Volunteers Planting a Tree (Photo by VA State Parks Staff)

At first, when talk shows were touting that women don’t know how to say no to new projects or doing favors for friends or volunteering at their child’s school the image of the over-burdened woman seemed just this side of virtuous. I’d like to clear up that misconception. It’s actually very selfish.

Imagine being on the other end of that deal particularly after plans have been set in motion with that person’s promises factored into the arrangements. Now, picture the day before or even a few hours before the event where the person you’re counting on is supposed to finally deliver. But, instead of the presentation or carpooling or even an extra pair of hands you have a voicemail or an email or even a short little text message that says they just won’t be able to make it. The most common reason being handed out is, well, they’re just too busy. Sometimes, to soften the blow they even add on a little smiley face icon just to let you know there’s no hard feelings.

Apparently, this is a special kind of busy that just popped up and is different from the busy that the rest of us are experiencing in our lives. It has special compensations and is so important that no other explanation is really necessary. Try getting any more details out of someone who is offering up this stale, limp little excuse. Try asking them why they bothered volunteering in the first place. They look as if their brain has seized up and no further information will be forthcoming.

A favorite sub-category of this is the volunteer who so enthusiastically insisted on taking that project and vigorously shook their head after you asked, just one more time to be sure, if they really had enough time to do this essential role. Then, when you’re finally convinced, their participation ebbs and flows till you start to understand that just maybe you can’t count on them. If you’re bold enough to ask, yet again, if they can handle the project they finally announce that their paying job has to come first and they’ll get to this when they can, whenever that mysterious moment happens to hit them. These delightful people still aren’t saying no and are now trying to hold your project hostage, presumably so they can still tell people they’re volunteering but without actually doing anything.

Frankly, this is worse than the people who say they want to volunteer but when they find out it requires showing up on the weekend or after a work day is over they make that little wince face and say they’re really just too tired. They’re so tired the idea of volunteering has just caused them pain. But they’d like you to know they really want to be there. They’ve figured out how to say no but not without a little dinner theater and yet that’s still better than the limelight grabbers who are going to say no, but when you least expect it.

If this is you, you have a few commitments to stick to before you reassess your life and realize there are some other things you’d like to be doing. The talk shows may have let you off the hook but they were looking for ratings. The community you live in is counting on you because you raised your hand. Nobody made you do it. So now you’re going to do the grown up thing and either finish what you started or find your own replacement who really is willing to stick it out. Don’t dump on the people who really are giving their spare time in service to others because what you’d be doing is stealing energy away from the true project at hand.

If you stay, suck it up and quit your whining and look for ways you can be grateful. Acknowledge that it’s a gift given to you that your skills were considered a necessary piece of this puzzle. Say a thank you that you are in a position to be able to share your bounty of time, money, creativity and knowledge and wonder if it’s possible for you to learn something as well. And while you’re at it, say an even bigger thank you to whoever was there to unlock the door, organize the committees and showed you the ropes. Chances are they have been quietly giving pieces of themselves to your community for years with a humble grace that you could learn to adopt. More adventures to follow.

Q: How are you giving back to your community?

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