In preparation for the Mardi Gras celebration at my daughter’s school, I found myself blowing up festive balloons in purple, green and gold for a giant balloon drop. Who doesn’t love balloons, right?
Me, that’s who. In fact I hate them. It goes beyond hate. I’m mildly terrified of them. Watching someone rub a balloon on their head and stick it on the wall fills me with panic.
It’s an irrational fear that stems back to childhood when I watched one of those giant punching balloons explode on my babysitter’s face as she tried to blow it up. Something about the gunshot sound and the older girl you adore exploding into tears scars you for life. The balloon didn’t scar her face, but my love for these inflatables was ruined forever. Don’t even get me started on clowns—those freaky balloon pushers.
After the tenth balloon popped at school—because they were cheap and the room was full of enough static electricity to light a small bulb—I knew I needed to get the hell out of there. Fortunately my daughter had had enough of the popping as well so I could blame our escape on her. No one needed to know that it was my own nerves that were shot.
What rattled me more than the rubber explosions, however, was the question of why I had volunteered to blow up balloons in the first place when I hate them so much.
I mentioned the incident to my new therapist the next day, to which he wisely asked why I would say yes to something I didn’t really want to do. In that instant, the answer became clear: I need to feel useful and I apparently need validation that I’m needed.
My career used to give me both. Now, volunteering has become my validation destination.
In light of my decreasing professional workload, I’ve become an over-the-top school volunteer, saying yes to whatever is asked to me. Breakfast duty, field trips, PTA committees? Yes, yes and yes. Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do, right?
Actually I do. I’m supposed to be taking this time to figuring out what I want to do for a career in the future. I’m supposed to be writing more.
Volunteering helps me avoid these tough things while still making me feel like I’m doing something important.
Plus, how can I say no when I have the time to say yes? If I’m not 100% scheduled, I feel tremendous guilt in not helping out. Who am I to take time for myself?
Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one who has no boundaries when it comes to guarding her personal time. There are volumes of self-help books written on the subject.
So it’s time to regroup and reevaluate. It’s time to value my time for the finite resource that it is and to make certain it is spent wisely.
This is why yesterday when my daughter brought home a call for volunteers for the Dr. Seuss/PJ party on Friday, I didn’t immediately sign up. Instead I hung the flyer on the fridge. Once I’ve determined whether I actually want to help or whether I simply feel obligated to help, I will turn it in—hopefully I’ll decide that before the actual party.
Some people may wonder why this is a hard decision to make. I either want to help or I don’t, right? Well, when you’ve spent a lifetime saying yes without thinking, the lines between what you want to do and what you feel you should do become very blurry.
Until that line becomes more defined, I need to make myself pause when I’m asked to help out. I need to think about what I want before I answer in the affirmative.
Two things are certain, there’s no way in hell I’ll be volunteering to blow up balloons again in this lifetime, and this therapist is going to make off a mint off of my issues.