STRONGER TOGETHER: The volunteer who knows when to let go

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Last updated: 20/02/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses honouring your boundaries and threshold of tolerance in volunteer roles.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Volunteering is a wonderful thing to do, and there are real benefits for both the volunteer and the recipients. Irrespective of how you refer to volunteering, the evidence is clear. Through ‘giving back’, ‘contributing my experience, time and skills’ or ‘helping others’, we get what is referred to as ‘helpers high’, a physical experience where the body releases endorphins as a result of positive social contact with others. Studies also link volunteering to health benefits such as boosting your self-esteem, improving sleep, lowering blood pressure and increasing overall wellness and life satisfaction. It enables your passions and interests to be ignited, while gaining experience, making new friendships and even creating and extending professional networks.

There are however some drawbacks that we need to be aware of. When it comes to fulfilling our altruistic notion of volunteering, it is vital that we maintain strong personal boundaries and are aware of our personal levels of tolerance. Establishing and adhering to the boundaries that we set for ourselves equips us to maintain our wellbeing, while ensuring that we also preserve our relationships with others.

Personal boundaries define what we are comfortable with and what we are not. They are the limits we set for ourselves, and they help us to stay true to our values and beliefs. When we are clear about our personal boundaries, we are better equipped to communicate our needs and expectations to others, and we are more likely to feel respected and valued.

Tolerance, on the other hand, refers to our ability to accept and respect the differences of others, even if they do not align with our own beliefs and values. When we practice tolerance, we are able to work with others, despite our differences, and we can find common ground to achieve our shared goals.

When engaging in community work, it’s important to keep in mind that we all have different values, beliefs, and ways of operating. This diversity can create friction due to a lack of understanding and insight; it can also bring about conflict and disagreements. It does however have the amazing potential to create a rich and vibrant community. To make the most of this diversity, we must be able to balance our own needs and preferences with the needs of others.

What is your threshold of tolerance, and how do you use this to inform the decisions that you make about how you live your life? It’s important to understand this, and to be able to recognise when we are operating outside of these thresholds and why.

Much of my personal time is spent volunteering. Recently, I stepped down from a volunteering role because I felt that I was no longer operating within my personal boundaries and level of tolerance and was unwilling to compromise.

While it was uncomfortable speaking up, it felt freeing to use my voice, and to be honest (to myself and others) about why I was choosing to step back. Remembering it was less about me and more about how my contribution would need to shift if I was no longer operating in unison with my values, beliefs, and boundaries.

There is great value in volunteering, but it’s okay and important to have the courage to say no, that’s not for me, when it no longer feels right.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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