Get Involved At Your Own Risk

Support Northern Colorado Journalism

Show your support for North Forty News by helping us produce more content. It's a kind and simple gesture that will help us continue to bring more content to you.

Click to Donate


One would think that the pursuit of a physically active lifestyle and involvement in volunteer service endeavors have little in common, right?

Nope. Not for me. For me they’ve a lot in common. And that commonality is best denoted by an expression usually associated only with the former—‘No pain, no gain’. Let me explain:

My wife recently had her fifth exercise/recreation-induced surgery—torn meniscus from playing pickleball. That’s one surgery short of my six, also from wear and tear during workouts and/or competition. And that doesn’t count hours of physical therapy for injuries not serious enough for surgery.

So, what’s my point? My point is that sometimes there are aches and pains associated with fitness and/or recreational activities. But is it worth it? You bet. Besides the general health benefits, the training and racing during my distance running days gave me the confidence to pursue what became a rewarding career. And after retirement, that confidence carried over to my involvement in consulting work and assorted volunteer service activities… which brings me to the rest of this story.

So, life is complicated enough without adding to the stress by getting involved in any volunteer activities, causes or issues, putting yourself ‘out there’ as they say, right? But if you don’t stretch yourself with new, challenging endeavors, or don’t ‘give back’ to some cause, aren’t you missing out on the opportunity to benefit others or rectify some issue that needs a champion, to say nothing of the personal satisfaction you gain from your efforts? For me the answer is yes, but somehow I don’t seem to be able to avoid the pain that sometimes goes with the gain of well-intentioned involvement.

For example, some years ago, I was recruited to the board of a philanthropic organization, ostensibly for my fiscal and operational expertise. And despite finding much within my professional wheelhouse that needed rectifying, my recommendations fell on deaf ears with the other board members—too much work. So I resigned, but not without the figurative pain of many contentious meetings. After reluctantly accepting another similarly couched recruitment with identical results, I came away from those disappointing experiences convinced that many members of volunteer endeavors are involved more for resume enhancement than for doing actual work improving the status quo. 

Around the same time, I was asked to volunteer executive coaching to an acquaintance who purportedly needed help for career advancement. However, after many counseling sessions filled with incessant “yeah but” responses to my suggestions, I reached the conclusion that it’s better to just tell egoists what they want to hear, which is a contrary kind of pain.

I’ve also known the pain of solo pushback. You know how it goes—you’re irritated over something; in this case it was officious management of my athletic club. Lots of members had gripes, but yours truly ended up the spokesperson and inevitably the pioneer who took the arrows. And guess what, there were no allies to be found when the barbs started flying. That taught me that, when the other guys say, “One for all and all for one,” what they really mean is, “Every man for himself.”

Then of course there’s the pain of HOA presidency, 13 years and counting. And while I take pride in my work on behalf of the association, I’m also always prepared for the ego deflating call that goes something like this: “You’re doing a great job and we all appreciate your efforts… but…” Oh well, you can’t please everyone, but I’ll keep trying.

Even writing this column, another volunteer endeavor, brings its own anxiety each month, courtesy of my in-house editor. She insists on reviewing my drafts to ensure that no personal embarrassment ensues because pillow talk about someone within her social circle makes its way into my satire.

So why does one put themself out there when it’s so much safer to turtle up? Simply put, I didn’t find retirement all it’s cracked up to be. I missed the relevance and identity, feeling valuably engaged in something worthwhile, and I needed substitutes. Was I naïve in thinking that volunteerism would be free of the hassles and outright conflicts of career? Perhaps, but lest anyone reading this thinks I’m courting sympathy, I’m not because I’ve learned that the occasional pain of giving back is worth the gain, especially when you get it right. And if only one person says you did, it was worth it.

Phil Goldstein is in his fourth year writing Tales from Timnath for North Forty News. Phil is a 13-year Timnath resident who is finally using his West Virginia University journalism degree after getting sidetracked 50 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column at