A couple weeks ago, as I was wrapping up my day as a writer and editor, I mentioned to a colleague that I was going to grab a bite to eat, and squirrel away in my room with my laptop and a cup of coffee to begin reading more than 70 newspaper articles for a press association contest I had volunteered to judge.
She wrote back, “GEEEEZ! Why are you volunteering to judge?? That sounds like a nightmare!”
Immediately, my fingers went into defense mode.
“You want to know why?” I thought. “HERE’S WHY!”
Ask any seasoned communicator and they’ll tell you that using all capital letters is shouting, so as much as I wanted to shout, I left those thoughts off the page.
Instead my answer went something like this:
“I vowed when I moved to my new community that I’d volunteer where my talents matter most, doing things others can’t. Much of that will be communication-related. I follow an area press association on Facebook. They are judging an award competition for another association, just as someone else will volunteer to judge for their awards.
“In the past, I’ve also done this sort of thing for industry organization award programs and scholarship competitions. I’m working with a local organization on its leadership program, too.
“It’s my way of giving back for all the support I’ve received from others through the years. Without the example, guidance, and encouragement of other professional writers and editors, I wouldn’t be doing this for a living today.
I guess I shocked my colleague as much as if I had “shouted” at her, for she wrote back right away, “You’re exactly right. It does matter.”
Then she wrote, “I hope you weren’t offended by my question,” and suggested that perhaps I had a story here, about why volunteering matters.
Gee, do you think?
After all, I’d almost written the thing already, hadn’t I?
“Yeah,” I wrote back. “I probably should.”
I thought back to the touch others’ volunteer efforts have had on my life and my career.
As a writer—absolutely. And in other ways, too.
When I submitted my first paid book review to a contest sponsored by my local chapter of the Association of Women in Communication, it was a volunteer communicator somewhere who judged it. The award encouraged me to keep writing.
Later, I submitted other entries. Again, volunteers judged my work.
When the appeal came to our chapter to judge entries for another state, I didn’t see it as an obligation. I saw it as a privilege. How rewarding to see the work of other writers and to play a part in acknowledging them for their works of excellence.
But even before that, there were volunteers at work in my life—the fourth-grade teacher who gave up some of her nights and weekends to lead our church choir, the high school student who spent a week in the summer and one afternoon a week during the school year working with my Girl Scout troop, the parents and teachers who chaperoned our high school dances.
My life was touched by each of them. From the choir director, I learned to appreciate Latin. From the Girl Scout, still a friend today, I learned that dreams are worth pursuing. From a pair of chaperones who loved to do the polka, I learned you’re never too old to live life with gusto.
Fifteen hours of reading later, the newspaper articles are judged.
Those small town journalists painted pictures of their communities that made me feel as if I knew their residents and made me wish I lived where they did. They entertained me, amazed me with their talents as writers and storytellers, and made me feel as fortunate to read their work as they will feel when they receive their honors.
We all need a little encouragement through life, a nudge to go after the things that matter to us, a pat on the back for a job well done.
I’ve been blessed again and again to be on the receiving end when people volunteer their time and their talents. When asked, I’ll volunteer mine.
It matters. That’s why.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013