Determining the Right Balance for Civic Engagement (AKA Volunteer Stuff)

Determining the Right Balance for Civic Engagement (AKA Volunteer Stuff)

As a young professional, I notice so many other young professionals signing up to be in just about every organization and club out there. Then I often notice they can’t fully commit to any organization that they have joined because they are overwhelmed between work, family, friends, school etc.

Older generations tend to ask me why some Millennials don’t just quit, resign, etc. I then explain that for them it’s not that easy – frequently they look at these opportunities as requirements on their resumes to stand out – things their current employer wants them involved in and/or things a future employer might smile about. Often times, the more that a young professional is involved with, the more recognition they get – awards, articles, etc. help to fuel this fire.

My personal opinion is that being involved in one of these organizations is more than a line on your resume. It is a commitment that you are going to fully invest. That could mean by advancing the mission if the organization is a non-profit. It could mean attracting more members if it is a group. It could mean a specific end goal if it is project based like an event or program. Regardless of the organization, they need you – they need your help, your experience, and your expertise. They are giving you a seat at the table and they need you to invest in them as well.

I used to be the aforementioned young professional. It started in high school – I wanted to be in every group under the sun in order to ensure that I had a solid foundation for college essay applications and scholarship submissions. When I got to college – it got worse. I made many friends and started to build additional networks, and I wanted to be involved in everything. To give you a taste…

  • Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society
  • Alpha Mu Alpha National Marketing Honorary
  • American Marketing Association
  • Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honor Society
  • Dean’s Student Leadership Council
  • The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi
  • Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society
  • And so on….

It wasn’t just enough to be in these groups, I took on leadership roles. At this point, I started to realize that I actually enjoyed this new level of busyness. Yes, sure it was building my resume, but it was also fun – a lot of fun. Who doesn’t want to fly to Orlando and New Orleans with the American Marketing Association (and some of my now best friends) or expand my boundaries by traveling to Coral Springs, Florida to represent my college at the Beta Gamma Sigma Student Leadership Conference? These groups are fun – that’s another reason why we join them.

However, at some point, we get overwhelmed. We over commit, under deliver and just get frustrated with ourselves. As young professionals, we convince ourselves to stay involved because we can’t possibly risk taking that line off our resume. We will disappoint ourselves, others (even our friends!) and then we are failures…quitters. Sure, we might have been the generation that grew up with participation trophies, so maybe this aids in the problem of feeling like we just want to participate.

As a young professional in Cleveland, I ventured right back into the comfortable space of getting too involved. You name the organization; I was a part of it (or secretly wanted to be a part of it). I joined groups, I volunteered, I shadowed - I did it all. What I realized was that it was helping me with my resume – helping me network, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t do it all. I was wearing too many hats at work, too many hats in my civic engagement life and I needed a break. I needed to refocus on what mattered to me, so I could determine where I could make a difference.

Nowadays, I say no…a lot…maybe too much by some people’s standards, but I’m happy and I’m committed and I do everything I say I am going to do. I sit on two Boards of Directors and enjoy them both quite a bit. I’ve taken on leadership roles within those Boards by serving on additional committees and even chairing one. I serve on a few committees too, but I make the conscious effort each time someone asks me to join one to really determine if I have the time to devote.

My new motto is to do 3-5 things really well versus spreading myself too thin to try to do 10 things mediocre. Plus, if each of us “over committers” commit to just a few things, we leave the door open for other young professionals to get involved. Each time I leave an organization, I envision the next person stepping in being even more committed to the mission at hand because research shows that the Millennial generation is all about purpose and giving back.

And guess what…people still acknowledge my commitment to the community. I still win awards. I still have friends and colleagues. And now that I have determined that I can’t join these groups, I can suggest other YPs like you.


Some YPs are on the other end of the spectrum and want to get involved, but don’t know how. Next week, my blog will explore just that, so stay tuned.

One more thing…if you are debating what to get involved in, how to do it, etc. Consider attending Engage! Cleveland’s 4th Annual YP Workshop on October 24. I am leading an entire session around young professional organizations – what they do, how they do it and why YOU SHOULD get involved. Just remember not to bite off more than you can chew, and have fun, you’ll end up making a difference for others and yourself.