Chronic volunteerism: do you have it?

Remember back to Primary School … do you remember the child who always had their hand up for everything?  The one who knew all the answers, the one who always went up to the blackboard to work out the maths problem, the one who always said yes when asked if they would like to participate in a class project or survey.  They were suffering from Chronic Volunteerism.

In my experience, humans as social creatures, need to fill their lives with human contact.  If your everyday life is not supplying that contact, you do something about it to make it happen.  That’s where volunteering comes in.  Many people do not even realise they are volunteers but without them, things wouldn’t happen.

This is especially true in the Science Fiction Fan Community.  Clubs and conventions simply could not exist without volunteers.  Without people dedicating their time to organising events, or fund raising activities, or movie nights, or even just every club meeting, there would be nowhere for us poor SF fans to congregate, to be able to mix with others of our own kind.

I have had positive experiences with volunteering for the fan community but there is one thing I have noticed over the past year that I feel compelled to warn people about.  It is what I call Chronic Volunteerism.  Volunteering for too much.  Getting so excited about something that you commit before really thinking it over.

This was especially prevalent during the Worldcon last year.  I took over the role of Dealers room liaison (under the very competent supervision of Steve Francis) from another person who simply didn’t have the time.  He at least recognised the fact and resigned early enough to let someone new have time to take on the role and accomplish something.

There were many who didn’t.  The fact that the Worldcon ran as well as it did was a tribute to the hard work of those volunteers who basically gave up all their spare time and indeed had to take time off work to simply keep up with the mammoth amount of work required to get the Worldcon up and running.

Over the past few months, indeed the last year, I have been putting my hand up for anything I can so I can experience something new and meet new people.  I certainly did that at the Worldcon, making many new friends and gaining a lot of respect for some I already knew.

But volunteering is not just about the science fiction community.  I have been thinking for some time now that I needed to connect with people in my area, as I have just moved there and haven’t got a history of growing up in the community like so many locals would.  I decided to volunteer at the local community house so I checked online to see what programs they had.  One stood out above the others.  It is a home tutor program for teaching english to migrants and refugees.

This was a way I could give back to the community while feeling that I was learning something new, expanding my horizons.  Last night I attended my first class in Home Tutoring for Migrant education and while I am excited over the new opportunity, there is the small feeling that I have bitten off more than I can chew.  The fact is, I will have to go into a total stangers’ house (one who can speak little to no English) and somehow get them to listen and understand a language that often escapes comprehension of native speakers!  It is scary but also thrilling as well.  It could become an addiction.

In fact I think all kinds of volunteering could become an addiction.  The feeling of appreciation you get from others makes you feel good about yourself and what you are doing.  It is very easy after feeling that kind of high to go ahead and volunteer for something else, and then for another thing, and another.  Before you know it you are a Chronic Volunteerer who has no time for anything or anyone else except your volunteer work.

Like any obsession volunteering can be bad for the health.  Excessive commitments can lead to stress and as we all know in these current times, stress leads to all manner of health problems.  So all you people out there who have volunteered for something and are now either regretting it or have over committed, don’t stress!!  Let your Volunteer organiser know your feelings.  They will be understanding (in most cases they are volunteers as well), and will advise you as to your options.  You can either volunteer for something else which takes up less time or you can get away from it all together.

Science fiction fandom even has a term for that.  GAFFiating (Get Away From Fandom).  It is where fans, either through over committing with volunteering thus burning out or partnering up with a non-fan, drift away from the frenetic world of Science Fiction Fandom.  Most fans I know have GAFFiated at some stage of their life.  Either they grew out of their interests or they simply didn’t like participating any more, whatever the reason, there is no shame and no condemnation once (or if) you return to the fold.  Mostly you are welcomed with open arms (and a question if you would like to volunteer for something?)

My advice is that if you enjoy it keep doing it, otherwise hand it over to someone else.  Nobody wants to be stuck working on something they don’t enjoy, especially if they don’t get paid for it.  That is what the day job is for!  So all you volunteers out there, keep at it but don’t over commit, that way you will avoid burning yourself out and the Science Fiction Community will have your expertise for years to come.