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From Voluncheerful to Voluntearful

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Dear Sally
Weekly Advice Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

Dear Sally,

I say yes to everything. I say YES with my mouth but NO with my heart. When someone invites me to a meeting, I squeeze it into my calendar. If I get an email late at night, I feel like I need to respond. I’m on committees and sub-committees, task force groups and boards. And, to top it off, I volunteer in all of my kids’ activities and school stuff. I’m dying inside. I try to stay cheerful on the outside and have a positive attitude. But I’m tired and have no time for myself. My team has been talking recently about work/life balance and how we can limit our work days and set healthy boundaries. But no one actually does it. It seems like everyone is afraid to take the first step. I don’t want to appear unwilling or lazy. I’m so confused. 

Dear Voluncheerful:

You said you are trying to be cheerful but you actually sound tearful. You said you are signing up for things even when you don’t want to be. This, my human friend, sounds a lot like lying. I know. I know. It’s kind of an extreme interpretation. But as horses do, I’m a straight shooter and an energy conserver. Let’s just get to the point. I think you’re trying to manage how others see you. It’s called “image management” and it sounds like a full-time job.

So often I experience humans saying one thing with their words or bodies but their spirits or hearts say something else. I want to ask you a couple of hard questions. Because that’s what I do.

What are you trying to prove? 

Are you afraid that you won’t be seen as good enough if you just do a humane amount of work or community service? 

Horses are natural energy conservers. We graze 20 hours per day and forage for enough calories to move about and run for our lives if we need to. If we were spending our days in over-achieving mode, we wouldn’t survive. Just think if one herd member starting running miles, jumping, and showing off. At first, we might follow suit thinking there was something dangerous to flee. But after a while, our instinct for self-preservation would kick in and we’d settle down, saving our energy for an emergency. And, we’d signal to her to cool her jets. Her antics actually put the herd in danger. The common good is served by calm and stable energy most of the time.

In the human world, you all have let your egos get in the way of self-preservation. Your ego is not your amigo, sweet lady. Not only are you hurting yourself trying to prove to others that you are capable or hard-working, but you are also setting the bar to impossible heights for others. You are creating a competitive loop in which no one wins. 

Instead of thinking about your own importance or how others see you, think about what your human herd needs. Say it out loud like we do. We signal to each other to slow down and graze whenever we can. We’re committed to a pace that is sustainable because it’s good for all.

Your voluncheerful strategy has you voluntearful because you are exhausted and all that you are doing is for everyone else. Did you know that self-care in the horse herd is a top priority? We are an interdependent community but our safety and health rely on each member taking good care of herself so she can alert, communicate needs to others, and help when needed. A more sustainable volunteer plan starts with how you serve YOU. Sign yourself up for your self-care, things that bring you peace and joy and nourishment. If other humans judge you or punish you for that, you probably want to find another herd. They are likely miserable inside too and thus not a healthy culture. Seek others who do things in moderation and balance. Find your way back to…

Love, Sally