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Prior to beginning my AmeriCorps VISTA year with Girls Inc., I traveled all the way to Indianapolis, Indiana for my “Pre-Service Orientation.” It’s a time when VISTA members from all across the country, with diverse projects in many different states, come together to learn the how’s and why’s of being a full-time volunteer. Although each VISTA project is unique, the mission of VISTA is very specific. VISTAs work to alleviate poverty, and each project engages this mission in some way. The goal is to advance the mission of VISTA with meaningful and sustainable capacity building at each service site.  

What a job, huh? And I have a year to get it done.  

On the last day of my training, the facilitator, an amazing social worker from Chicago, said, “I’ve left out the most important part.” He continued, “Each and every one of you is an amazing person. You’re giving a year of your life to forward this goal. Each and every one of you is also going to get tired. I’m sorry to say, you aren’t going to save the world all by yourself.” 

What?! But I can do anything! Sleep? Hobbies? Friends? Who needs them?! 

We went on to talk about this thing called burnout. It’s probably more common than the common cold in nonprofit work. It’s when you give so much to others that you deplete your energy to stay involved. In the end, you aren’t really helping anyone. 

I’m not telling you to stop volunteering. I’m telling you and reminding myself to set reasonable goals, to pace yourself, and to always find a cause that you’re truly passionate about. There’s nothing worse than exhausting yourself for a project that will never happen, for a cause that you’re not fully behind. 

Let’s agree to keep the stress to a minimum and remember to treat ourselves to a vacation every now and then, whether it be a week on the beach or lunch outside in the sun. Girls need us to be at our very best to get this work done! We can’t save the world, but we can make it a better place for girls, one girl at a time, one school at a time, and one neighborhood at a time.

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