings many fears for us as well. The fear of losing them to a debilitating disease. The fear of losing them at all, for that matter. The fear of dealing with crazy family members when we do lose them (we both have siblings that have a coin purse where their heart should be – always waiting on some grand inheritance to fall into it). And about that, there’s the fear of having to deal with the stuff that’s left behind – pets, possessions, and property. It’s enough to make you feel overwhelmed at times.

But I don’t want to be afraid.

And yet there are those times when fear gets to you without you ever having invited it in.

“Aren’t you afraid she won’t come back?” my mom asked me as she told Angie goodbye on Friday night.

For hours after that moment, I kept thinking, why would she ask such a crazy question? Should I be afraid? Is something going to happen? Does she have some sort of sixth sense about these things? Again, it was enough to make me feel like I was going nuts. Later, my mom apologized. She said she didn’t know why she asked that question but thought perhaps she might have been feeling a little afraid herself.

But I don’t want to be afraid.

I was driving home from the airport, looking for a nearby Farmer’s Market, when it suddenly struck me – my whole family is always afraid of something and probably always has been. I just never noticed it that much until I grew up. My sister is afraid of being alone. My niece is afraid of adulthood. My nephew is afraid of speaking in public. My mom is afraid of change. And I am afraid of being afraid.

I don’t usually think of myself as a fearful person. I pick up snakes. I eat out of dumpsters. And even after almost drowning, there’s still no place I’d rather be than in the ocean. But lately other people’s fears seem to be sneaking in on me and I am afraid of turning into one of them.

Fear breeds fear. When you question everything and embrace nothing because it might hurt you, you are not living life as it was intended. And I simply don’t want to be afraid, so here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to talk about my fears. Fear likes to lurk in the dark. I will call it out and challenge it in the bright light of day.

I’m going to let go. I can’t control how other people think or act. I am only responsible for me. I will let go of expectations, bad experiences from the past, and unrealistic scenarios that are not likely to occur in the first place.

I’m going to live in the present. This is, after all, the only moment we know for sure that we have. Why waste it on fear?

I’m going to trust myself. I’ve been making decisions for me for longer than anyone else has and even when I’ve made the wrong ones, I still managed to survive. I am going to trust that whatever life brings me, I can handle it.

Take that phobophobia!

What are your greatest fears? How do you handle them?

Cover photo: I wanted to find a picture of the scariest thing I could think of. Sadly, I could not find one of the giant spider above the fridge in our Airbnb in Hawaii so I chose the runner -up. This little gator was a mere 7-feet long and just a few yards from us when we spotted it in the pond of our Florida apartment complex.