I’m writing this from the copy room at my son’s school. It has been 45 minutes since drop-off and I’m still here. I missed the class I wanted to take at the gym, and I’m going to be late to start work. My dog may not get walked, and I’ll probably have to order in dinner because I won’t have time to cook. I keep telling myself “five more minutes,” but who am I kidding? I will be here until there is nothing left to do, and then I probably will go home and work for the PTA — for free — for another hour on my computer before starting on anything that pays me real money.
I am addicted to volunteering.
I acknowledge that some of this is a perk of being a freelancer. I make my own schedule and often work at home, so nobody is expecting me to clock in at a certain hour. But somehow I seem to have convinced myself that making my own schedule gives me the power to create extra hours in the day. Do I have an extra two hours each day to work for free? Nope. And yet I can’t seem to stop raising my hand.
It all started with a poodle. Before I had kids, I had this toy poodle named Margie. I bestowed all my maternal feelings unto this little ball of fur, who probably would have been more well-adjusted if I’d treated her like a dog instead of my firstborn. I became so engrossed in the human emotions I assumed she was feeling, that the thought of other dogs not having loving homes haunted me at night. So I started to volunteer as a dog walker for animal rescue organizations. That was the beginning of the end.
Within a year, I was producing a fund-raiser, managing volunteers and manning a revolving door of homeless pets who would call my apartment home until I could get them adopted. And while all of this sounds very charitable, the truth is that it was probably a welcome distraction from all my real obligations … like advancing my career or cleaning my apartment. And it was so nice to feel needed.
Then my human kids came along, and things started to steamroll. When my daughter was in preschool, I teamed up with an equally insane parent volunteer to personally alphabetize and computerize the school’s entire library. I remember being in the building at 10 p.m. one night, triumphantly emailing the head of school and all the administrators that I’d done it! I’d scanned in the last book! Then I sat back and waited for my emailed pats on the back.
You’d think at that point I would have taken the hint. The universe was clearly telling me that nobody valued my contributions as much as I did. I had two kids and a job, and honestly no business hiring babysitters so I could work for free. And yet I continued.
I’m still not sure why I do it. Am I addressing some deep-rooted guilt about never knowing hunger? Am I looking for approval from my peers? Am I escaping my obligations and fooling myself into thinking the world couldn’t revolve without a bake sale?
I’d like to explore all of these questions, but right now I’m late for a PTA planning meeting.
And anyway, today I figured out the key to making my hours count: a way to get paid for all this free labor.
I sold a story about being addicted to volunteering.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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