I recently came across this post and found it fascinating: Want to Be Happy at Work? Care Less About It by Kelly O’Laughlin on Quiet Revolution. Whether or not you’re an introvert, you will likely relate to this post if you’re a hard-working Millennial working at a nonprofit. So many of us are working our hearts out for our clients and for the benefits of others, and unfortunately the term “nonprofit burnout” is not one that’s foreign to us.
I was hesitant to completely buy in to the post until she compared my 80% effort to others’ 100%… and then I got it. By not giving my all 100% of the time, I am recognizing that I am not perfect and cannot solve all of the world’s problems all by myself. It’s a moment of remembering my last post, Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn. This quote specifically resonated with me:
“Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”
Let’s remember to focus on self-love and self-care first and foremost. Because we can only show up to take care of others after we have shown up to take care of ourselves.
I absolutely LOVE this post, Mediocrity Starts with ME (humor) by Vu Le on Blue Avocado, a fantastic online magazine for the nonprofit sector. Although the post is six months old, I think it will (unfortunately) be one of those timeless posts that will always ring true. Through his witty and dry sense of humor, Vu asks us to take a breath, take a look around, and… take a nap. Chill out for a minute!
As nonprofit staffers, we are fully committed to the missions of the organizations we work for. We are working tirelessly to make the world a better place for our clients and our peers. We work long hours and pour our heart and soul into our work. All that is great – until we burn out. Vu poignantly and emphatically encourages us to give ourselves a break. Although we all strive for perfection in our jobs, doing our best is and should be good enough. We can’t all be the Jane of all trades to everyone – and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be. Calm down and know that you, doing your best, is enough! You are a nonprofit unicorn!
To quote Vu:
The Nonprofit Unicorn’s Mantra
“I am a nonprofit unicorn.
I try each day to make the world better.
I am good at some stuff, and I suck at some stuff, and that’s OK.
There’s way more crap than I can possibly do on any given day.
On some days I am more productive than on other days, and that’s OK.
I know sometimes there are things that I certainly could have done better.
I know that I can’t make everyone happy or spend as much time as I could on everyone.
I know there’s a bunch of crap I don’t know.
Sometimes I make mistakes, and that’s OK.
I will try my best to learn and to improve, but I’ll also give myself a break.
I will be as thoughtful and understanding with myself as I am with my clients and with my coworkers.
I am an awesome and sexy nonprofit unicorn.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Change is inevitable. Especially in well-functioning nonprofit organizations, consistent reevaluation of your work, your staffing structure, and your resources is key. As the world changes around us, the work we do to serve our clients should change as well.
But change can be scary. Especially for people like me, workers who set up their processes and procedures and get into a groove. They know what they need to do figure out the best way to get to where they need to be. Those slow and steady turtles that often win the race – I am definitely one of those. Those folks take change the hardest.
But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Any time you need to implement change in your organization, remember there are turtles like me. Remember that involving us in the conversation (if that’s an option) is key to do from the beginning. If you can’t involve us in the decision making process, walk us through the justifications as to why these choices are the best for the organization. Explain to us why you’re doing what you’re doing and allow us to understand how we are key to the process. Make us feel like a valuable member of the team and show us why the changes will help us do our work, and help the organization in the long run.
Without that, the turtle can get lost. But with adequate explanation, the turtle just might surprise you and win that race.
My friend Melissa and I are going to be the keynote speakers at a benefit dinner on Sunday and our adrenaline is pumping! There are so many directions we could go with our talk, so many messages we want to portray. As the founders of a university student organization, we’ll have a whole bunch of eyes and ears ready to take in what we have to say on Sunday.
As I was thinking about what we could do for our speech, I tried to think about the best speeches I have ever seen – the ones that have made me laugh, made me cry, or really resonated with me and struck me to my core. I recognized a pattern: all of the speakers were authentic. They didn’t all speak the most eloquently or come from the same background. They knew the core message they wanted to portray and they went there, without apology. Melissa and I went off that concept and are sharing moments and stories from our childhood and our time together, in the hopes that our speech will be a little bit more of a conversation.
