Not all about me?


Becoming a volunteer is a refreshingly humbling experience.

I decided to to so as a way to help fill some of my free time that stretches before me thanks to having a newly emptied nest.

I blame my misconception of how my first volunteer activity would go on the fact that I had gotten used to the hyper-competitive corporate group meetings.

You know, the ones where you have to go around the room to introduce yourselves, say something witty and answer questions like who would play you in the movie of your life and what book you’re reading now.

You have to think up intelligent answers so you look interesting and relevant.

But you don’t want to be “that guy” who is too cocky and full of himself. Nor do you want to be the “crispy critter” who says something so dumb that he just steered his entire career onto a rocky shore.

So as I was preparing to leave for a tutor training class for the adult literacy league where I had signed up to become a volunteer, I started running the scenarios through my mind.

How would I present my occupation?

Would I say my job title and place of employment, or just the general industry category?

Would I tell them I’m reading “Book of Ages” about Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane, even though I think it’s boring and may not finish it? Because even though it’s what I’m really reading, it sounds pretentious.

And what should I wear? Etc., etc., etc. I was focused on me, me, me.

Reality check. No one cared to know anything about me.

At all.

I signed in, took a name tag and sat down in a room of about 20 other volunteer trainees ranging in age from late 20s to probably early 70s, a mix of ethnic backgrounds and genders.

We were asked to go around the room to state our name and how we had heard about the organization.

The answers ranged from an online search for volunteer opportunities to seeing a newspaper story about it to hearing a guest speaker talk about it.

My answer: a friend from work had told me about it years ago.

The reason they asked that question?

Not because they were interested in us. It was because they wanted to know if their volunteer outreach methods were working. That’s all.

As the 3-hour training session went on, they told us about the students we would be working with: 65 percent do not speak English as their first language.

They told us about the workbooks we would be using and how to use them.

They told us how to think outside the box to make the sessions with the students interesting.

They told us how to fill out monthly progress reports online.

They thanked us every 5 minutes for coming in, as there are 80 students who have been on a waiting list for a tutor for 3-7 months.

They said they would match us up with a student next week and we could start tutoring them once a week, for roughly a year, after that. But never once again did they ask us anything about ourselves.

Because it wasn’t about us. It was about the students. And that’s as it should be.

As I drove home, it struck me how splendidly freeing that was:

To not have to think about how I might measure up next to someone else in the room.

To not have to think about the fact that someone else in the room might want to try to take my job.

To know I was appreciated by the organization simply for being there and agreeing to do a task to the best of my ability.

I think I’m going to like this.

What about you? Do you volunteer?

If so, I’d love to hear about how you got started and why, and how it has worked out for you.


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