Ten years of volunteering, too big a compromise

In 2016 I’ve blogged more than usual about children: kids’ books, libraries, parenting and literacy.

For me, this month marks 10 years of volunteering in school – a decade of reading, group work, swimming, sports days, trips, gardening, and helping with the library. I’ve seen a child who was scared of books enjoy reading, watched non-swimmers start to swim, and walked into a room to see twenty-four faces turn and smile: school is a house of miracles and a place where I’d love to be at home.

But it’s not my home. I’m an outsider. I don’t belong.

Last week as I assessed a new writing opportunity, I also spotted an advert for a short-term, part-time TA role and it made me wonder, Oooh, could I turn my volunteer role into a career? So I went to ask what qualifications might be needed to apply for a role like this, but I was told not to bother looking; they had experienced applicants, some qualified teachers. This is great news for the school but didn’t give a steer on how to prepare for a future job, other than not to bother, or train as a teacher. Which I can’t do. I have home commitments that include managing someone else’s chronic illness: being out of action for a year while I retrain full-time is not an (ethical) option for me.

Also, if ten years’ volunteering doesn’t qualify me for ten minutes’ discussion and advice about a short-term, part-time role, then the message is clear: they see me as enjoying myself rather than achieving anything of value. 

I can’t look back on life and think, “What a nice, safe compromise I lived.”

So I’m invited to carry on as volunteer and that’s sweet. The volunteer role is magical and conveniently slots into my day job, so I can spend time reading with children every day if I want, without needing qualifications or a career change. It would be easy to compromise and dip in and out… except I don’t want to look back on life and think, “What a nice, safe compromise I lived.” I want to hurl myself into a career and give it my all.

I’m a freelancer: task-oriented, objective-driven. Like Nanny McPhee, when I’m not needed, I leave. Plus, I’m also human. I want to belong, I want to make friends and be part of a team, a community. I was not put on this earth to be a sad little tag-along, left with my nose pressed against someone else’s glass.

So I galloped home to find my writing clients offering paid work, new training, season’s greetings, and delicious gift hampers. I love my clients, I really do; I’m grateful to them and for them, and my work remains fascinating and worthwhile. I hung up my cards and accepted a new writing contract.

My next job will last a couple of months and I’ll enjoy it, I know what I’m doing. But it doesn’t contain children and I don’t find it easy to walk away from lost goals. (I have never failed on a significant life goal before: this is a whole new misery for me.) So after this project is complete, I have a college event lined up, window shopping for further education — woo hoo! An avalanche of possibilities.

Twenty years ago I created a new career path, one that had never existed before, and I’m ready to do that again. I want something innovative, unbounded… probably involving children and writing.

Probably not involving a compromise.

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