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By: Jamie Collins

In recent years, I’ve become one of those people who can’t seem to stop volunteering myself for new things, whether it’s a writing gig for a magazine or spearheading some type of initiative locally, my hand flies up. Why? I do not know. Well, actually, I do. But I can assure you it’s certainly not the result of a lackluster life, lack of things to do, or personal diversion from boredom. I typically find my high heels pounding the legal pavement, attempting to work, live, love, and survive (while running fast as hell in the other direction) thrive. Then I see that right hand fly up yet again, much like I’m viewing myself in some sort of an out-of-body experience, equal parts awe struck insanity and dumbfounded wonder.

(Oops. Did I just say that aloud???)

It doesn’t take a person volunteering for a new project long to realize she’s just strapped herself into the likes of a volunteerism lear jet; one which will take her through a bevy of emotions during what will prove to be a tiring, tumultuous, grueling, fulfilling, amazing, and turbulent personal journey. This is where the post-volunteer “mixer of emotions” begins.

From what I surmise, the stages of volunteerism go a little something like this:

Phase 1 – Pride
I volunteered for a new project. Wow. I feel good! I love to volunteer for stuff. This is gonna be great. I can’t wait to get started. Go me!!!

Phase 2 – Excitement
I’m so excited that I volunteered to do this yesterday/a few days ago/last week/last month. This is going to be so much fun!

Phase 3 – Pretend Planning
I’ll have to start thinking through what all this project will entail; the people and moving parts. Then I’ll begin.

Phase 4 – Avoidance
Forget I volunteered for the project.
(No, seriously. What project?)

Phase 5– Post-Amnesia Freak Out
Remember I volunteered for the project. Panic. Panic some more. Become gripped in a state of apprehension, annoyance, anxiety, guilt, and quite possibly, the throes of a full-on, personal freak out.

No, seriously. I am FLIPPING out.

Phase 6 – Self-Deprecation
Think to myself I don’t have time to work on this project, don’t feel like working on this project, or waste one thousand more moments wondering WHY it is I volunteered for this project in the first place. (Do you know why? I don’t…)

What in the hell was I thinking? Why, oh why, did I volunteer to do this?

[Attempt to divert myself deeper into the folds of that dark human art form known as “procrastination,” while throwing back tall, black iced teas, pulling peanut M&Ms from my desk drawer, and attempting to distract myself with any and everything else, pretending this project still does not exist.]

Phase 7 –Plot An Escape
Is there any way I can get out of doing this project?

What will happen if I don’t do this project?
I will bathe in my own guilt.

Come to the realization: Me + this project = Alcatraz
Rock those prison stripes, and keep moving, girlfriend…

Phase 8 – Introspection
Remind myself that I volunteered to do this project last week/last month/an eternity ago. I really MUST get started on it. Seriously. Like now. Why did I put this thing off for so long? Now I’m going to have to work like a one legged woman in a butt kicking contest to make this thing happen.

Initial enthusiasm for the project = A+
Procrastination on said project = A+
Follow through = F

Phase 9 – Panic

Reel from the fact that I volunteered for this project. OMG. What was I thinking? Why did I do this to myself? [Slam head down on desk]. Only resist doing this repeatedly in order to prevent inflicting some form of brain damage, which would in no way help me to move this project along. You know, the one with the hellish deadline that is now looming up behind me at the speed of a Ferrari, being driven by Mario Andretti, on a fast track to Dante’s Inferno? That one. (Sigh)

Phase 10 – Draft “Dark Cloud” Mental Post Its to My Future Self
Note to self: Remember to NEVER volunteer for a project ever again. Like ever. I’m not joking. 

Phase 11 – Acceptance
Realize no one is going to do this project for me. I must begin working on it. I’m too busy – who cares. I don’t feel like doing it – who cares. I volunteered and I’m going to see this thing done or write my own obituary in the aftermath.

Bank. On. That.

(Please pass me a pen and some obituary worthy papyrus.)

Phase 12 – Motivation
Actually begin to work on the project. Really move things along. Oh yeah! I’m starting to feel good about this thing now. Go me! No problems here.

Phase 13 – Progress
Realize I’m almost done with the project.

Phase 14 – Basking in Accomplishment
Life is so great! I feel so accomplished. I don’t know why I didn’t just start right in on this in the first place. It wasn’t that bad at all. This is fun. I’m so glad I volunteered. It was really no trouble at all.
[Smirk at myself for saying that…]

Phase 13 – Victory
Realize the project is finished. Wow. I love volunteering for things. I feel like a million bucks. This has been great! I’ll have to volunteer for something else soon.

Phase 13 – Addiction
Volunteer again.

Start back at the top of this list.
I am not joking.
Back at the top.

Volunteers – We just can’t seem to help ourselves. That flying hand syndrome lulls us into yet another circle of volunteerism; one filled with all of the inherent highs and lows. We find ourselves sitting at our desks or on our couches, wondering what in the hell is wrong with us, and why we do it, all the while attempting to cling to the glow of future goal-oriented giddiness, knowing how amazing we’ll feel once the project is completed. Survive the project only to watch that right hand fly up, yet again. Why?

Because we love it. Okay, maybe not all of it. But it’s a process we work ourselves through. And when we arrive at the end of the project – we find ourselves draped in glory. And we bask in it. And we revel in it. And we become addicted to it. And we can’t help ourselves. We can’t stop ourselves. We don’t want to.

We want to help others, despite the personal trepidation, future panic, and plotting of escapes from the imaginary prison bars within our own minds. We stand upon thing-after-thing we volunteer for and manage to accomplish, and the view is better. The pride greater. Our vision clearer. Our soul more fulfilled. And the world is a better place for us, and because of us. So again, we hoist our hand, and walk right on into Alcatraz, wearing stripes, a pair of killer high heels or Cole Haans, and a smile.

If you wonder what I’ll be thinking the next time I volunteer for a new project, now you know. (For better or worse). I’ll see you at the top of the page, my friends. Hold the panic. Send a tall iced tea, a bag of peanut M&Ms, a stylish belt, and a cattle prod.

I’m on it…

Inmate #JLC589458


Are the phases of volunteerism like this in your corner of the world? All sunshine and rainbows? All Hell and high water? A nice even mix like the one listed above? Tell us about it!

Be sure to stop back by on Monday, when we’ll be putting one particular group of paralegals into the TPS spotlight. It’s a well-deserved honor, indeed.

Until then, tape that right hand down to the desk. We’ll see you soon!