The Mountain View Chamber of Commerce has a program called Leadership Mountain View that provides an environment for individuals to learn about civic life, business, community, city government and leadership skills. The program encourages individuals to volunteer in their community. I personally experienced the program in 2006. One of the things that I notice about volunteering is that we all go through various stages of giving back. Gary Chapman’s book, “The Four Seasons of Marriage”, led me to describe volunteering in what I refer to as “THE FOUR SEASONS OF GIVING".
Depending on the part of the country where you live, fall can be a rather quick and beautiful process, with leaves changing colors, like on the East Coast, or it can be a slow and deliberate process, like here on the West Coast. While the changing of the colors is a marvelous show of nature, it is only an external show. On the inside, the leaf is dying, and the trees are preparing for winter. We too go through a seasonal transformation. We may look good on the outside to others. But on the inside, things are different. We may feel discouraged, resentful, unappreciated, tired and over-committed. Meetings seem to drag on. We start leaving them early or skipping them altogether. We don’t return phone calls or emails as quickly as we used to. Slowly we begin to disengage. We grow weary of giving.
Unfortunately, some of us will choose to do nothing and bear down for a harsh winter, experiencing the coldness, loneliness and barrenness of the season. Winter is a time when the focus is on ourselves and our motto is me, myself and I. Perhaps we are experiencing a personal tragedy, or our careers aren’t fulfilling, or we are having relationship problems. The weight of life is too heavy for us to consider helping others. A friend asks us to volunteer at the latest fundraiser and instead, we ask what services the organization provides, hoping to help ourselves. Or we say we are “too busy”. During winter, we tend to withdraw from the outside world or become very critical of it. We say things like "Why get involved?” "Others have tried that before and they didn’t succeed.” "I can’t make a difference." However, even in this cold, detached and self-centered state that winter sometimes is, there is hope. At this low point in our life, we can decide to change. For some, it may take a note, an email, or a phone call from a friend. For others, it may take an injustice or a tragedy to remind us that we must act. We have a glimmer of hope, an ember of passion that thaws the me-focused-attitude and moves us into spring.
Spring is the time when our spirits rekindle. This is a time when we look at helping others or reengaging with our community. Spring is a time of renewal, optimism and excitement. We realize there are others like us that deeply care about our community and that we can make a difference. There is a sense of hope. And with hope, there is a desire to learn and be open to new ideas. We begin exploring volunteering opportunities. As spring progresses, we get more involved and we start to experience a sense of accomplishment. We move closer to the next season, summer.
Summer is a time of joy and happiness. A time of growth and personal fulfillment. The warm weather makes it ideal for outdoor activities, and we become outwardly focused. During this season, we focus on serving others. We intentionally add value to others. We uplift others. Our actions match our words. We are the same in public life as we are in private life – we are transparent. We concentrate on doing what is right, not what feels good. Our goal is to make a difference long term – TO LIVE A LIFE OF SIGNIFICANCE. Our efforts are having a positive impact. Organizations invite us to join their board. However, summer has some potential pitfalls. One of them is burnout. We over commit to others and we lose focus on the goal. You and I have free will. And we have a choice as to how we react to this season. If we want to stay in the summer season, we need to reassess our priorities. We need to refocus on our purpose so that we can continue to make a difference.
In closing, I leave you with this – whether we live a season or many seasons, there is a beginning and an end. And in between there is a dash. Linda Ellis, in her poem “The Dash” writes:
I read of a reverend who stood to speak at the funeral of his friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning...to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth…and now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own; the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. So think about this long and hard…are there things you'd like to change? For you never know how much time is left. (You could be at "dash mid range.") If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real, and always try to understand the way other people feel. And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we've never loved before. If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile...remembering that this special dash might only last a little while. So, when your eulogy's being read with your life's actions to rehash...would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?
Seasons change. We change. But let us be remembered by how we lived our dash. #GivingTuesday