My HR consulting career is in a lull. It happens. No big deal. I wanted to create some friction in my life. I’m trying to work on my start-up and mostly ignoring my consultancy except when business falls into my lap.
(And here’s a lesson from Warren Buffet: that’s not how business happens.)
You can’t spend a billion hours a day working on a start-up — just like you can’t spend a billion hours being a rock star or working at Waffle House — so I decided to start volunteering.
I know that I can’t volunteer with animals. For one, I keep them. For twosies, animal people are weird and don’t like people. That’s why they are animal people and not “people people.”
So animals are out.
I’m passionate about women and children, so I signed up for an informational session at Interact of Wake County. It’s a domestic violence shelter and so much more. Nationally, more than 60% of women return to men who have abused them after a stay in a domestic violence shelter. Interact has been able to help 90% of women leave their abusers and never return.
Those numbers are very impressive. I thought — I’m a public speaker. I could be a public advocate for the organization.
I went to the first session on a weeknight. There were at least fifty chairs, and all of them were filled. Men and women from all over the area want to learn more. That’s reassuring.
The volunteer coordinator stood at the front of the room and presented an overview of the shelter. She was great, but something was off. I felt super hot. I kept looking around and wondering — is anybody else hot in here? Are the lights in the room too bright? And, oh, man, I have a headache. Is it stuffy in here? Can you breathe? Also, why is the volunteer coordinator shouting at me?
It turns out, nobody was yelling. It wasn’t hot. I was having a mild panic attack.
In retrospect, a domestic violence shelter isn’t suitable for me. Women and children in my family were routinely subjected to violence. That’s a polite way of saying that I was freaking out about my past, which I assumed was in the past and is clearly just under the surface. Dammit.
Thankfully, the info session was short. The volunteer coordinator ended with some wise words. She said — if you’re interested in volunteering, we need you to fill out an application and you’ll be called for an interview. But we also rely on you to screen yourself for emotional suitability. This work isn’t for everybody. It’s better to figure this out sooner rather than later.
And I thought, oh my god, she’s talking to me.
I also thought, oh my god, thank you.
Giving someone permission to “opt out” is a gift, but it’s also important to recognize that you have the power to self-select out of anything: an interview, a job, marriage, a pending agreement with a client that doesn’t feel right. Nothing is final even when it feels final. Some jobs and relationships aren’t emotionally suitable for everyone, and this includes volunteer jobs.
If the paid or volunteer work you do is oppressive and stifling, this is your sign: opt out.
It’s better for everybody if you do.