On over-committing: the pleasure and pain of getting involved

Photo by Samantha Stuart

“Hi, you’ve reached Nicole Garbutt, owner of Nicole Garbutt Makeup Artistry, president of The Northern V Network, co-chair of It Gets Better Yellowknife and festival co-ordinator of Ramble and Ride. Please leave your name, number, and, obviously based on this message, what you are calling about, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.” Beeep.

That was my outgoing voicemail a year and a half ago.

My name is Nicole Garbutt and I am an overcommitmentaholic. In this town, I am certainly not alone. Five years ago, I moved home to Yellowknife and that time has passed by in a flurry of board meetings, action items, productions and events.

Finding myself with a moment to pause and think, I decided to fill up that empty time with some musings about just why Yellowknifers can’t keep an open schedule. For starters, Yellowknifers can always spot a newcomer. We remember how nice it was when we were in their shoes and someone took the time to introduce themselves. Plus, new residents are the best pool of resources for locals to rope into their activities. Who doesn’t want an opportunity to meet other people in their new city?

It starts small, first you’re just attending an art show, next you’re volunteering at the door and before you know it, you’re president of the board.

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One of my best friends, Bre Bray, was only in town about a week before she was volunteering for her first events. “I think newcomers are surprised at how many organizations exist and how many of them are so excited to see new faces each year.” Bray says. “We want people to love our city as much as we do and with that comes volunteering for projects, events and organizations that we hold near to our heart.”

Nancy MacNeill holds a lot of projects close to her heart. If you’ve ever volunteered for something in Yellowknife, chances are it was Nancy bringing you into it, or telling you what to do once you got there. The old expression, If you need something done, give it to a busy person, describes her life.

“I try really hard to only get involved with projects and people I am passionate about,” she says. “It’s important that I care deeply if I’m going to give my best work.”

We all want to see amazing events happen, and we know that without the support of volunteers, they won’t. It’s sneaky and it’s subtle until you realize you’re sending out polls to schedule a meeting or go out for lunch. So what happens when we bite off more than we can chew?

Bre says when she was a board member for Folk on the Rocks, she was skipping lunches at her day job to leave early, and debating taking a day off to finish coordinating the welcome artists BBQ.

“That was when I realized I needed to calm down a little and let things work themselves out, I had to remember that my own self should be a priority,” she advises me.

Nancy adds, “as I grow – personally and professionally – I’m learning a lot about my limits. I look forward to finding even more ways to make my work more organized and less hectic, but I don’t think a one-focus job that leaves all my evenings free will ever be for me.”

As for myself, I like to pretend I’m getting better. The truth is, although it was I who approached EDGE YK to write this column, I barely had time to put it together. Now that it’s complete, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to working on my art grant, planning for wedding season, Queerlesque auditions and rehearsals and fitting that personal life in there somewhere.

Hey, we’re all a work in progress, right?



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