Thoughts & Observations

The Guilt of the Martyr

As part of my Rebel in a Polyester Sash presentation, I tell the story of how a woman we had to layoff thanked me in the middle of finding out that she no longer had a job: she thanked me for giving her a great place to work and for allowing her to see that it was possible to both be a great mom and to have a fulfilling, meaningful career, something that she had never believed before.

I looked out into the audience at the Nonprofit Technology Conference as I was telling that story on Friday and noticed a number of women wiping away tears. I was moved that my words had caused such a strong reaction, but I was saddened because I knew what those tears meant. They meant that those women had never had that experience.

As I spent time interacting with other conference attendees, I noticed a recurring theme: just under the surface, there was a current of misery and unhappiness running through their work lives.

They had started working for a nonprofit because they wanted to do work that would have a positive impact on the world. But what they encountered were organizations so mired in bureaucracy, red tape and old ways of doing things that the amount of impact they could have was continually minimized.

After fighting the system for years, a lot of them wanted to leave, but instead they stayed. They stayed because they held onto to some level of hope that they could be the one to save things. They stayed because they felt guilty leaving an organization that was trying to do good. They stayed because they felt guilty leaving their coworkers with an even bigger burden to carry. And they stayed because they felt guilty at the idea of leaving those who benefitted from their organization’s work behind.

But the guilt of trying to be the martyr was slowly killing them. Depression. Pneumonia. And just an overwhelming, unshakeable feeling that something was very, very wrong.

As I spoke to person after person caught in that trap, I realized that a lot of them were just waiting for someone to give them permission. They wanted someone to tell them that they weren’t a bad person for giving up and moving on.

What I believe is this: do what you can to change things and when things won’t change anymore, get out.

If you are a person who wants to do good in the world, then get yourself somewhere where you have the greatest possibility of actually doing that. Trying to do good within the confines of an organization that can’t get out of it’s own way long enough to deliver on its own mission and refuses to change is a waste.

You – a person who wants to make the world better – you are precious and limited resource. Use your resource in the place where it will make the most difference.

That is not something you need permission for.

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Thoughts & Observations

Finding Autonomy

I’ve been feeling pretty content lately. Something that I talked a little about here and here.

And because this feeling of overall contentment is somewhat new to me, I’ve been wondering where it’s coming from.

Superficially, I could say that it’s situational: New York is pretty awesome.

But I think it’s something deeper than that. I think a big piece of my contentment has to do with my level of autonomy.

I have more autonomy now then I have ever had at any other point in my life.

From what brand of toilet paper I buy to choosing to eat a cupcake for dinner to what meetings I take and what projects I work on to where I work on any given day, it’s all up to me. I am the architect of my life.

It makes total sense that this is influencing my level of contentment. Autonomy is one of the key factors in motivation and engagement. And I think one of the key factors influencing how content we feel.

When oppressive bosses and governments create environments void of autonomy, it should be no surprise that people eventually find some way to rebel.

Thoughts & Observations

The False Advertising of Happiness

A friend of mine once told me that he wasn’t striving to be happy, he was striving to be content.

And I think I have to agree with his approach. Striving to be happy all of the time puts a lot of pressure on us, and then we tend to focus on all of the moments when we’re not happy. And the truth is, we can’t exist in a constant state of joy and delight every minute of every day.

But I think we can strive to reach the point of being content. The point where we’re not always wishing we had someone else’s life or someone else’s stuff or someone else’s lawn.

This doesn’t mean settling and it doesn’t mean not pushing to make things better. But it means reaching a place where there is a consistent undercurrent of contentment flowing, no matter what your day is throwing at you.

Somehow, over the past few weeks I have found that place of peaceful contentment. It seems strange in a way, because on the usual list of what is supposed to make us content, I’m missing a few things: my sublet runs out on March 9 and I have no permanent place to stay after that, I have no consistent paycheck, I’m not in a relationship, I don’t own a house or a car, and I never seem to have enough time to get all of my work done.

That’s not an equation that most people would think adds up to being content. But I feel more content now then I did when I had all of those things.

Not only do I think I had been striving for the wrong thing, but I had bought into the false advertising of what I needed in order to get there.

Maybe that’s ok when when you’re caving into buying a ShamWow! for the low, low price of $9.95. But when it comes to my life, the false advertising is no longer going to have such an easy time winning me as a customer.

Thoughts & Observations

The Only Path Was That One

There are things I’ve done wrong. Bad decisions that I’ve made. Things that I would do differently if I had an opportunity to go back and do them again.

In the end though, I’ve come to realize that the only way I’ve ended up where I am now is by going through everything that I went through in the exact way that it happened. Had one variable been different, my life would look different.

And the truth is, I don’t want my life to look different. Despite the bumps and bruises, the ups and downs, and the fleeting moments of freak out about surviving on my own, I feel content.

The only path was the one I took and that makes it pretty difficult to have any regrets.