I am not unique. There are others like me, who give time, money or both. I am not the biggest giver. There are some who dedicate their lives to helping others. I couldn’t stop being a volunteer even if I wanted to. It is simply part of who I am.
People from all walks of life are volunteers. I’ve met people who had very little in the way of material goods still giving to those who had less. I know people who have found success in the highest levels of their professions still take time to give back. Does the person who has millions of dollars and gives the same amount of time as the person who lives paycheck to paycheck valued less as a volunteer? I don’t think so. The rich person may give because he can while the poor person gives because he must, doesn’t diminish the gift.
There are no wrong reasons for being a volunteer. I’ve had some heated debates on this one. Some people feel that if you gain materially through being a volunteer it cheapens your contribution. I personally don’t agree with that assessment. I know several people that are private consultants that give their time and money to the SQL Server community. In return they may get some business. I know some people that it is literally their job to interact with the community. I’ve heard people say things like “He gets paid to do that.” and it is true. It doesn’t change the fact that someone’s life has been enriched by their activities. We consider some paid volunteer positions noble in nature. Take teachers for example. They touch our lives in ways that just can’t be measured. A great educator can effect whole generations and have a lasting impact long after their teaching years are over. Sometimes being a volunteer is encouraged by your employer. It may be part of your improvement plan and factored into your bonuses or promotions. It doesn’t lessen your contribution to the community just because you get direct or indirect benefit from it.
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know. Would I like you to give back to the community? Without a doubt I would. Should you volunteer is a personal question I can’t answer for you. I can tell you about my choices and introduce you to others that have made the choice, but I can’t choose for you. I’ll share another little secret with you, if you choose not to volunteer you aren’t a bad person. Even if you benefit from my work and don’t share in return I’m fine with that.
As a life long volunteer I can say it has changed my life in many ways, none of them I regret in the least. I will say it is getting harder to give time without impacting my professional and personal life. I try to balance my desire to be a volunteer with my duties to my family and work. It isn’t always easy. Since I’m a volunteer my wife is also a volunteer. When I am away from home she has to shoulder all the parenting duties. My son is also a volunteer. Even though he is only three he gives up time with me and does crazy things like ride in the car eight hours so he can be with me when I travel. It also diverts money away from my family. I’m not saying I’m broke or anything, but when I give money in support of the community it means that some things may get delayed at home. We may not get to save as much. Again, I’m not the only one giving in my house. My family gives when I give. Without the support of my family it would be almost impossible to be as active as I am.
It always surprises me when people come up and thank me for doing what I do. Do I like the praise? You bet I do. It lifts me up and makes me want to do more and try harder. Would I still do this without the pats on the back? Yep. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work where there was zero recognition from the community. Sometimes people tell me I’m a good person for doing this when I don’t have to. What most people don’t understand is I really don’t have a choice. I have to volunteer. I can’t imagine my life without it. It may be something my parents instilled in me or a genetic defect for all I know but it is an imperative that I cannot avoid.
If you are a sufferer of chronic volunteerism I’d love to meet you and hear your story. Even better I’d like to see you write about it too. Trust me, there are people that look at me and say “I don’t know how he does it.” I then turn to someone else who does more than I do and say the exact same thing. I wonder what they are giving up to help me be a better person and what I can do to pass that on to others.