After you’ve been doing something long enough, what you do doesn’t seem stand out as much anymore. Not that what you do isn’t important anymore, but because you’ve been doing it so well for so long people don’t stop and realize that you’re still doing it. You become a constant, something that’s reliable and seemingly eternal. It feels like no matter what, you’ve always been there and always will. You’re something they can lean on and not worry about it faltering. You get taken for granite.
It’s why so many people change jobs so frequently. You get to a point where you don’t feel valued for the work your doing. The new guy gets all the attention. You start asking yourself “Would they even care if I was gone? Would they miss me?” Sadly most people really don’t appreciate you until you’re gone. They don’t realize what you meant to them and all that you did. It’s disheartening to think that people no longer realize your value. They just assume you’ll always be there. No matter what happens, you’ll still continue to do what you do.
There are groups of people that we realize we take for granted. That we don’t appreciate as much as we should. So we’ve set aside special days or months to recognize them.
We appreciate our teachers because they are overworked and underpaid.
We appreciate our pastors because they are overworked and underpaid.
We appreciate our nurses, doctors, and caregivers for taking care of us.
We appreciate our military service men/women for their sacrifice for freedom
We appreciate our bosses (at least the good ones) for their inspiring leadership.
We appreciate our secretaries for all of their support.
But what if you’re not one of those “honored” groups? What if it’s not your job at all. At least at your job you can say “my reward is my paycheck”. What if you’re a volunteer? And not the “I volunteer at my kids soccer games” volunteer. No, the volunteer who serves soup to the homeless or cleans kennels for the humane society. The volunteers who are passionate about something and do it because they feel compelled.
It’s just like your job. When you’re the new recruit volunteer everyone notices. But soon you become Bob, the “he’s been doing this for 20 years and I think it’s starting to get to him” volunteer. You know too much about the politics, you know too much of what can’t be done, and more importantly you can’t remember the last time someone truly said “Thank You” to you.
There are many who understand exactly what I’m saying. And there are many who don’t. They say things like “But you do it because you love doing it” or “We sent you a thank you card signed by all the staff last year”. They don’t get it. They don’t understand all the struggles you go through and the personal sacrifice and how many times you wanted to sleep in on Saturday morning, but didn’t. They just assume that you enjoy volunteering more than you’re frustrated.
I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum. But it seems that each time I come to a breaking point where the lack of appreciation mounts to where I’m ready to quit, something happens to bring me back. A former student says “You don’t know how much you changed me life” or a parent gives you a hug and says “you’re not just another adult”. In those moments I step back and look at why I do what I do. Did I begin volunteering for the recognition, appreciation, and personal rewards?
I’m not just writing this for myself, but for all the volunteers that help every needful being from stray cats to battered women. It’s so easy to be overcome by the lack of appreciation and feeling you’re being taken for granted. You’ll always be there. You’ll always volunteer. Not because you feel guilty about leaving, but because deep down there’s something more.
Don’t worry about whether you get a gift card for Christmas or whether someone else gets credit for your work. Your appreciation is shown through the lives you change. It’s the look in their eyes that can’t be expressed in words.