Monday, August 2, 2010

Helium Hand Syndrome

I'm not sure if anyone else has this problem, but I figured it was time to say something about it. Part of the reason I haven't been posting as much is that there are a number of things underway that I don't necessarily want to say what I'm doing with them until I've actually done something substantial enough to warrant mentioning them (yeah, say *that* ten times fast (LOL!) ).

What this comes down to is that, I'm a volunteer junkie. A good friend of mine says I suffer from "Helium Hand Syndrome", meaning that, if I'm in a room with a bunch of people, and a project is suggested, somehow my hand will get raised and I will volunteer for it. Seriously, it's part of my DNA, and I do it a lot! Why is that? Does it make any sense to be more interested in volunteering than it does to want to be paid for ones work?

I've struggled with this and I think I've come up with an answer. Granted, this answer is wholly unscientific, and it's also only relevant to me (your mileage will most certainly vary). I think the reason that I volunteer for so many things is that I want to ultimately be involved in something that interests and motivates me, but have the option to walk away from it if I decide I'm done with it. That's my reasoning when I start, at any rate. What actually happens, though, is almost always very different. I think of the projects I've volunteered for that I have actually walked away from, and honestly, I can count them on one hand. Most end on their own (the project or situation is time bound, and when it's finished, that's it, time to move on to something else) but many of them are open-ended. I know that they will take time. I know that there are other things I want to be doing. I know that I'm biting off more than I can chew. Deep down, these are all realities I'm aware of… yet I volunteer, again and again and again. Is there something wrong with me?

Part of me says yes, there is. I'm a glutton for punishment, I take on these projects that interest me and I know full well that they will consume just about every piece of free time that I have. I realize that other things I should be doing are being pushed aside so I can take on these new opportunities and projects. I get less sleep. I interact with some people less frequently. I make myself into a walking zombie at times. It would seem that these would be enough impediments and negatives to get me to swear off volunteering forever.

But there's another side to this, and that's the joy that I get when I know that I'm helping make something happen. The feeling that I've made something that just might last, that I can point to it and say "hey, you see that? That's my handiwork!" I also feel that there is a certain sense of community and communion with others that comes from these opportunities. Truth is, in most cases, the projects themselves, while often interesting and fun, are not the lasting element that sustains me over time. It's the interaction with people, those I'm intimately familiar with and those I only know through email conversations, but a community nonetheless. The projects themselves are stepping stones, interesting things to do at a time, but it's the relationships I develop with the people involved in those projects that mean so much more, a sense of connection with others that goes beyond that particular experience, that brings me back time and time again.

I was reminded of this again last Saturday. I and a number of people were invited to celebrate a special birthday party. Cub Scout Pack 290 in San Bruno celebrated its 50th year as a chartered organization. I and a few other adults were on hand to be honored for our volunteer service to the organization over the years (for me that was five years as an official and de-facto Den Leader, and three years as Cubmaster). It was great to see the faces of so many adults I'd know over the years, and rubbed shoulders with and gotten my hands dirty with, to see so many boys who had grown up and gone on to other things, but had those memories of those days as Cub Scouts and cherished them. I smiled as I was handed a framed commemorative patch and letter thanking me for my service, and while I appreciated the framed patch, I appreciated the people and relationships that that patch and letter represented even more.

There are some cool things in the works right now that I a m involved in, but forgive me for playing them a little close to the chest until they are closer to being completed. I'd feel like a bit of a cad to talk up something and then not be able to follow through on it, so I'll keep mum for the moment on a few of these (but hopefully not too long ;) ). Just know that I'm excited to be engaged, to be doing so many things with so many great people, both in the testing world and in other areas of my life, and know that the spirit of volunteering will likely always be strong with me, and that those "Helium Hands" will likely rise again.

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