Most years I volunteer throughout the year. Soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Singing at the hospital and visiting patients on Christmas Day. Picking up trash on walks around the neighborhood. Crocheting and donating baby beanies and warm hats for the homeless. Didn’t do any of that this year – except for occasional trash pickup.
The last year was an intense one for me. Between feeling burned out, chaotic friendships, unfulfilling hobbies, health problems, severe diet changes, difficult neighbors, and feeling taken for granted, I had quite the year. This year seemed to be about confronting my own personal demons – over and over and over. I attracted a lot of situations into my life that apparently showed up to forcefully get my attention. I needed to do some healing work in those areas. And that was exactly where a great deal of my energy went this year.
So this year was about me. And that’s why I didn’t crochet a single beanie. That’s why I walked by more trash than I picked up. That’s why we spent Thanksgiving at a swanky restaurant having a glorious dinner with all the fine people who gave their personal chef the day off and therefore had to find some other way to get a hot meal. The soup kitchen hasn’t seen me once this year. And Christmas day, I won’t be singing in a hospital. I’ll be napping on the beach. Because I desperately need a good nap.
This year was a great reminder of how we cannot give when we are empty ourselves. I withdrew a lot this year simply because I wasn’t in a state where I could truly give my time, attention and energy to being there for everyone. This was my year of needing help and support. I simply couldn’t be the provider this past year – I didn’t have it in me to give. I needed my dearest friends to hold my hand this year. I did not have a hand to extend to others.
I never understood why more people don’t volunteer. But now I do. I see how precious it is to have so much in you that you have the ability to give to others. The friend who listens to you, checks up on you, follows up on things important to you… that truly is precious. The person who volunteers 8 hours on Saturday to work with special needs kids… that’s precious.
Really think about that. Those people are sacrificing good nap time to help total strangers. Your friends could be blissfully downing a glass of wine while ignoring their own problems AND yours, but nope – they called you to see how you are hanging in there with your messy breakup. Not many people have the luxury of spending two hours on the phone with you when they have so many things demanding their time, energy and attention.
I’m motivated to get back into having the vibrancy I need to be able to do more of the volunteering that I truly loved doing over the past several years. And I truly do love helping my friends and being there when people need my support or help. But I know that I absolutely have to take care of myself first. My failure to do that this year is what led to my burnout. I didn’t put myself first – until I was forced to do so because I was feeling so broken.
I didn’t volunteer this year because this year I finally volunteered to take care of myself. This will set me up to be able to give even more in the years to come.