The work is hard, the pay is bad, and no one else cares anyway.
That’s where I was last week. No big catastrophes, just a couple of grant rejection letters, volunteers bailing at the last minute, people incapable of reading their e-mail. Just enough “yuck” to kick-start the fantasies of the sort of job where you make lots of money and people do what you say because you can fire them if they don’t.
If you work for a non-profit you’ve been there. No matter how much you believe in the work, no matter how dedicated you are to the cause, some days you get bogged down in the crap parts of your job. Some days you are tired. Some days it seems pointless to continue fighting.
Assuming you don’t actually quit and become the next Donald Trump, what can you do?
Remind yourself of why you do it
When you are in “the bad place” it’s hard to remember that last week, you loved your job. You cashed a big check from a new donor, your volunteers worked tirelessly, and you received a letter from a college freshman thanking you for making her dream possible. Yes, the work is hard. No, it will never really be done. But it is important, and by doing it, you are making a unique and essential contribution to the world. During the inevitable dark times, you need a way to remind yourself of these brighter moments. You need to reconnect yourself to the mission.*
Eventually you may be able to re-center yourself by force of will, but in the meantime, try using visual cues.
- If you’ve got a good mission statement; tape a copy to your computer screen.
- If your mission statement is management consultant gobbledygook, create a short hand version. Jot 3-4 words that capture the essence of what you do on a scrap of paper and display it.
- Keep copies of thank-you and “you are awesome” letters in a handy “pick me up” file.
- Draw or clip pictures of the world you are working to create.
- Collect desk-toys that reflect your mission in a playful way.
- Find a touchstone that resonates with you.
For me, it’s a robot army. Sure, the robots are two inches tall and made of cardboard, but they are big enough to remind me of the real robots being built across the city and the students who are being introduced to educational and career opportunities they may have never considered without them.
Plus, it’s hard to be grumpy when faced with cardboard robots.
How do you keep yourself on track during the dark times?
If you enjoyed this post, sign up for e-mail updates at the top of the page, or add this blog to your RSS feed .*One of the worst things to happen to the nonprofit community in the last few years is the take over of the word “mission” by for-profit management consultant types. If you can no longer say the word without thinking of “The Office” try substituting the word purpose.