// April 10th, 2006 // 1 Comment » // Free Software, Project Mayhem
Volunteerism has been a hot topic the last few years, especially if you work for a non-profit company as I do. I’ve always believed in the concept of volunteerism, and the past few years of working in the tuXlabs project have re-affirmed what a change volunteerism can make. I’ve seen change in many people who have been involved, from troubled kids at school who got a chance to prove that they can be good at something in the computer labs, to people who have learned new skills that have helped them getting better jobs. Even I, myself, have grown since I started volunteering for the Schools Linux Users’ Group in 2003. I still volunteer to this day, although my focus is on other projects, and if I’d have more time, I’d volunteer on more ‘fun stuff’ as well, like cleaning penguins at SANCCOB :)
However, this post isn’t about the warm and fuzzy feelings that come from giving to a project or working with other people to achieve something bigger than yourself, it’s about a darker side of volunteerism. Now, while I’ve always felt that no one should ever be excluded from wide-scale volunteer projects, such as tuXlabs, or a large open-source software project, I also feel that it’s up to individuals to consider whether they are capable of committing themselves to the project to the extent they really want to. It happens often, in many projects, that people commit themselves further than they are really capable of. For instance, someone might have a personal crises, perhaps their girlfriend just got pregnant, or their parents got divorced, or the person is having financial difficulties. Either way, if you’re having big, big problems, it’s better to take some time to work on your own problems for just a bit, before committing all your time to a project. Even though it’s a bit cliché, if you want to fix the world, the best thing you can do is start by fixing yourself. I’ve had to do this myself, and I’m still busy working towards this. For me, it’s been a bit of a sliding scale, I’ve volunteered a bit, worked on some of my problems a bit, and the more stable and predictable my personal life becomes, the easier it becomes for me to work on bigger, more exciting things.
Sadly, though, I’ve also seen people who haven’t done this. They’ve jumped in, giving everything they have, to the detriment of their own lives. I suppose that, in some ways, volunteering and helping solving someone elses problem may be a source of escapism for some people, but when it hurts you and those around you, you should really consider whether it’s worth while. Recently I’ve seen an individual who have put in a huge amount of effort into a project, loose pretty much everything that they have, and has now turned a bit bitter toward the project, and has posted some not-so-nice posts that in my humble opinion, borders very closely on extortion. In this case, both this person, and the project would be better off if this person took a break from the project, and took some time to find a job, spend some time with the family, and got some general stability in their personal life, before committing real hard to the project.
Now, while there’s many benefits in volunteering, even when you’re down and out, such as networking, gaining exeprience, etc. There are certain things you should be aware of when volunteering for a project:
* Don’t spend your own money on the project, unless you are specifically making some kind of donation or sponsorship. More specifically, don’t spend money on the project if you can’t even pay your own bills.
* Don’t commit yourself beyond your means. It never works out. Sooner or later, things start catching up with you. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and you have to sleep (and eat and shower) too.
* Don’t expect that volunteering in itself will land you a job. Even if you’re volunteering for a big organisation/company that’s constantly recruiting many people. READ POINT 1 AND 2 AGAIN!
* Don’t neglect your family and friends. It’s not worth it. It will ultimately lead to some bad emotional stuff that will have an impact on both yourself and in turn the project that you work on. If you really care about the work you’re doing, take care of the people close to you.
* Don’t bad-mouth the organisation(s) you’re working with when things go sour. Every industry is getting bigger and bigger, but the world is getting smaller and smaller. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. If you make one enemy, you’re making many enimies. Don’t burn bridges.
Now, I’ve just typed this out without much planning, and I could probably have put more thought into it, but I feel that I need to get this accross, having seen 1 or 2 people go through this hasn’t been fun, and I had to post this before I got too busy and forgot about it. Having read through some of the things I’ve said here, I realise that I myself have to listen to what I’m saying here. I hope that you too, will put yourself first, and be able to make a good, lasting contribution to society.