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what do I want to do?

April 12, 2013

Now that I have carpal tunnel, and chronic fatigue syndrome (or just chronically low energy), I haven’t been able to figure out how I could get another job. I would like to be doing something useful. I’d like to be interacting with people. I’d like to be meeting challenges, and exercising skills. But I’d also like to be reasonably content, if not happy. Because I no longer have the spoons available to keep on, in misery, always hoping it’ll get better. I know now, it won’t.

Once I’m embedded in a particular situation, my power to customize it to suit myself seems to be rather limited. (Especially if I’m getting paid.) Of course I can assert my preferences to suit my circumstances. But my preferences can be denied, or denigrated. There may be social pressure to give in, to not make a fuss. If I want to make friends, and no one has similar issues, if I keep insisting on what I need, I may be seen as a troublemaker.

The best way for me to learn the greatest amount of information, and the most complex information, is to do things. (Not to read about them. Not to watch other people doing them. Not to listen to other people talk about doing them.) Before I set out to do a thing that is new to me, of course I have ideas about what I think I might learn, what I hope to learn. What new skills I might pick up. And sometimes I even learn those things. But mostly, I learn stuff I never thought about. Invariably, I discover blind spots in my original thinking process — complications, obstacles, or interactions between variables that turn out to be difficult for me. This stuff is all very useful to know, going forward. But because it was something(s) I did not anticipate, I personally could not have predicted that this constellation of problems would occur. And yet, other people often think I should have been able to do that.

This has been an issue with volunteering. Unless a task I’m given is exactly like a task I’ve done before (and since the context is usually very different, the task no longer seems, to me, “exactly” the same), before I do it, I can’t be 100% sure how I’ll feel about doing it. I can’t be 100% sure how well or how badly I’ll do it. So I will want to try it out, to see how things go. And only then will I want to commit (or not) to doing it. But people in charge often want you to choose, and commit, before doing stuff. However, I’m finally convinced that my own needs and preferences should come first for me.


All of this is newly relevant, because after a two-year hiatus from volunteering, I’ve been going through training to be a volunteer docent. This place is much closer to us than Annapolis or DC (places I volunteered previously). Unlike online volunteering I’ve done, it won’t require me to be on a computer for hours, days, on end. In fact, since I’ll be shepherding people around the grounds, I’ll be standing and walking a lot! (Less sitting is definitely good.)

This time through, I’ve been mindful of what I want. I want to have good experiences doing this. I want to learn and grow and enjoy myself. It would be great to add human beings to my social circle. But beyond that, I need to figure out how to find a niche for myself in a place, in a context, that I’m not building from scratch for myself. In four of my previous volunteering experiences, I’d already had a relationship with the organization. I’d hoped volunteering for them would create a space for me at a deeper level. Instead, after volunteering, I felt alienated from them.

I won’t allow that to happen here. So this time I’m doing things differently.

Previously I’d set my boundaries too loosely — I was too willing to “try anything”, even things that there was no reason to think I would enjoy doing. Here, I’ve been going very slowly, feeling out every step of the way, to make sure I still want to be doing whatever-it-is. But when I have found things I’m genuinely enthusiastic about, I’ve shown my delight, and put it to good use.

There is only one other person in my cohort who is around the same age as I am, but all the others are retirees, so generally, 20 years my senior. I’ve been enjoying how that means that chitchat is not about our jobs or careers, except in a past tense. Most of the other volunteers had highly social jobs, making them well-qualified to be docents, but my environmental background makes me well-qualified in a different way: I’m not intimidated by the required reading, and the teachers have rarely told us things about the educational aspects that I didn’t already know. Yesterday I ran into someone who expressed an interest in talking to me about GIS! I’m looking forward to that.

My cousin’s visit last week did me a world of good in an area I did not expect. I find that now I can talk about my family of origin to other people easily and naturally. For most of the kinds of things we talk about, the fact that I rarely interact with most of my relatives is not relevant. All of these new-to-me circumstances mean I fit in here! (That’s new.) With little to no social anxiety, I’m relaxed and open to experience. I have not been self-conscious.

One of the other volunteers (someone I really liked!) expressed an interest in interacting with me again.

And I’ve gotten to handle toads (in distress, that I moved to another location). I’ve seen frog eggs, tadpoles, frogs, mating toads galore, lots of spiders, praying mantis egg cases, worm castings, and a salamander. I can now identify a phoebe’s nest (made from moss). I found out I’d been misidentifying mockingbirds; I had thought they were killdeers. Yesterday, I saw (and photographed) 2 water snakes!! [“Water snakes” are part of my personal mythos, so this was a significant event.] And I’ve taken lots of photographs of almost everything I’ve seen, including lots of flowers.

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