A common sentiment I’ve heard throughout my years of volunteering, even from those who give more than I have to give, who offer more valuable skills than I have to offer, is that everything we do as individuals is but “a drop in the bucket”.
I abhor this statement and reject it as a perfunctory perspective on volunteerism.
Yes, the idea is that we need to keep working, collaboratively so, and eventually the bucket runneth over. But in such a complex political, socioeconomic, and culturally diverse world, giving back to your community shouldn’t be viewed as a drop of anything. It can seem fruitless, at times, in a world where there is such inequity, such lack of justice, never mind the conflicting viewpoints on what comprises a just and equitable world. Volunteer burnout is very real. The world can’t and won’t run on such unenthusiastic quips.
Conversely, there are many wonderful, energetic, brilliant leaders who inspire volunteers every day. The plight here is that there are many excellent opportunities to get involved. I’ve had the fortune to work with a number of such folks, and as a result, I’ve taken on some new community-related adventures. Between this, a new career, and a snowballing list of half-baked ideas to implement for both personal and professional development, I’m feeling a bit like this:
To preserve some semblance of sanity, I engaged a new mentor and spent some time with him last week to gain perspective on community engagement and leadership. I asked questions, such as: how can we best add value as a participant or as a leader under different circumstances? How do we start a meaningful movement? What does engagement really mean? How can we empower others? Et cetera, et cetera. My mentor was generous and patient, and shared both pointed feedback and perspective based on a substantial wealth of experience. It was enormously constructive to have this conversation.
He offered this metaphor, which I’ve returned to a number of times this week. It’s far more inspiring than drops in buckets.
…find a spot where you feel like a medic. The war may wage around you, but you are actively doing something, anything meaningful to help.
The medic metaphor is more relevant to my desired style of volunteerism and engagement. Field medics help those who need help. Medics fight and defend, direct and take direction, and make difficult decisions. Further, medics are both reactionary and proactive. Before they go to battle, they think through what they’ll need in their tool kit to respond to injuries. When battle happens, they address anything and everything they can with the resources they have on hand. Moreover, they work to end the war.
Individual work, then, is critical, because each action made does in fact matter. Imagine what we could do together.
The strategy then, is to find that sweet spot where I feel like a medic. Where do you feel that way?