Thinking about this also made me realize the importance that staying authentic has in so many other ways and places. In the workplace, with friends, and even at home, being yourself will give you the most confidence and happiness in the end. It might be uncomfortable to always be completely open and honest and yourself (especially at work, with your boss), but let me tell you from experience that it’s worth it. Because you might actually get what you need. And even if you don’t, you know you tried your absolute best and can move on.
I just finished reading I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) by Brene Brown and I couldn’t help but think about the ways we should translate Brene’s ideas into the nonprofit sector. The book’s core is about shame – the ways it effects people, how it manifests in one’s actions, and how we can better address it as a society. Shame is not an easy topic to talk about, but that just proves how important it is.
In the nonprofit sector, emotions run high and resilience can become tough. We are all working our hardest to do the best work we can, and sometimes, we can let our frustration get the best of us and lash out on others. This is a defense mechanism – in our minds, by shaming someone else we are somehow lifting ourselves – but something that we should all pay closer attention to. A little bit of compassion can go a long way in the workplace, and will ultimately allow us all to do our best work in a supportive environment.
Brene’s work is very interesting and I encourage you to take a look and consider how shame plays a role in your life. Because the more self aware we are, the better work we can do.
Today marks four years that I’ve had this blog and let me tell you, my third year was definitely my hardest so far. As you may remember, I received my Masters in Nonprofit Administration in December 2013, right before my blog turned three. I was inspired and ready to tackle some important issues about nonprofit sector effectiveness. And then… life happened. I got wrapped up in the day to day happenings of being a Donor Relations Manager at a very busy nonprofit and almost all of my thought about nonprofit efficiencies switched to wondering how I could stay sane at my job. Then… things clicked.
I realized that while I still had passion and interest in sector-wide issues, the issues I was dealing with on a daily basis weren’t as pretty, and were just as important (or even more important) to talk about. As nonprofit employees, we have a very unique set of challenges and issues to deal with. In years one and two of this blog, I focused more on posting about that. Year three, as I hoped to continue my journey into academia related to the nonprofit sector, unfortunately fell short. But I want to make a renewed commitment to come back to this blog and talk about the nitty gritty of handling yourself as a nonprofit employee. How can we all work hard, thrive, and still go home with some energy? I’m still learning myself, but I hope I can start some dialogue here to get us on the path to some shared ideas.
So, thanks for being patient with me. In year four I hope to tackle some important issues that we all deal with, and bring to light some not-so-pretty subjects. That’s the only way we’ll all get through this journey alive, and at the end of the day, we all hope we get out better than alive! We hope to get out thriving!
P.S. I updated my layout, headshot, About Me blurb, and About Me page – what do you think?
While it’s easy to put foundations and other funders on a pedestal, these are the institutions that need the most feedback, argues Phil Buchanan in the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Foundation CEOs Need Candid Feedback to Succeed in Driving Change. This great piece, taking inspiration from Ford Foundation’s president Darren Walker’s recently released letter on his first year in office, discusses the pressure that foundation heads are under to perform and the need for feedback to ensure they are doing their best work.
I couldn’t agree more, and would argue that this idea of the importance of candid feedback can translate to any entity or person in power. Whether it’s your boss, your organization’s CEO, your local government or the president of the United States, people in power need to hear about the ways their decisions affect the people around them.
In fact, the more power one has, the more influence they have, and often (especially in the nonprofit sector), the less people are inclined to give feedback. The nonprofit sector has a mistaken culture of niceness where confrontation is avoided for the sake of being “nice” – when, in fact, lack of feedback is actually unkind. If you really care about the success of someone in power, the nicest thing you can do for them is provide them with candid feedback. No one is perfect, no matter how much power she has. So the only way to improve is by hearing from others.
Today, give your boss a piece of candid feedback. More times than not, instead of reprimanding you, she will appreciate you.