This article is from the April 2016 edition of the Toastmaster magazine, originally written by Maureen Zappala, DTM.
It was 1997. The annual Cleveland Revco 10K race was days away. I thought "I’m going to enter. I think it will be fun! I’m not a runner, but how hard can it be? (If you’re a runner, you just rolled your eyes, right? You know where this is going.)
The race-day weather was perfect, and the mood was electric. Thousands of runners crowded the starting line, eager to start the race. I was jazzed. The race started. I sprinted ahead with all the exuberance of a non-runner who had no clue how to pace herself. Halfway through the race, having fallen way behind, I thought I would die. This is the dumbest thing I ever did. I can’t finish.
Sometimes serving as a club officer is a lot like my first 10K race. You think you know what’s ahead, but you don’t. You feel inspired, love the camaraderie and have a vision of success. You sprint at the start, excited to do well. But halfway through the year, you’re weary, frustrated and alone. You think: I can’t do this anymore. You are burned out. You want to quit.
Maybe you’re the vice president education and you had no idea how much work it would take, or you’re the sergeant at arms, and lugging and setting up supplies each week has become a thankless struggle. You could be the treasurer, tired of chasing members for dues renewal, or the club president who lacks member support for your DCP goals. Perhaps you’re the vice president membership, but visitors don’t join, or you’re the vice president public relations and creating a club communications plan becomes overwhelming. Maybe your club is small, and officers double up on duties. Your life outside of Toastmasters may be over-busy, or a conflict within your club is draining your energy. So many factors feed into officer burnout. It’s no wonder that a number of leaders fizzle midyear and contemplate quitting.
But if you’re one of these people, think about what could happen if you don’t quit.
I finished that 10K race and I’m so glad I did. That day, as I crossed the finish line, I didn’t care that my time was abysmally slow. I was thrilled that I finished. It may sound trite, but finishing your officer year strong will give you a valuable perspective on your abilities, your influence and your inner strength that will come no other way. Author Napoleon Hill said, “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” The reward comes with staying in the race.
How Stressed Are You?
Volunteer burnout is just like work burnout. Although Toastmasters is a volunteer organization, the work can be just as stressful as in a job. Stress exists in a continuum. At one end is burnout, exhibited by severe symptoms such as lethargy, crankiness, insomnia and feelings of worthlessness. Near the other end is the less severe but more common relative—“brownout.” People who feel this are anxious, disengaged and disillusioned and often unaware of the value of their work. It’s a cognitive and emotional malady, one that affects relationships and attitude.
The U.S. coaching firm Corporate Balance Concepts polled 1,000 executives about job stress. They estimated that while a small percentage suffered from true burnout, closer to 40 percent suffered from brownout. It makes sense to assume a similar pattern exists in the volunteer world, even among Toastmasters club officers. That’s a lot of unhappy officers!
What Causes Burnout and Brownout in Toastmasters?
Many stress factors cause club officers to toy with the idea of quitting before their term is up. Do any of these resonate with you?
- With no tangible pay compensation, it’s hard to see the intangible rewards of serving, especially as the year progresses. If an officer does not see the significance of the role, or the clear link between the role and the bigger picture of Toastmasters, it’s easy to let apathy creep in.
- Some roles are more time consuming than others, such as the vice president education. That can be draining.
- Some roles, such as sergeant at arms or treasurer, are less visible, and don’t elicit a lot of recognition. If members in those roles long for recognition for a job well done, they may not get it as often as they’d like.
- Club culture can create stress. Conflict between members is no fun. Lack of support from other officers, or little enthusiasm from club members, will cause an officer’s fervor to diminish. Poor communication within the officer team or unrealistic team goals almost guarantee burnout.
- The personality of the individual officer can contribute to burnout. They may have a hard time saying no, or may overestimate their time-management ability. They may struggle with delegation or be hesitant to ask for help. They may be perfectionists or have overextended themselves in areas outside of Toastmasters.
Why Push Through?
In spite of these factors, the rewards of finishing your officer year strong are many. No matter what club officer position you hold, or what the frustrations may be, if you push through to the end of June, you will:
- Earn credit toward your Advanced Leader Bronze award, which requires six months of club office service. (Serve an entire year, and you’ll have doubled that credit.)
- Feel tremendous pride at completing your commitment, especially if you dig deep to finish strong.
- Secure your integrity as one who keeps a promise.
- Be an example and role model to others coming up behind you.
- Transition your club to new leadership for the next Toastmasters year.
- As president or vice president education, enjoy the privilege of voting in new officers at your district conference.
- Celebrate with your club as you make an end-of-the-year push to reach those final DCP goals.
- Have more opportunities to develop your leadership skills.
- Encourage others when they want to quit.
- That’s quite a list! An anonymous wise person once said, “We are judged by what we finish, not by what we start.” Don’t just start. Finish.
How to Push Forward
Research shows that the greatest amount of volunteer engagement occurs when volunteers know what to do and enjoy doing it. By the middle of the Toastmasters year, officers know what to do. But sometimes enjoyment needs to be rekindled. With only a few months left in the Toastmasters year, here are some ideas to reignite your enthusiasm as well as help others:
- Enjoy a social event with the members of your club.
- Take a break. Let others do the work for a while.
- Conduct a club officer meeting over a meal.
- Remember it’s only a few more months.
- Begin to cultivate a successor.
- Attend district training events.
- Read the Toastmaster magazine to remind yourself of the impact of your job.
- Send handwritten notes to those officers and members who seem to be burning out.
- Know that you are not alone. Connect with others via social media.
In 1997, the day following that 10K race, I was sore, but my spirit soared! The iconic boxer Muhammad Ali once said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
You’re in the final stretch. The finish line is just ahead. Push yourself to reach it, because when you cross the line, you’ll love how you feel! You’ll feel like a champion.