Red, red, wine. . .and Rube Goldberg

Patrice announced at staff meeting this morning that there are 20 days left until Christmas. In the Volunteer Maryland world this means we are approximately 25 percent through service year 24. I know; I was pretty sure that couldn’t be true, too. One of my kids is an engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. He sent me this link last week. We were both intrigued by this ingenious product designed by Kouichi Okamoto. The device consists of a bulb shaped container with the glass below. When the amount in the glass decreases, a constant amount is poured from the tank into the glass. The wine will never overflow because of the balance between air pressure and water pressure. Balance? Pressure? How did he do that? I’d bet these same questions are running through the minds of the VMCs as well. What does it take to successfully progress through the service year maintaining balance?
I don’t have the magic answer. Based on my experience as a VMC last year I do think two key components to achieving balance are communication and practice. Most of the VMCs have had site visits with their Site Supervisor, Laura, and Joy or me. We’ve reviewed their Work Plans and the VMC and the site personnel know the outline for the service year. At each visit Laura ensures the VMC and Site Supervisor have regularly scheduled opportunities to have conversations with one another. Volunteer Maryland holds monthly trainings and Joy and I schedule regional gatherings. You may remember AT&T’s old slogan: “Reach out and touch someone.” It was one of the most successful ad campaigns to date. Communication is also an important piece of the VM service year. And, as Ma Bell recognized, communication has to start with someone “reaching out. . . “. If something is on your mind, or you are confused, share it.
In an earlier post I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s postulation that it takes 10,000 practices to be masterful. Last year I heard Robert Siegel talk about Ok Go’s latest musical endeavor on All Things Considered. He reported that it took dozens of teams of engineers and 60 takes to get to the final product. Effective volunteer management takes practice. And, while you are practicing, don’t hesitate to give some extra attention to the areas that could use more practice. Be willing to spill some wine. . .and break a glass or two. . .you will need more than one take!

Close the door. . .Take your mark. . .

I have been volunteering as an official with USA and YMCA Swimming for more than 15 years. I am certified in several positions; one of these is as the Starter. In competitive swimming, this is the person who initiates the race. The standard protocol is for the Starter to say, “Take your mark,” when the swimmers are set, you depress a button that produces an ear splitting blast and simultaneously starts the timing system. At that moment the race begins. Certification in this position requires specific previous experience, passing a written test, a requisite number of sessions as an apprentice, and subsequent assessment by a skilled evaluator. During the apprentice period, I was coached to practice saying “Take your mark” frequently, in any situation possible. The mantra I practiced saying was “close the door. . .take your mark.” This approach is taught because the cadence of conversationally saying “close the door” is the desired cadence for saying “take your mark.” I practiced in the car, in the shower, making dinner and continue to practice before each meet when I know I will be the Starter. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes most of us 10,000 practices to be masterful.
At our regional meeting earlier this month, the VMCs talked about their One Minute Spots. This is a 60 second response to the question “What do you do?” that encompasses the partnership between Volunteer Maryland and the community agencies where the VMCs serve. Liz even acknowledged that she had “flubbed” it when asked “What is Volunteer Maryland?” During our conversation, one of the VMCs asked me to share mine. It rolled effortlessly off my tongue. Why? I have practiced for more than a year. I haven’t reached 10,000 times yet and it is a work in progress; Joy and I practiced with Patrice coaching us just a few days into the current service year. I have continued to practice though. Last year at Thanksgiving I practiced over and over again. That was the first time I saw my brothers and their families since beginning the service year as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. It was a prime opportunity. And, I was better prepared the next month when participating in outreach programs in the community. My family has practiced many skills in the presence of one another over the years. Sometime I’ll tell you about the frogs on the cutting board! For now, use the upcoming holiday to practice your One Minute Spot (or anything else you need to practice!). Challenge yourself to get feedback from people in the generation before and after yours as well as from parents, spouses, and complete strangers.