Community + Relationships

Is it Selfish to Not Want to Volunteer?


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  • Before you serve others, you need to take care of yourself, and doing the things that keep you happy and healthy does not make you selfish
  • There are certain times during anyone’s life when it’s probably best to refrain from volunteering
  • It’s possible to help organizations with missions you support in ways besides donating your time – and those ways are just as valuable as volunteering

Volunteering is one of those things you probably feel like you should do.

After all, the benefits of giving back to your community aren’t just limited to those you’re serving. Volunteering can help you learn new skills you can apply to your law practice and make friends while giving you a mental boost.

But … volunteering also isn’t for everybody.

If you’re disinclined to volunteer your limited time and would rather simply sign a check instead, that’s OK too. In fact, despite all the reasons why it’s good to volunteer, there are reasons to opt out as well. We promise!

Here are just a few:

You Have No Time

You know who you need to take care of before you consider serving others? Yourself. This is especially true for lawyers who have little if any time to do the things outside of work that keep us healthy and whole (let alone get enough exercise and sleep). There’s only so much time in a day, and you’re not going to be a good volunteer if you’re stressed out about work that still needs to get done or don’t have any time left for self-care. You’re also doing other volunteers no favors if you have to cancel frequently or end up rushing through projects.

The Time Isn’t Right

Are you a new parent? Or did you recently lose a parent? Are you battling a health condition? These are just a few examples of when it’s not just not selfish to volunteer, it might be the best idea to refrain and show support in other ways. As mentioned above, your own health – emotional and physical – should be top priority. You’ll be a much better volunteer if you’re in the right headspace to give back your time, and absolutely shouldn’t feel bad about focusing on yourself.

You’re Already Overextended

Are you overcommitted, either to other volunteer opportunities, hobbies outside of work, or other commitments? Whether you’re spending time attending schoolboard meetings, taking classes, or just making sure you get regular exercise, there’s no reason to feel pressured to replace those activities with volunteering if you don’t want to. As we’re guessing you’re beginning to understand by this point, you’ll be a better volunteer if you’re excited about the opportunity and actually have the time to commit to it.

The Activity Isn’t a Match

Be honest with yourself about whether a potential volunteer opportunity might trigger you in any way. Are there reasons why a particular type of volunteer work simply might not be good for you?

Based on issues you’ve dealt with, it might feel like reliving a trauma if you spend your time helping others who are going through something similar. (It also might be a really great way to process your experiences – but that’s a discussion for another time.) In addition, it’s perfectly OK to turn down volunteer opportunities with organizations that have missions you don’t support (religious charities, for example) or endeavors focused on activities you’re not cut out for, whether that’s carpentry or working with young children.

You should never feel pressured to volunteer for any reason. It’s also important to understand that there are ways to give back that don’t involve donating the limited free time that you have. Giving money shouldn’t be considered a lesser act than the giving of time, and most organizations rely heavily on donations to survive. If you can’t donate time, consider encouraging or supporting others who do – it’ll make you both feel good.