20: Saying No with Passion

20: Saying No with Passion

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Saying No with Passion

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.

~Oprah Winfrey

I have always believed in giving back. As a single mom for most of my adult life, I didn’t have the option of doing that by writing a check; instead, I volunteered for every worthwhile cause that crossed my path. When my son got to school age I signed up to be a room mother, a classroom volunteer, a Cub Scout leader, and a Sunday school and Bible school teacher. Some of these activities I enjoyed, some not so much. Then my two daughters came along and the activities tripled. As a lawyer, I was deluged with requests to serve on boards and participate in charitable activities. And there was my church — with various committees asking for help.

How could I say no, if it was for a worthy cause? I found myself overcommitted and resenting the time that all of my charitable work took away from my alone time and my time with my kids. Still, I continued to volunteer for everyone who asked. There were so many people who needed help. Then one day at lunch I shared my dilemma with a good friend.

“You need to learn to say NO,” she said.

“How do I do that? How do I ever decide which cause is more important?”

“It’s not about which cause is more important. They’re all important. It’s about finding your passion.”

“My passion?”

“Find that one thing that means the most to you personally and then volunteer in that area. You’ll see that you enjoy it more and resent it less, thus making you a much better volunteer.”

It made sense. But what was my passion? I cared about a lot of things. I slowly began to search for the answer. I loved my kids and definitely had a passion for spending time with them, so I limited my volunteering to their various activities. My children became a convenient excuse. “Sorry I would love to help you out but I’m busy with ______.” (Fill in the blank with one or more activities of my children.)

This plan worked remarkably well until the day my youngest went off to college. Guess what? All of those people I had put off with my kids as an excuse came out of the woodwork. Even though I had more time to volunteer, I again felt overwhelmed. My mind kept returning to that idea — find my passion. I took a class on discovering one’s passion and did a lot of thinking and praying about it. One day it hit me. I had enjoyed my own children at all ages from birth on, but what I really loved were those high school years. For me, there was just something special about that age group. They were old enough to not be watched constantly, but young enough to be open to new ideas. They were excited about life and full of energy: half adult, half child. So I looked for ways to become involved with high school kids.

These days when I’m asked to volunteer for other organizations, I can politely decline without feeling guilty. My answer is simply, “I have a passion for high school youth and that is where I spend my volunteer time.”

It has been nine years since my youngest left home and I have spent thousands of wonderful, happy hours with youth, watching so many of them move on to be successful, caring, responsible adults. I have formed lifelong relationships with amazing people. I have a blast doing it and best of all I never resent the hours I spend. I am no longer overwhelmed. Those kids keep me young at heart, which is a gift in itself.

Whatever your passion may be, find it and you will be a better volunteer. And you’ll be able to politely say no, guilt-free.

~Jill Haymaker

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