Tuesday, January 25, 2011

what do you do?

Volunteering and service organizations have been in my blood since I was a little kid.  I was raised in a small town and that's just what people did.  We didn't have a big city life full of options and volunteering felt more like helping out your family and neighbors more than anything else.

As a kid I helped my dad in the Lion's Club truck selling cheesesteak sandwiches.  I also did the Girl Scout thing.  My family was (is) a big Masonic family and I was a Rainbow girl, too.  All of these service organizations required a lot of time and commitment, but those were the values I was taught and it was the norm for me.

As an adult and parent, I did the parent's club thing until the politics and attitudes made me want to wretch.  However, I also did a stint on the board of my local city non-profit for many years.  Our organization ran the town paper and I had the opportunity to have the title "editor" with my own column, all for no good reason except I volunteered to take the job.

I found my favorite article the other day and I thought it was pretty good advice - especially for myself given the gloomy recent news. 

"How To Make Your Community a Better Place (and save your sanity)".

Life these days seems to go by at an extraordinary pace and often we are left feeling stressed out, cranky and tired.  All the cliches apply - "It's a dog eat dog world" - "Life is a rat race" - "The nice guy always finishes last".  That all may be true, but I keep a little quote on my desk to help me keep things in perspective.  It says, "Remember, even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."  When I feel like the world is out to get me, I try to remember a few simply things to keep me nice and on an even keel.  I also realize that if everyone would do these things too, it would in turn, make the community a nicer place.

First, I try to remember to smile.  No matter what is going on and how distressed I may feel, when I walk down the hall at work, across the blacktop at my children's school or anywhere really, when I make eye contact with someone, I try to remember to smile.  No one I chance to meet needs to come under the little cloud hovering over my day.  The added benefit is that it can often lift up my mood when that person returns the smile.

Something else I try to do is not assume the worst.  It's easy to sit and think that the person that cut you off did it intentionally, but more likely they just didn't see you because they were in too much of a hurry also.  Or maybe that person didn't return your phone call because they never got the message and, instead, isn't being rude.  Either way, getting upset isn't going to change anything except your own mood.

Along that same thought, I try to remember my own faults.  No one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  So when I come around the corner with my shopping cart and run into someone, I immediately say I'm sorry.  I try to remember to apologize and not just for situations where I am obviously at fault, but even those times when it could be argued that the other person was in the wrong.  It is a simple way to diffuse a potential bad experience and what should be an insignificant "bump" in your day.  People may not be happy if you do something to inconvenience them, but they will be hard-pressed to find fault with you if you apologize for the error.

Lastly, to keep myself grounded, I try to remember that there are people much worse off tham I am - no matter how bad my day is.  It is for this reason that I try to give something back to my community.  I keep my name on the Cerebral Palsy list so they call me regularly to see if I have any donations.  Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but I don't ask them to put me on their "do not call" list because I know that things worthless to me can be truly helpful to someone in need.  And, of course, I volunteer my time for {my local community organization}.  It may add some more time commitments on my already busy schedule, but it makes me feel good knowing that I am helping out in some small way.

In looking back, all these things do have something in common.  When you do something nice for someone else, it will make you feel better too.

I re-read this every now and again.  It's dorky but I like it.  It helps me remember how I want to be.  It reminds me to think of others.  It reminds me that life could be worse.  And my life is not bad, quite the contrary.

What do you do to keep your spirits up when you are down?  Do you volunteer?  What are your favorite organizations in need?
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