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After the Bar

Public Service

When It Comes to Volunteering, You Do You

Jay E Ray

When It Comes to Volunteering, You Do You

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My coworker often tells me, “you do you.” She may tell me this to make fun of my choices or to show support. Either way, I think “you do you” is good advice when volunteering. You are in control of your life, including how you volunteer.

Volunteering can be a truly fulfilling experience, but only if you are honest about who you are, what you enjoy, and what is realistic. Find what fits you—you will be a better volunteer and be rewarded in return.

Determine What You Need in Volunteering

Only you can decide what is best for you; determine what volunteer opportunities make you happy and stick with them. That may mean significant dedication to one organization or volunteering in minimal ways with numerous organizations. Not everyone has to be the Mother Teresa of the organization. Although finding that person is an organization’s dream, organizations appreciate help in all forms, including paying dues and spreading the word about the organization.

The best volunteers enjoy or gain satisfaction from working with the organization. This satisfaction may come from helping individuals, leading, learning new skills, or meeting interesting people.

If you begin to dread helping an organization or cause, stop and look for other volunteer opportunities. This does not mean every task you do must be fun. They most likely will not be; otherwise, there would be a lot more volunteers. However, you can still gain rewards and well-being from supporting a cause or organization even when individual tasks are unpleasant.

Say “No” When It Is the Correct Answer

Saying no to an organization or a specific task does not make you a bad person. As a former young lawyer leader and an executive director of a legal organization, I appreciate individuals who are honest about their inability to help. It’s more disappointing when individuals say yes to obtain a position or professional exposure and do not do the work. Similarly, leaders dread individuals who say yes when they do not have the time or desire to do a good job. Unfortunately, these are the individuals leaders remember and avoid giving more opportunities.

Avoid Burnout

Don’t shy away from being active in various organizations, especially when you first start in the profession. Sometimes it takes time and trial and error to find the organization that is perfect for you. Involvement in many organizations can spread you too thin, but it can also introduce you to more experiences and individuals.

Although you should be cautious in overcommitting, burnout is not always caused by how much you volunteer. It is just as likely to be caused by how you volunteer or by other parts of your life. As a young lawyer, I had many significant responsibilities with various organizations. They allowed me to be a leader, make a difference, and travel the world to meet amazing people. I never felt burned out from volunteering because those activities excited me and gave me purpose. I would have burned out on the legal profession if my volunteering with young-lawyer organizations, especially the ABA YLD, had not broken up the monotony of being a litigation associate and responding to endless written discovery.

My challenge was that I enjoyed volunteering more than I enjoyed my job. It is not always easy to find a good balance between what you enjoy and what you are obligated to do. Although you need to pursue tasks that reward you and add to your well-being, do not lose track of your professional and family responsibilities.

Eventually, I chose a professional path that allowed me to do a job filled with the tasks I enjoyed when volunteering for legal associations. I chose to “do me” in my job, which I discovered through volunteering.

Reward Yourself by Volunteering

Volunteering is an enriching experience. It may take time to find your perfect organization or cause. Enjoy the journey, including the experiences you have and the people you meet. Be willing to travel different paths and to pull off to the rest area when needed. Eventually, you will find the organization or volunteer opportunity that is perfect for you. It will enrich your life, make you a better lawyer, and maybe even change your career.