I don’t think I’m really qualified to write on this topic. Three weeks ago I attended a Texas Women’s Leadership Conference that I thought was for millennials but turns out was more for women whose children were millenials, and I was very aware of the fact that I have so much more to learn. A more accurate title for this post would probably be “7 things I think I might’ve figured out during my brief time working at a nonprofit.”
This list is not exhaustive. It is also very subjective, and will probably only be applicable to nonprofits specializing in education/youth. I’ve been an AmeriCorps member for an education non-profit for almost nine months now, and during this time I’ve faced new challenges, learned a lot about myself, and eaten atrocious amounts of pizza. Out of pure necessity I’ve sort of taken the time to process – and though most of the things running through my mind only vaguely resemble formed thoughts, here are seven things that I’ve started to make sense of:
1. Strive for people, not an idea
Something I love about the non-profit I work for is that we do a lot of direct service, meaning we spend a lot of our time working directly with people, something that can be uncommon in the nonprofit world. There’s this quote I like by Thomas Merton from his ‘Letter to a Young Activist’, where he advised his reader to “struggle less and less for an idea, and more and more for specific people.”
Because ideas have no substance without people. Noble phrases like alleviating poverty, bridging the gap, transforming communities – those words hold no weight if you don’t recognizes faces or know names or understand stories. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about ideas (which isn’t bad at all) but it wasn’t until I had the people in my life that I realized there really isn’t one solution. And I realized how dangerously close I had been to caring more about a cause than a person.
2. People who work for nonprofits are wired very similarly
This can be good or bad. Everyone I work with has the same passion for youth and education and the same longing to make a difference. We’re all very like-minded and wired similarly – kindred spirits in a way. But I have to remind myself to stay aware – it’s easy to be sucked into a bubble.
3. You will have to fight to stay idealistic and optimistic
It was frightening to watch how quickly my own idealism faded. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write this post. Dreams of changing the world that once flowed so easily from my fingertips to the keys came to a halt as I grew tired and a little disillusioned. I’ve heard it happens to everyone, but not as the same rate. Compassion Fatigue, they call it.
Thankfully though, it’s never permanent and it never wins. Not unless you let it.
4. You won’t agree with everything
And that’s okay. Believe it or not, most people are aware that they don’t have all the answers – but they’d rather try than sit back and do nothing.Learning how to best help others can be a lot of trial and error. Allow the nonprofit to grow and change; chances are, you’ll realize you were wrong most of the time too.
5. Take care of yourself
People around me, myself included, have a tendency to wear ‘Busy’ as a badge of honor. After sitting through countless sessions on ‘self-care,’ I’ve gone from rolling my eyes to being convicted about the way I live my life. We advocate for our students and families to live healthy lifestyles while we work well after the sun has gone down, sustained by coffee and pizza.
I don’t really know what this looks like though. So far it’s meant rummaging through my closet to see if I still own running clothes, and buying large amounts of kale.
6. Stop trying to be an inspiring person – it’s not about you
7. It’s good to change, but don’t lose focus
Countless times this past year I didn’t feel like myself. I lost myself in my work, in ministry, in the lives of other people, and forgot about a lot of things. I forgot that I’m living in light of eternity, and I forgot that nothing can actually change without Jesus. I forgot that it’s only by losing my life for His sake that I will find it, and I forgot that there’s a Victory in the end.
Food stamps are interesting
I could probably write an entire post about food stamps, but it would probably come across as pretentious, or even worse, naive. Instead, here is someone with more well-informed thoughts.
No more pizza.
Thoughts? If you work for a non-profit, do you agree? Disagree? Do you think I should start eating more pizza? Do you think I should stop talking about pizza?
Thanks for reading :)