Volunteering gives me an opportunity to gain insight into my character and grow as a man. Each opportunity is temporal and growth is halting but I provide myself small chances to change my character when working as part of a team.
Recently I applied to volunteer and join the Production team. My tribe-mate applied for the Packing-Day team.
Previously our tiny tribe, which is dispersed across states, discussed the possibility of us all coming together for packing day so we could meet face-to-face. I had fielded the idea of coming up to visit the Packing Day Team and bringing up some snack or something.
A manager called and told me that they were short men for the Packing Day team. I was asked to volunteer both for packing day as well as production.
Immediately the little monkeys in my mind started to chatter. The monkey-chatter came fast and furious in two waves.
The first wave was “I don’t wanna.” I’m too busy; I’ll have to give up my weekend. It will be boring. That first wave then was superseded by the second wave – “How much am I ready to give?”
- How much am I ready to give to other volunteers?
How much am I ready to give to call participants?
How much am I ready to give to pay my way?
How much am I ready to give to support enrollment?
How much am I ready to give to support my production buddy?
How much am I ready to give to lead my tribe?
How much am I ready to give to solve problems?
How much am I ready to give to be prepared?
How much am I ready to give to have my life handled?
How much of me do I want to give?
I listened and observed these monkeys in my head. It was my ego kicking in, measuring my willingness to participate. What was a safe, acceptable measurement of participation? What walls could I put up, where could I hide? What lies might pass muster?
I recognized that I was not fully enrolled. I did not own the result. My commitment was conditional.
My tribe-mate and other men were planning to drive 12 hours up from Kentucky and Georgia. They were making a huge sacrifice and commitment. In comparison, I was worried about how much it would cost to take the train to Hartford.
Being conditional about commitments does not work. Commitment means “No matter what”. I tamped down my chattering monkeys and decided to own the result.
Even including me, the team was short men and Packing Day was only a week away. I started calling men, looking for help. I called men who I had not talked to for quite some time, for years, some of them.
Every man said no. I heard my own negative arguments reflected back at me. Like a story in a book, each man responded predictably, according to character.
I have experienced having insight into my character in this way many times over the years. Each time is a new opportunity to change and grow my context.
Whenever an offsite or Motomo event, or a Weekend comes up, I am scared. It is scary for me to leave my safe comfortable home and put my trust, security and well being, at least partially in the care of others, in pursuit of a goal where I don’t know how the full commitment is going to play out. The chattering monkeys in my head go into frenzy every time.
My chattering monkeys need to be ignored. What I’ve learned over the years is that when I go to whatever the event is and come out the other side, I tell myself “Wow what a great time I had.” My fears are overblown and unfounded.
Once I got fully committed the event was easy. I rode up with the women. I was amazed how many men and women volunteered for Packing Day. We had a blast. Afterwards we went out for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.
As it turned out, Packing Day WAS that Weekend. Not enough people registered for the Coed Weekend; it has been postponed and maybe cancelled.
Previous volunteer experiences have taught me to embrace ownership, responsibility and to produce the result.
When I was in college I was a volunteer for a student art and literary magazine. We went out and begged students to submit work for publication. We hired a photographer to assist students to submit their work, organized a jury to select work for publication and we put together and printed the magazine. Finally we had to go out and sell the magazine, sitting at tables in the student cafeteria and persuade bookstores to carry our magazine.
The Magazine Editor, Martha P. Hogan, used to make an ironic joke, quoting the children’s story, The Little Red Hen, “Now who will help me EAT the bread?” She quipped. It did not seem fair that we had to work so hard to give so much, and then we had to go out and push sales too. But that is what we needed to do.
(We got to work so hard and give so much, and we even had an opportunity to push sales.)
Later, I became the Editor. In addition to publishing art, poetry and short stories, we also interviewed a famous artist or writer and published the interview in our magazine.
Some years before, a different set of volunteers had served who seemed to me to be mysteriously cool. One man in particular had once been involved with the magazine and was also the leader of a rock band and a radio announcer on the college radio station. Manny Rettinger had also started a record company and an art magazine, amongst other things. I wondered how he did so much. He seemed to be everywhere.
I enlisted a volunteer to interview the prolific musician. I wanted to know how he did it, what made him tick?
The writer came back from the interview with his story. I read it and found this answer:
“When people say they want to have a scene, I fear that what they really mean is they would like to have a scene exist so they can have fun in it but they don’t want to build it.
It’s mainly my whole point that I want to have a scene, too, just like everyone else. But I’m going to go out there and do it. And that’s what I need to see: people coming out and actually, physically doing it. It should grow as people grow and not become so closed so that when new blood arrives there is no room.
And you have to work your ass off to keep it from falling down, because it’s not going to stand up by itself.”
What I get from volunteering is an awareness that I can do more, and a willingness to give. I get to join with a fun team, who are willing to make personal sacrifices and work towards a higher purpose. I learn about other people, about myself, and how I relate to other people.
Most of all I get to see and recognize the limitations that I put on myself. Learning to recognize and overcome those self-imposed limitations provides a spiritual transformation that gives me what I need to show up for other people in my community and grow.
Originally published April 6th, 2018 in Motomomen.com