7 things I’ve learned about working for a nonprofit

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

Yup.

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.

*****

Honorable Mentions:

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.

Yeah.

*****

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 :)

Nope

I did not blog every day in April. Didn’t even come close. Instead, I spent my time in other ways – drinking coffee, eating pizza, frantically running from place to place, the usual. During this time I also lost all ability to write in full sentences, so here are bullet point snapshots of a day in April.

Day in the life:

– Woke up early enough to go and pray with friends, but didn’t want to pray. Pretended to go back to sleep but roommate made me wake up to go pray

– Found it difficult to pray; prayed about feeling burnt out and overwhelmed

– Running late! Do raisins and almonds count as breakfast?

– Arrived at office early-ish; turned on office lights; opened e-mail and looked at to-do list. Closed computer and ran downstairs to get coffee before everyone else started arriving

– Stepped out of the elevator with coffee in hand; burst into tears due to exhaustion and immediately turned around to hide in elevator

– Meeting, meeting, work, work

– Special lunch meeting about ‘Self Care’ – preventing compassion fatigue and learning to take care of yourself. Discussion leader had us write down what the negative voice in our head is saying. I refused to participate and looked around at what other people were writing. I saw things like: “What am I doing? Is all of this really worth it?”

– Meeting, meeting , work, work. No time for dinner! Self control – found cheez-its in the office and ate that instead of the pizza for the kids

– Led a Group Interview Session for high-schoolers! Very fun, very exciting.  Very proud of all my students, feeling like a proud mama.

– Walked out of the office as the sun finished setting, rays of light peaking above the horizon. Bf bought me a chocolate milkshake to make feel better after long day

– Coffeeshop with friends, answering work e-mails. The questions I saw start to come back – what am I doing? Is this all really worth it?

– Phone call with a friend, fell asleep on the couch holding phone.

//

Not long after this, I had a very different day where I spent the whole day being sick, and also being angry and sad about being sick. When I was sick, the busyness stopped for a second – but the questions didn’t go away. Like, what am I doing, is this all really worth it.

It’s been hard to remember that I’m living in light of eternity, that the focus and the center of everything stretches beyond the narrow scope I’m viewing life through which encompasses only yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I’m thankful for the people around me who refuse to let me sit in my apathy, and force me to turn to Jesus. Also, those same people eat pizza and drink coffee with me so that’s nice too.

Time is strange

I googled ‘fun facts about april,’ and unfortunately, the most fun fact I could find was that 62% of people believe April is a good name for a baby. Fun fact indeed. 

Day 1

And so it begins – the annual tradition of attempting to blog every day in April (otherwise known as BEDA). I’ve made repeated attempts to tackle this ambitious task, and I’ve failed every. single. time. This time will most likely be no different.

March went by so quickly. I realized recently that all of my small talk consists of discussing the fleeting nature of time. It varies from week to week:

1st week: “Can you believe it’s already (current month)? I feel like (previous month) just started! Time is strange.”
2nd week: “We’re almost halfway through (current month). Can you believe it? Time is strange.

3rd week: “Next week is the last week of (current month). Wow this month is flying by. Time is so strange.”
4th/5th week: I can’t believe (current month) is almost over! It feels like it just started! Isn’t time strange?” 

And so on. 

Anyway. Things I want to blog about this month:

  • Another updated coffeeshop guide
  • the time I hadn’t showered or washed my hair for three days and I was running around HEB trying to find the best deal for my foodstamps when I ran into a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in a year
  • Theory of Change
  • Asian American Identity
  • Things into which angels long to look

Stay tuned, friends!

Hello Spring

Happy spring equinox! I wish I was starting off my first day of spring more like today’s Google doodle (if you’re  haven’t already, visit the google home page), but I’m actually staring out the dirty window of a megabus into gray skies and Austin traffic. 

But I’m welcoming this Texas spring with open arms, 70 percent humidity and all. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily the arrival of spring that I’m happy about, or the subtle excitement that comes with a transition of seasons – the anticipation of new possibilities.  These past few months I’ve had a case of the winter blues (even though in Austin it reached 80 degrees almost every weekend in January and February), and I guess a part of me is hoping that spring will show me the cure. Because spring invites hope and change and new opportunities. The sun lingers a little longer and the scent of the air matches the colors of the trees and flowers. The only downside to spring is that now I have to pay extra attention when I shave my legs.

 We bought a Texas State Park pass the other week, sort of on a whim. If I remember correctly I think it means we can go to any Texas state park for free and bring friends along too. Hopefully it’ll lend itself to creating more memories and adventures. Who knows, maybe I’ll do a series on the best state parks. 

Here’s when we went to Pedernales Falls, which is infinitely better than Enchanted Rock in my book. If we go back, I’d like to see if my water bottle is still there, since last time I dropped it and watched helplessly as the waterfall swept it into the middle of the pool. I felt awful and wanted to fetch it out because I didn’t want people to think I didn’t care about the environment, but it was impossible and Daniel told me I was making a scene and only drawing more attention to myself so we watched as the water bottle floated back and forth in the dead center of the pool, then left. We are bad citizens.

