Why do I do this to myself?

Volunteerism and Life Management
By Katie Weber
APLDWA President-elect

I could give you all a minute-by-minute account of what I spend my time on daily, but I’m sure it would be nothing new to you. It is summer after all, and we’re Landscape Designers. But I’m also a wife, parent, pet owner, gym patron, and Little League volunteer. You could come up with a similarly full list, right? With all of this, why do I choose to add additional responsibilities by volunteering for APLDWA? And don’t say, “Because she’s crazy.” While that may sometimes feel true, I do it for many reasons; the biggest one is that I get much more out of volunteering than the time I spend doing it. And because of that, I’ve gotten very creative in finding time for it all.

It was the end of 2013 and I had had the worst year for work. While other designers had really struggled through the recession of 2009, 2010, and beyond, I had done just fine. But in 2013, the economy was in recovery, and landscape designers were benefitting. But not me; the phone was eerily quiet. I really struggled. Then, I realized that I was doing nothing to promote myself as a designer. I had been complacent, waiting for work to come to me. I had isolated myself from my peers and limited my exposure to APLDWA’s amazing programming. I became determined to do something. I went to the year-end holiday party, excited to see my friends and catch up on all that they had been doing. And there, Leanne, the incoming president for APLDWA told a group of us that the board was looking for a volunteer to fill the Member-at-Large position. After a few minutes reflection, I found Leanne again and told her I’d do it. And that changed everything.

Starting early in 2014, work started pouring in, mostly as referrals from fellow APLDWA designers unable or unwilling to take on the particular client because of location, scope, whatever. Because I was having routine conversations with my fellow board members, they knew what work I was interested in; so when that work came to them and they didn’t want to do it, I got the call. My regular attendance of chapter programs was also helpful. Being with people of like mind and profession was like a near constant reminder to keep working on building my brand.

The volunteer core for APLDWA seems to be constantly touting the intangible, unquantifiable benefits to volunteering for APLDWA: increased exposure to peers, deeper camaraderie and friendships, etc, etc. These all are true and I appreciate them all, but they are subjective. Objectively, in dollars earned, I have completed more designs and more installations while being a volunteer for APLDWA than when I wasn’t.

“I heard it takes up so much time.” “I’m so busy with work right now, I just can’t fit it in.” “I’m a new designer. I won’t have anything to contribute.” “My kids are little. Maybe when they’re older I’ll volunteer.” I’ve heard these all. I’ve even said them. So how do I make it happen? How do I do my own work while also doing and being all of the other things that make up my life?
  • I set aside time for them all. Even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. I write emails and make work calls in the 30 minutes between dropping the boys off at school. I set everything down and go to the gym at noon Monday through Friday unless I have an appointment scheduled. I go to the boys’ baseball practices even when Ryan is there, too. It might be our only family time of the day.
  • My calendar is my lifeline. End of story.
  • I’m flexible with my time and myself. I often wonder why I didn’t get more completed on any given day. I then take the time to look back and see how much I actually did get done. It’s usually way more than the first impression.
  • I work strange hours. (And I frequently work in PJs and unshowered.) Family dinner lasted longer than expected and I’ve got to finish a design? I’m sitting at my computer after everyone else is in bed.
  • I know when I have to set something aside to complete work that needs being done. All this flexibility means the innate procrastinator in me sometimes (often) prevails. When that happens, I don’t dwell on the fact that something else isn’t getting done. I let it go.
  • I’ve realized what I’m good at and what I’m not. I delegate the stuff I’m no good at. I’m no good at party planning for Emmett’s Little League team, so someone else does that.
  • I apologize and refrain from blame. No one is perfect. I make mistakes all of the time. My responsibilities for APLDWA don’t always get done promptly. But that is the same for all of us volunteers. We all do what we can.
That’s it. By utilizing the above, I make it work. Is every day a home run of to-do items completed? Nope. Am I still a procrastinator? Every day. Do I enjoy my time spent with my fellow APLDWA volunteers? Absolutely. Do I ever regret agreeing to help out? Never. (Though the idea of being APLDWA president come 2018 still makes me nervous.)