Putting the “I” in Volunteer. Oh wait.

I tried my professional hat on today and it felt pretty uncomfortable at first. I have been volunteering in various capacities for a small local colon cancer organization for almost 15 years, and today I was asked to fill in for the executive director at a dinner we hosted for the awesome folks who comprise our fundraising team for the NYC Marathon. All of these people have a connection to colorectal cancer (as do I) and they all raised at least $3,000 to be able to run the marathon tomorrow. I figured if these people can train for four months to run 26.2 miles, the least I can do is put on real pants and makeup.

So I did. And I did my best to fill our wonderful executive director’s shoes.

My schmooze-ability was rusty at first. To be honest, since starting my OYAF and doing all this writing and reading and exploring life as a teetotaler, I have done a lot less volunteer work. And I feel tremendously guilty about that – when I relent to the force of old habits and allow myself to fall into that mindset. I no longer have colon cancer facts and figures readily accessible in my brain. But I had to make room for all this knowledge I’m acquiring about alcohol, and so the colon cancer stuff has been relegated to back shelves and has started to gather a bit of dust. So I felt rusty and awkward, trying to be all professional-like.

But then we shared our stories. I started by introducing myself to the group, telling everyone how my stepdad was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in 2002 and passed away 20 short months later. A few months before he died, I ran a race in Central Park to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer, and I ended up being the top female fundraiser of the whole thing. My stepdad was so touched to receive such an outpouring of support, and it really made a difference in his final days. That experience also introduced me to this organization and I’ve been volunteering ever since.

Our marathon runners shared stories of loss and stories of survival. Many of us had not met each other before today, and yet there we were, instantly connected by this vicious but preventable disease. And now twenty people will take to the streets of New York City tomorrow in honor and memory of loved ones, to help spread this critical message of awareness.

This cause is still a part of my heart. But it’s also ok that I have stepped back from it a bit to focus on myself and conquer something that was holding me back from being the best I can be. I know that when I’m ready to dive back in, whether as a volunteer or employee, whether for this cause or another, I will be able to give more of myself because I am taking time to fully reveal and nurture this self.

This self is not quite ready for launch yet. And that’s ok. The schmoozing skills kicked back in by the end of today’s event, but I am also happy to be able to retreat back into my sweatpants and my Notes app to write this post. I will give what I can as a volunteer for now, and I will try not to judge myself for not giving more. Because I need to continue this internal work. And I’d like to think that by sharing this work, I am not just helping myself; I’m helping others too.

And when my evolved self is ready to launch back into real pants and makeup on a more regular basis, look out world. She’s gonna be fierce.