This is Part 2 in a series of posts on labyrinths ~ structures that channel our creative energies in all the right ways.
I grew up in a household where volunteering was a way of life. Nearly every night of the week my parents were going to a music rehearsal or a board meeting or delivering meals to someone who was sick. My mom has a long and illustrious career in unpaid labour.
What I love about my volunteer-centric upbringing was that it grounded me in the value of serving others. When I see people waking up to the importance of giving back, I think of myself as a teenager: teaching Sunday school, managing the yearbook committee, joining school council, leading a small group on my youth music team. Clearly I learned that lesson early on, and carried it with me into adult life.
A funny thing happened along the way, though.
Serving others became a way of punishing myself.
I gave away my extra time and energy ~ gave until it hurt ~ and didn’t have enough left to properly take care of myself. Which meant that I was too depleted to write.
There’s such warm cultural affirmation in volunteering. People thank you and admire you, and you bask in the assurance that you are doing more than your part to keep society going and take care of the needy. You know that you are not lazy or selfish.
That’s why stopping or cutting back can take tremendous courage.
I admit, I took the easy way out ~ I had kids, which is kind of a free pass to dropping all of one’s commitments. But as I handed over the volunteer bookkeeping and quit the groups and committees, I also had a new understanding of why I was doing it.
Why settle for serving people in a way that hurts you, when you could serve people in a way that nourishes and strengthens you?
I didn’t need some fancy rubric for figuring out which commitments were hurting me. I could tell by the way I dreaded the events, and avoided the emails, and put off the work. I was volunteering out of obligation, not joy, and while people may have benefited, I couldn’t sustain the effort.
Not to mention that my strongest gifts and best contributions sat on the shelf.
Dropping most of my volunteering created a spacious labyrinth that I can walk with a spring in my step. I have the empty calendar and uncluttered to-do list that frees me to serve where I’m most effective and enriched ~ writing books, coaching clients, and caring for my family. I haven’t lost the value of service my parents instilled in me ~ I’ve just redefined it to keep myself healthy and happy.
No doubt there will come a time when my capacity expands and I can take on a more active helping role outside my immediate circle. Until then I’m at peace with the belief that serving myself is just another way of serving others.
Because we are all connected.
What’s been your experience in giving away your time to help people? What changes have you made to ensure that your artist self gets what she needs too?