Balancing Community Involvement and Professional Commitments

College students are highly adept at multi-tasking and meeting simultaneous obligations. Whether it’s getting a take-home exam in before the midnight deadline, yet still attending floor wars at their dorm, or sleeping in but somehow managing to catch the bus needed to arrive at their lab on time, students seem to know how to be in multiple places at once.

New Professionals Sometimes Struggle To Acclimate To New Obligations
Unfortunately, new professionals aren’t always as socially agile as their former college selves, with many finding that equity between community involvement and professional life is a bit daunting. Upon applying to your firm of choice, you will quickly see how involved all the staff, managers, and partners seem to be in the community. Once you start your new role, you’ll also notice that your peers are making this happen in addition to their sizable workload, but how?

My first year in public accounting was a steep learning curve. Seeing senior staff and managers attending board meetings after work, or even during fieldwork, made me wonder if, at some point, I should I participate in these activities as well. I knew that as a freshly-minted Staff Accountant, it wasn’t my time just yet, but was still uncertain as to when that time would be. I struggled with so many questions. How would I know that I was ready to be a “good board member?” Should I be seeking out such opportunities, or would they be offered to me?

Make Time For What Matters…To You
One way I eased this tension, was asking those I worked with how they became involved in their organizations. I quickly learned that if you’re going to take on another commitment, it’s important to make it one worth balancing with your workload. If the volunteer commitment is something you’re passionate about, making time for it won’t seem like such a chore.

I am a firm believer that being too busy is a myth, and that we make time for things that matter to us. I started small, becoming involved in the local chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA). I led a small group of walkers in a town event, allowing me to work with the organization I was fundraising for, as well as with some of my work colleagues. Fast-forward a few years later, I continued to walk with a team at work and was eventually asked to serve on the Board for the Founders’ Affiliate of AHA.

In another example, I volunteered with Seacoast Eat Local for quite a few seasons, working with their food stamp program. When I started working in public accounting, I was asked to serve on the finance committee of the Board of Directors. Both of these organizations are close to my heart, serving both our local communities, as well as on a nation-wide platform. I knew that there would be times of year that would be difficult for me to be involved (aka tax season). As such, I made sure to communicate these limitations to my groups, to ensure expectations were managed.

Serving our clients always comes first. However, with careful planning, effective communication, and a passion for causes in the community, making the balance between professional and volunteer involvement does not have to be demanding.