I find myself repeating that simple phrase all too often. To my kids. My husband. My friends. It’s a fact of life for all of us. We multi-task, do our jobs, run the errands, and generally over-schedule every waking minute of every day. As a result, we’re all “busy,” and I’m no exception. My colleague, Jennifer Wilson, asked whether “busy” is a good thing in her blog post "Is Busy A Good Thing?", and at the time, it didn’t strike me that being busy is as much a problem in our communities and homes as it is at work.
That is until I led a big fundraiser for my children’s school. It was very time consuming - on top of everything else I try to pack into a day. Fortunately, my co-chair and I had the help of a lot of dedicated and talented people, which ensured a successful outcome. That said, I was surprised at the number of people, who, when I asked them to support our school and serve, claimed to be “too busy right now” as if their busy-ness was somehow a higher priority than mine or countless other volunteers who committed to make a difference in this world despite our many activities.
We’re living in a time of great challenge - and great opportunity. While our nation’s economy is immensely at risk and many are suffering, new technologies and innovation are enabling greater individual opportunity and enhanced time management techniques. Simply put, we have the capacity to do more in 24 hours than we ever have before. But that doesn’t translate to an individual ability or willingness to help when called upon, which was one of the lessons I learned in co-chairing the fundraiser.
“Look beyond our own ambition and summon the spirit to do our part” is the request of President Obama, and I appreciate his challenge. Volunteerism isn’t a Republican or Democratic ideal. Many of us assume that someone else will handle the volunteer work, pick up after us, and get things done. Some may rationalize that those doing the volunteer work don’t have “real jobs” and have the time to spare. I’m employed at ConvergenceCoaching and raising three young children, so that stereotype of the volunteer doesn’t hold up.
This unwillingness to set aside our selfish interests and give to the greater good is partly due to the “NIMBY” or “not in my back yard” philosophy. No one ever wants the inconvenience in “their back yard,” as if someone else does (I always wonder who those elusive people are – the “IMBY’s” - who want the inconvenience and bad stuff “in their back yard”). It’s the same way with volunteering. So many of us assume someone else will cover or handle it for us.
Perhaps it’s the magnitude of the things that need to be done - so many worthy projects, on such a grand scale, that it’s hard to see how one person can make a difference. But, you and I can. The analogy to remember is the drop of water in a pond that sends out ripples in all directions. When we make the choice “to summon the spirit to do our part,” we become the drop of water that spreads in all directions. I heard it said recently that “you can’t help everyone everywhere, but you can help someone somewhere,” and it instantly made sense to me. We can help someone, and if we’re successful in our efforts, who knows what that will translate to down the road as that someone returns the favor for someone else?
Some examples of ways that you could make a difference this week include:
• Taking your family out this weekend for two hours of litter pick up in your neighborhood. Equipment needed: trash bags and gloves. Difference made: cleaner environment, healthier animals, super example for the kids, and self-satisfaction.
• Calling one of your city’s homeless shelters and asking what they need most this week. It may be toiletries, sundries, clothes, food, dishes, or other simple items. Then, call a few family members or friends and gather two or three boxes or trash bags full of what they need and take it to them. Difference made: needy people served, shelter administrators relieved, contagious do-gooding rubs off on those who participate, and self-satisfaction.
• Ask your child’s teacher what support or supplies they need in the classroom, or call the school’s principal and ask what support he or she needs. Difference made: your school is better able to meet the needs of your child and other children, and, of course, you get that magical self-satisfaction.
You can also explore a host of online volunteer web sites to help you find the right way to invest your time based on your interests and location. Go to www.volunteermatch.org, www.volunteer.gov, or www.networkforgood.org/volunteer to find the right difference-making activity for you.
Please jump at the chance to make a difference, pitch in for a good cause, or brighten someone’s day. It starts with each of us, regardless of how busy we are, and the benefits to your spirit and those around you are both tangible and priceless.