The Gathering Place is a day shelter for women, families, and transgender individuals. I have volunteered there with Project Helping three times already. At each event, volunteers arrive at 7am to cook and serve breakfast for the people at the shelter. We always make sausage and three different pancakes: plain, blueberry, and chocolate chip. The last two times that I volunteered, I was on griddle duty with six bowls of pancake batter ready to be cooked. The best part about frying up pancakes for three hours is that it is a great time to just think. I realized that making pancakes there in the TGP kitchen is actually a pretty great metaphor for life. These are the 5 things I realized while volunteering.
1) Practice actually does make near-perfect
The first day that I was on pancake duty, most of my pancakes resembled burned tacos more so than pancakes. Some were scorched. Others were gooey on the inside. Some were just dry. By my second event, my pancakes looked good enough to be in an IHOP ad. The lesson there is that if you give up when things don’t go right the first time, you lose the chance to get better. It may be frustrating, but practice, practice, practice and it gets easier and more fun.
2) Failure is okay
See point #1: a lot of my pancakes were awful. But many more were just fine. If you focus on all the things that you screw up, it leaves you no room to focus on what you do well. It is okay to mess up and make mistakes. What matters is how you handle it and what you do next. Instead of beating yourself up over failures, accept that it happens and try to do better the next time.
3) Ask for help if you need it
While I was playing pancake chef, half the griddle was burning everything and the other half left everything milky white. I did struggled to make the griddle cooperate and not mess up my pancakes for a while. Then, I flagged down one of the kitchen staff members and asked how to fix the problem. Two seconds and the turn of a knob later, making pancakes was a breeze again. The point? Ask for help. There is no point in needlessly struggling when asking for help can make your life easier.
4) Focus on you, not on what others think
Frying up pancakes was fun until it came time to serve breakfast. I worried that the other volunteers—who were moms and probably pancake making experts—would think I was a horrible cook. I was afraid they would blame me for screwing up an otherwise wonderful breakfast. But that was just the anxiety talking. The reality is that no one was judging my pancake making abilities. I should have focused on what I was doing rather than worrying what others thought. The moral of the story? Focus on you, not on others.
5) Control the controllables
The griddle is big enough to fit fourteen pancakes on it at a time. What I realized was that if I did twelve pancakes across, then they would turn out better and I could flip them faster. There are things that you can control and things that you cannot. If you control what you can and accept what you cannot, you’ll be happier and more productive. And have much tastier pancakes.
Want to have an amazing volunteer experience, make a whole lot of pancakes, and think about life? Click Here to sign up to volunteer at The Gathering Place. To learn more, check out our previous post about volunteering at TGP.