Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happiness is truly priceless...

It's been a wild and crazy year. It's been nearly a full calendar year since my employment was turned upside down dumping me on my bottom. It's been a year since I've been able to comfortably exhale. There is a sense of relief to reach the one-year milestone. I'm here and I'm fine.

Around this date last year, I came into work and was told I was no longer needed. The week prior I'd submitted a request for vacation and never heard from management. When I asked about it, they told me they would get back to me. They gave me a "different" kind of vacation, one where I never come back. While I was upset at the abrupt notification and lack of professionalism, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire career. Since I was twenty-two, I've been working with non-profits all over my home town. In 2008, the landscape and scope of my work changed dramatically. With the economy slumping and growing more depressed each day, the donations and support to non-profits floundered. My position had been downsized or cut before but I always had another job lined up. This time, I did not and I went home in a panic.

Beginning of one bad chapter in life.

In the winter of 2010 I took a new position (because my current one was being downsized), taking over for someone with a long organizational history. I was already somewhat burned out but I was confident that this organization had a long standing community presence. I was tired of the panic and chaos that so many non-profits operate under. However, I was assured this was not the case with this organization. To bluntly put it, I was lied to. Everyday of work was chaos and pressure to do more with less...bring in more dollars...push...push...push...get it done.

What I took away from my year there was the idea of the manager I never want to be. I approached my manager many times seeking mentoring or leadership advice only to find that she was too consumed in her own personal life and did not want to "manage" anyone. She was constantly worried about appearing "perfect." Several times I attempted to have a serious conversation with her and she would begin tearing up. Her only advice to me ever was "anticipate the move of the other managers...really anticipate and adhere to their needs. They should never have to ask for anything." This is the worst advice I've ever received in my entire career.

Non-profit work is about relationships. I learned that early. It takes a long time to build sincere relationships. I learned a valuable lesson when I took over the job from someone else. She had 30+ years experience and when she left to retire, her relationships retired with her. People said she lived at the organization working day and night. I refused to be that person. When I interviewed for my current position, I was careful to ask many questions about the person leaving. Yes, she was retiring but my company was ready to change the position. I've rarely had a soul say to me "We used to do it like this________." That's all I heard at the other job, everyday. I was hired to carry on a job and complete it as someone else had been doing it since the late 60's. Change was not welcome, nor encouraged.

Oxymoron if there ever was one.

It has been my experience that when organizations refuse to change or look ahead, they begin to fail. They decompose from the inside out. The staff is angry, tired and used up. The programs suffer and the delivery of a product or service shows the cracks from within. Turnover rates say a lot. I asked a lot of questions before I took my new job. I did not do that before. I trusted that the organizations I worked with had the same passion for my hometown as I have. What I have found, is many of them have a passion for the dollars but not the people behind the monies.

I've learned a valuable lesson in relationships with co-workers. I enjoy working with people but constant socializing with them outside of work is not an appropriate boundary. Bar hopping and party going are not in many job descriptions and I refuse to make that a hobby. There is argument for separation of church and state for an obvious reason. There should also be a valid argument for separation of co-worker and your personal space. What are you going to talk about when you are around your co-workers constantly? Work. Guess what I'd like to not talk about all the time? Work.

What I have taken away from last year most is the need for a work-life balance. Working with non-profits, I am keenly aware that I will never make millions. I want to do a good job. I will work hard. However, I need a life outside of my job. This means, I do not need to work twelve-hour days, have late night emails or texts constantly about work. When I leave work, I like to have a social life with hobbies. I know my job may require me to work outside the nine to five parameters but not everyday. Most importantly, I like to come home not too stressed about my job or living in fear that my position may be eliminated with every passing day. I still have the passion for my hometown but I am cautious about which organizations I attach myself to. The pay is not nearly as important as the satisfaction. Happiness is truly priceless.

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