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Making time for volunteer work

Publisher, editor-in-chief and author at Chicken Soup for the Soul.

My friend Karen was stressed out and unhappy over an obligation that had fallen into her lap. She and her husband David were acquainted with an elderly lady, Rose, who fell ill and had no one else to help her.

Karen and David moved Rose into an assisted living facility, oversaw her medical care, took her out for meals and then had to move her again, into a nursing home. They were driving two hours each way to tend to Rose's needs and it was cutting into their workdays and their family time.

Karen and David have always been generous with their time and their money, but they felt increasingly overwhelmed. They weren't resentful, as there wasn't anyone else who could step in and help, but they did feel that this obligation had taken over their lives. They felt a bit blindsided that this mere acquaintance, who didn't even act particularly grateful, had turned into a major time commitment.

One day, Karen was telling me about her duties with Rose and I thought about how I have handled similar situations in my own life. I have always redefined them to make them more palatable. My kids say I "spin" the facts, but I think I am just managing my attitude in a positive and productive way. For example, I carve out a few hours each month to manage the finances of my neighborhood association, which is a private tax district. I have been the tax assessor, tax collector, treasurer and tax return preparer for 16 years, and I also manage the garbage collection and snowplowing for the whole neighborhood. I have always told myself this is "volunteer work" that I do on behalf of my 18 neighbors, and that keeps me from feeling resentful during those times when I feel overburdened and underappreciated.

I asked Karen if she did any volunteer work. She said that she would like to but that she didn't have time. I suggested to her that she view caring for Rose as her volunteer work. Karen's attitude was transformed instantly. She didn't have one minute less work to do, but now she was "volunteering." Karen told me that David's attitude also changed once he viewed caring for Rose as volunteer work that he chose to do, instead of as an unwanted obligation.

For the rest of Rose's life, Karen and David happily did their "volunteer work." The writer and artist Mary Engelbreit is well known for having said, "If you don’t like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." It certainly worked for Karen and David.

And here's the surprise ending: Rose left them almost half a million dollars.

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/360/Getty Images

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