On another note, one of my coworkers always asks me how ‘Dan’ is doing, not ‘Daniel’. I made the mistake of not correcting her the first time, so now whenever we talk about him, I also refer to him as Dan. It’s been a few months, so we’ve definitely passed the stage where I could casually switch back without it being weird and awkward. Reminds me of the time in Friends when Chandler’s coworker calls him Toby for five years.

FullSizeRender

Laundry room thoughts

Yesterday I locked myself in my apartment’s laundry room.

It has one of those doors with a lock but no handle. You can actually pry it open if you pull on the lock hard enough, but it was 28 degrees outside so my fingers were frozen and the door was frozen and I’m not very strong – so I stood at the window waiting for someone to come by for about ten minutes.

No one ended up walking by so I tried one more time and it finally flung open.

Once during a Professional Development session at work, they told us that those with greatest productivity learn how to take advantage of discretionary time, or unplanned ‘free’ time. It’s a practice I would like to master.

Ways I should have spent my ten minutes of discretionary time (I did not have my phone):

– Draft replies in my head to various text messages I’ve ignored
– Make a mental grocery list
– Ten minute power nap
– Push-ups or something

My discretionary time is usually spent daydreaming or wondering about life and the passage of time.

Like why are years separated into months, then weeks, then days. We work and toil to finish a task within a month or a week, when a month or a week is just an arbitrary number of days (days, however, I understand).

How do I spend my time? What does it look like to spend my time radically, and at what point does that radical use of time become reckless?

I’ve been feeling a little reckless with my time lately – pulled in different directions, not even having time for my personal health. It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve stolen pizza from the office because I don’t have time for dinner before the next thing. (I guess it’s technically not stealing). The other night I was leaving the office late on my way to another meeting, so I grabbed a slice of pizza from the fridge. As I was leaving the kitchen I heard footsteps rounding the corner and in a panic instinctively shoved the pizza into my purse. Trying to nod nonchalantly goodbye to my colleague I ran into the elevator, and as soon as the doors shut, pulled the pizza out of my purse. Then I thought better of it and waited until I got into my car.

It wasn’t until I was driving with one hand, eating pizza with the other, worrying I would be late to my next meeting, that I stopped to take a look at my life. Not pretty.

I’ve been wondering what it looks like to ruthlessly eliminate hurry. I don’t think it’s so bad that I spent my ten minutes of discretionary time wondering about time and pizza instead of completing a task. It’s nice to wonder about things sometimes – like how an accident of latitude and longitude, a serendipitous accident of time and place can mean the difference of having someone important in your life.

These thoughts aren’t really leading anywhere. This post was a result of a continued desire to blog more regularly, just like my roommate Melissa, who has an awesome blog. Check it out!

Mediocrity: Learning Curve Part 2

I’ve been wondering why I don’t write more about work. It’s odd, considering how much time I spend either at the office or meeting with students or driving to and from work-related events in the ever-increasing Austin traffic. It’s not like I don’t have anything to say (because Lord knows I definitely have things to say), but I think there’s a reason why I don’t like to write about work.

It’s because I don’t think I’m very good at my job.

This was hard for me to admit at first, especially considering how much I wanted this job. In college I would dream about going off to change the world and impacting lives. But when the dream was actually in front of me, the world started to look a lot bigger and I started to feel a lot smaller and impacting lives became a little fuzzy in the light of my own inadequacies. I started to realize I wasn’t really the person I thought I was.

Which is fine, really. My identity is not in my work (I remind myself on a minute-by-minute basis), but coming to terms with my shortcomings was a weird feeling, not unlike disillusionment. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I really do. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met people who’ve impacted my life. It’s just that I’m, well, a little mediocre.

And mediocrity’s not such a bad thing, I’ve discovered. It’s not always the same thing as inadequacy, and it’s not the same as sitting around feeling sorry for myself, not believing I’m capable of greatness.

Because what is greatness anyway.I used to wonder if thinking I was mediocre was limiting me from reaching my full potential, but actually it helped me realize it’s not really about me. Which has been freeing, actually.

I have a student who loves to write. Two, actually. Sisters.

Loving to write doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it, nor does it mean that you do it often (I know this better than anyone I think). It’s more like, who you are, I guess. How you identify yourself.

It helps you deal with pain too, I think. One sister told me she can’t drive past the hospital where her grandmother died without falling into tears. She said it’s like a reflex almost, and she can’t help herself. What is that like, I wonder.

She told me her sister tries to numbs herself from the pain. TV, she said, and games on her phone. So when I met with her sister, I thought I might say something to help. I started to ramble, too loudly and too quickly. Writing is a type of art therapy, it can help you process your pain. Writing can help you have an outlet…my voice trailed off. I handed her a pen and a piece of paper. Write a letter to yourself from the summer, I said. Write down your thoughts.

I didn’t know if it would actually help, but I wanted her to do it. I wanted her to write. She picked up the pen, and I stared out the window where the window pane was starting to frost and the ice was beginning to stick. She wrote furiously for 10 minutes, and I worked on other things on my computer. When she was done I told her she could keep the letter. She got her stuff  and walked away.

I don’t even know if it helped. It would have helped me, I know that much. It has helped me, in the past.

I might regret writing this, a couple months or a couple minutes from now. But for now, I think mediocrity’s okay. In all honesty it’s not an easy job, and I guess it’s okay that I don’t really have it figured out.