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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Volunteering Blues

On Tuesday of this week, I showed up to BikeABQ's first meeting of 2012, with no idea what to expect.

Volunteering for the advocacy group has been slow-going so far. Soon after volunteering my services, I was teased with the vague prospect of an event at a new coffee shop that I could "help organize." But it seems that the event will be much smaller than initially anticipated, and, in any case, very far in the indeterminate future.

Beyond that, it's been pretty minimal. A board member enlisted my help writing the invitation to the meeting, and I offered to show up a little early beforehand to help her set up. I got there about half an hour before the meeting's "refreshment hour" was supposed to begin, to discover that most of the set-up had already been finished. I poured some Chex Mix into a bowl, and then stood around awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

After a while, I was joined by a woman who looked very nice and extremely cool as she rocked a vibrant orange sweater and some fabulous heeled boots. We discussed enthusiastically a beautiful, vintage-looking turquoise bike in the corner, and then fell silent. I shifted from foot to foot, unsure of what to say or what exactly my place there was. Did we really need two people to watch over a pretty self-explanatory refreshment table? I grasped for suitable conversation topics; in my desperation I talked way too much about how much my bike needed a tune-up.

At the meeting itself, I didn't fare much better. Besides the young woman in the orange sweater, I met one other person who seemed close enough to my age to relate to; most of the members were older men. Well, that's okay. I didn't exactly join the group to make friends... although I had kind of hoped. More frustrating, though, was how little I felt I was able to contribute to the meeting. I stayed almost entirely silent while the members around me discussed strategy and logistics for upcoming events.

It may sound odd to feel discouraged for not practically running a meeting for a group I hardly know anything about yet, but it highlights a particularly frustrating trait I see in myself. When I'm given very specific instructions, I work hard. When initiate a project, or am otherwise ostensibly In Charge, I have no problem assuming responsibility. But it's that grey area in between, that area where, to assume responsibility you simply have to find it and take it, that I become mousy and fade into the background. I second-guess myself. I wonder if I'm doing it wrong. I wonder if I'm stepping on other peoples' toes.

But I don't WANT to fade into the background with this group. I joined this group to try something new. To really help. I worry that I'll end up going to monthly meetings, sitting quietly in the back, and leaving equally quietly.

I volunteered enthusiastically for the next big fundraiser, a mysterious event called a Bike Swap, which I'm sure I'll be learning more about in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, I wish I could do more. To be perfectly honest, a big part of my intention when it comes to volunteering is to cultivate skills and experience while doing something that I care about. That's not going to happen if I'm in the back folding sweaters because I can't think of how else to help.

I want to be somebody capable of grabbing that responsibility and holding on tight; I want to be a leader. I think the best thing I can do is to use this experience as an Opportunity for Growth, and to discover new ways to step outside of my comfort zone. The trouble is, I'm still hazy on how, specifically, to take that step.

What about you? Have you ever had trouble taking on greater responsibility? What did you do?

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