I’m a social worker by profession and love my job. Helping people navigate challenging situations is exhilarating for me; I feel like I’m making a difference. Of course, the process takes time and a tremendous amount of effort, and not all my cases are success stories. But overall, I feel that social work is a privilege, and I am so grateful to be in this line of work.
I’ve been in this field for 30 years and am known in my community. Sometimes, when needs arise, I get calls. The most recent call is the reason I’m writing. A few months ago, my synagogue teamed up with a national association of mental health professionals. Their aim is to offer free or greatly reduced fees to clients in need of mental health services who otherwise couldn’t afford therapy. This association is in the process of setting up these philanthropic groups throughout the United States. In a few weeks, they will host their first seminar in New York as a kickoff event. And that’s where I come in.
“Lynn?” Steph, our synagogue secretary, plunged right in when I answered the phone. “Would you agree to go to New York and be part of this seminar? We’d love you to present an all-day workshop focusing on different areas of mental health. You would make such an impact, and it would be a huge boost for all the participants.”
No pressure, hm? I would not receive compensation, but my travel expenses would be paid.
“I’m honored by the invitation,” I said. “Can I get back to you?”
I hung up and mulled over the situation. Give up my entire day, wake up early and go to sleep late, to give a free workshop? And what about all the hours of preparation I would invest, not to mention the exhaustion of traveling?
I’m happy to do favors for people and enjoy doing volunteer work. And don’t I owe it to my synagogue and my community to give back? But this request seems a little over the top. I would agree to give an hour workshop or a free consultation for a client in need on occasion, but a whole day, plus the investment of prep time?
Can I say no? Should I say no?
What do you say, Rachel?
All of us have strengths and talents that can and should be used. Sometimes there is a fine line that makes it challenging to discern when to volunteer and when to charge for your services.
I think your visceral reaction may be a clue as to how you should respond in this and other similar situations. If you feel that it is an overly burdensome request, I advocate honesty.
“Steph,” you can say, “I don’t think it’s going to work for me right now. Taking a full day off from work, not to mention all the preparation time, is just not feasible. I’m sorry.”
However, we can do a total 360 and look at the situation through a different lens. Is there a possibility that this will be an opportunity you don’t want to miss? As I reread your letter expressing your love for what you do, I wondered: perhaps you would leave this workshop on a high and feel immeasurable satisfaction by sharing your wisdom with your colleagues?
Your workshop will launch a system through which untold numbers of people will be able to get the help they desperately need. Who can put a price on that? You will be a significant cog in a wheel that has the potential to turn around the lives of so many. Perhaps this is an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and make a difference on an even larger scale?
There is only one way to know. Would you consider agreeing to this one-time request and assess how you feel after the event? Then, you can ask yourself these questions. Did you feel it was a worthwhile investment of your time and energy? Or was it simply too much? In short, did the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, or were the disadvantages overwhelming?
Good luck with your decision. If you go, have an amazing experience!
All the best,