I was just able to spend the past few days at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. I volunteered with the crew, and had the opportunity to work with some amazing people. A special shout out to Tyler, Stan, Meredith, and Michelle, all who were very kind in welcoming me to the Catalyst family.
I didn’t have a defined role at Catalyst, and everyone I had “reported to” certainly had plenty to do without creating tasks for me to do. We normally experience this when we’re new to a situation, and it can be difficult to figure out how to be helpful. The situation may be at a party, new job, or volunteering. We normally act in two extremes, either with excessive inquiries or lackadaisical passivity. Each have ingrained difficulties you want to avoid.
Excessive questions can be stressful for your host or supervisor, and you become another task for them to handle. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t ask to help, not at all! But we do need to be creative and mindful enough of our situation to not need constant supervision or direction.
Passive work is certainly the least desirable course of action (or inaction). This is where you wait around needing to be asked, slowly doing a task, and then waiting around or even avoiding future requests. Being a passive person won’t get you invited back.
Rather than becoming a project or accepting passivity, I think you can apply these suggestions to any opportunity you come across. The ability to be helpful in any situation is a valuable trait that will get you asked back for years to come.
Do the Dirty Work
Find the job everyone else is avoiding and crush it! When I say dirty work, take it literally! Empty the trash, clean the bathroom, sweep the floor, and clear the tables. We all know clean and clear spaces are more enjoyable to experience and connect in, and we notice when they are dirty. Be the person who helps create the space for comfort and community.
Jump In and Ask
Of course you should ask how you can help! Here’s the trick though. Ask more than the important people, i.e. directors and producers. Ask the assistants, handlers, supervisors, and managers. Build relationships outside of the power players, and you’ll find the effect is just as important, and you’ve actually had more influence and impact in a larger network. Consider the math. Rather than asking 2-3 people fifty times if you can help, ask 10 people five times.
Own Your Opportunities
At Catalyst, I had one consistent task. Keep the drink machine stocked in the speaker lounge. That machine was never without water, soda, and other assorted drinks. I knew that I was helping the speakers and musicians stay hydrated, making them better prepared for their moment in front of the crowd. I was able to channel a specific why purpose to a seemingly mundane task. Like the stonemason who sees the cathedral, I saw a great speaker and my opportunity to serve them and the crowd.
Test different ways of cleaning, sorting, delivering, and organizing. Do it in small batches so any mistakes will be minimized and quickly rectified. As a volunteer, you can be a little bold with your opportunities and try some things! After all, it’s not like you’re going to lose your job! Maybe the boxes could be stacked more efficiently or the equipment moved faster. Be willing to try a new tactic in your work, and share the results.
When you adopt the mindset of how to be helpful, you’ll see these can be helpful no matter where you are, whether a large event or just over at a friend’s home. Get involved by doing and helping people, especially in the tasks you don’t see others gravitating to. You’ll stand out and be memorable simply in your willingness to reject passivity and own your opportunities.
What other ways can we be helpful in new situations and opportunities? Please share with the community!