Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Reflections at the end a long-term commitment

 For almost a decade, I've been involved in a volunteer commitment, and for most of those years I've held committee leadership positions. Obviously, this is something that I care deeply about and the stars had to align in other ways for me to be able to keep it up. This is longer than I have held any one job. But now I am terming off, maxed out on my service time. I am overwhelmingly relieved, but a little sad.

During these many years, I've gone from being a pregnant grad student to a PhD mid-career mother. I've developed many of my leadership skills from working with these volunteer committees. Unexpectedly, the activities, conversations, and relationships also helped me through my different career transitions. When I felt stuck, either in my volunteer role or my professional one, lessons from one informed the other. 

It has been very emotional for me, and I've taken this commitment seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes? In all those years, I never missed a meeting. Pre-covid, I traveled twice per year for in-person meetings, and have averaged 1-2 virtual meetings per month since covid. In the last year since I started tracking how I spend my work and volunteer time again, I've spent at least 80 hours on this commitment. Two whole working weeks! 

I was asked more than once to take on the overall leadership position. I struggled with the decision because there were many reasons I wanted to do it, but I also had some big concerns and fears. I hemmed and hawed, part of me really wanting to say yes but also terrified of the commitment, responsibility, and potential consequences of failure. Ultimately, I declined. I felt like I let some people down, but felt good for setting realistic expectations for myself. 

The last few years haven't been easy. The organization as a whole struggled with fraught leadership changes and this volunteer body was shaken and churned by it too. After the biggest incident, I was distraught just imagining how much more difficult it would be if I was in the biggest leadership role, and never more grateful to have declined something. 

The thing is, I wasn't so wild about the leadership we did have. However, they were willing when I was not. So I did my best to embrace them as the leaders they were, and support them as best I could because they were willing to do something that I wasn't. I did not agree with some of their actions in neither style nor substance, but I just tried to support as I was able and focus on what I could substantively influence.

These last few years I also struggled with feeling less effective as a leader in the position I did have. I feel a bit of failure in the functional collapse of the committee I previously led. I wish that I had been a more proactive mentor to the younger leaders who took it on, but I suspect they ended up leaving the commitment entirely due to larger issues that also frustrated me, rather than the specifics of the committee. 

It's generally important for me to feel that my time is productive and my efforts meaningful. As a volunteer body we struggled with all kinds of processes and decisions. I grew impatient with talk that didn't lead to action, and even less patient with talk that imagined work for others to do without lifting a finger to help. This has got to be my biggest volunteer pet peeve—all ideas and no action. I was constantly trying to steer my committee and the body as a whole to find the sweet spot of things that we could do that did not require extensive support from the overburdened staff. I did not always succeed.

Even as one of just a few people under 40, I became the most senior volunteer by my long tenure, since most people don't stay on for the maximum number of terms. At some point in different staff and leadership transitions, quite a few of the older documents were "lost" so I spent some time recently compiling everything I could find for posterity. 

I am so relieved to be free of this responsibility. I've been counting down for months, really the last year. I've been ticking off the "last this" and "last that" all year, so much so that Jon laughed when I told him tonight was the last call. It was slightly disorganized, somewhat poorly attended, and there was a brief mention and recognition of my last meeting. 

In the Before (covid) Times, when people termed off, there was a lovely recognition of them at an in-person dinner along with a card and gift. Maybe there is a card and gift yet to come in the mail, but I feel a little sad not to have something like that. It's ok though, because I didn't do this for a gift. I did it for the joy of sustaining something I care deeply about. I look forward to supporting the cause for the foreseeable future in a way that doesn't require any leadership or major time commitment on my part and I'm not jumping into any new volunteer commitments either. I'm planning to savor this new time and mental space while it lasts.

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