The Hitch to Helping

This weekend I hung out with a dozen parent volunteers at a campsite: preparing fire, food and fun for 150 campers. The kids had a great time and so did we - enjoying the instant camaraderie that comes when you’re volunteering.

I should know, I am a chronic volunteer. There’s something I get out of helping other people. I feel purpose-full and accomplished. I can make a huge impact with little effort and receive a ton of acknowledgement and self-satisfaction. I am addicted to the high I get from helping.

Eventually, I become full, done, satisfied (ok, ok - overwrought, frustrated, resigned) and want to stop, but by then it’s too late. I’ve set up an expectation and I’m a jerk for walking away. If I have free time, shouldn’t I be volunteering? If I don’t have time, shouldn’t I make time? After all, gratitude comes from giving so isn’t it a win-win to be giving if it makes me feel better?

Absolutely. Until it doesn’t.

Helping is helpful to people who spend a lot of their time thinking about themselves. The act of thinking about how to care for another human being can be life-changing: your focus shifts, your priorities shift, your perspective shifts. It’s powerful.

Less so when you are someone who spends most of your hours caring for others. Then the act of volunteering can be distracting from the very important hours that you need to spend thinking and caring for yourself.

The hitch to helping is that it can keep you in giving mode when your receiving is out of whack. It can fill up your free time (because doing something is better than doing nothing), provide you with purpose (because it’s not OK to be purpose-less), and help you fulfill your potential (which is potentially problematic).

Helping others is ideal when the answer to: “Why am I doing this?” is “cuz woohoo, this is fun!” with room to say, “nah, I’m just not that into it,” and walk away.

Resulting in a hitch-free kind of help. Which is the best kind of all.