How to truly retire and not become a full time volunteer

The island’s first ever International Film Festival is going to be on in a week! I was so excited when I first heard of this event! We have our passes and we are studying the schedule to maximize our time and enjoyment!

When I first heard about this I wanted to help. It seemed like a natural; I have time, I love film, I’m not allowed to have a paying job here, and everyone needs volunteers.

I emailed the organizers and voila! they asked me if I’d be interested in coordinating the volunteers. Now that seems like it would be a pretty daunting task for someone who had just moved to the island and hadn’t even volunteered here before. Not to me it wasn’t! Well, maybe a tiny bit. At risk of giving away my secret identity, I’d have to say that event planning and volunteer coordinating were my super powers. I’ve been involved in the planning and coordinating of several national level competitions, hosting athletes from all over Canada at some of them, and from all over Western Canada at others. This involved arranging the venue, organizing the necessary officials and all support volunteers, booking hotel accommodation for visiting officials and for the higher level competitions, planning receptions and awards ceremonies. We sent out notices to participating clubs with all the necessary information and processed the entries and seeding. We planned the food for volunteers and officials and ensured there was emergency medical staff in attendance.  The list goes on. It took a team to organize this level of an event, but I do know a few things about volunteers.

I went to meet the organizers, having just returned from a vacation and finding our car in urgent need of a service, in a bit of a flustered state. Our internet wasn’t working when I arrived at home and I was making daily trips to the coffee shop to check my email in a car that I was more than a little concerned about. I must have made a really bad impression. In retrospect, I wondered if I was expected to bring a resume or references, or go over my past experience. That hadn’t occurred to me because it was for a VOLUNTEER position. I have never felt the need to sell myself on a volunteer job before. On the contrary, it took me and my co-planning/organizing superwoman partner a couple of years  to train people to replace us.

When I say partner I mean that strictly in the sense that we worked together on several events! She was amazing with the small details of planning and contacting the outside support people, and with coordinating our committee. I coordinated, contacted and confirmed all the volunteers, and knew where and for how long they’d be needed, who had the skills for certain positions, and how many “back up” people we should have, and how we would keep them hydrated and fed.

So at this film festival meeting, it’s quite possible that my own reservations about taking on the job gave them reservations about trusting me to take on the job. I don’t exude confidence, especially after a harrowing trip across the island in a car that is trembling. Perhaps I had a moment of  “Can I do this without my superwoman partner who is so good with the details?” So after I thought about the job for a couple of days and contacted them, offering to do it, I understood their decision to hire an event planning company instead of having little old unknown me do it for free. I was probably secretly relieved, even though I’d been drawing up sample spreadsheets of the various screening locations and positions that would need to be filled.

As much as I understood the “rejection” of my services, which they had asked for in the first place, and as much as I’ve enjoyed some time to settle in without the added stress of being part of a major event involving hundreds of volunteers, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit like I’d lost my mojo.  I hope I responded graciously although I thought,”It’s your loss because I would have done a fantastic job even if it killed me!”. I was just a little disappointed that I hadn’t even been asked to be a worker-bee volunteer. Apparently this island has a phenomenal volunteer force and they didn’t even need me to be an usher or take tickets or clean up garbage after the shows. Maybe I made a really bad impression!

Wait, who am I kidding? I was once again relieved that I hadn’t been called upon to volunteer. My enthusiasm for the project had come from a sincere desire to work with the organizers. You see, they made a very good impression on me! I would have done this major project if it killed me and in truth, it probably would have killed me! In retrospect, I realize that my favourite volunteer moments have come doing the small jobs that use my technical skills; the jobs I can go in and do well and go home later and forget. I only became a volunteer coordinator extraordinaire out of necessity.

Then I got an email, presumably from someone at the event planning company, asking for volunteers. She didn’t say what the volunteers would be doing, but the shifts were during festival screenings. I had to say no. I’ve been available since April, and I’m available almost all week, but once the screenings begin, I’m no longer available. We have our festival passes and we’ve been studying the schedule. There are a lot of films to see and it’s going to take some serious planning and organization to maximize our time and enjoyment!

You could say that I’ve discovered a new super power; being able to say “No”.



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