I've often joked that if I chose to, I could build my entire coaching and consulting business around helping Executive Directors in their efforts to have an outstanding board. And while much of my work is focused on young and growing nonprofits, the opportunity to do this work is much broader, spanning newer organizations to older and established national charities. Suffice to say, I rarely hear from a senior leader of a nonprofit organization anything along the lines of "Nope - no need to improve our board! We've got it all going on - 100% of our board members are hitting it out of the park on the three T's. They contribute their Time, their Talent and their Treasure. All good here." That's not to say that I don't run into or hear of boards that are more functional than others. For example, they might have a decent amount of all of the aforementioned T's. Or, they might have board members who lean into one or two of these components but have an obvious gap in others. But it's super rare - in my experience - to see a board that's hitting it on all three cylinders.
Why do I bring this up? Because I was recently discussing a board and its vast improvement in all three key areas with an Executive Director I've had the pleasure of knowing for a little over a year now. When we started our talks, one of the biggest challenges he faced was that while his board had lots of talent and minimal struggle providing financial support, they struggled with contributing much more than the bare minimum of time. And more importantly when they "showed up" that was pretty much it. They showed up, allowed the ED to fully run the show, and simply check the boxes. During our conversations, my coaching client and I discussed a number of strategies - one-on-one meetings, individual members goals, committee assignments and several others.
Here's the little twist in this true story. As I noted above, this ED and I have known each other for about a year. However, in terms of coaching, we worked together for about two months then, due to a variety of circumstances, there was a pause. We picked up again in November and it was just recently that we had the discussion about the significant strides his board has made in engagement and taking more ownership in outcomes.
How did the improvement come about? That's where I've got some good news and let's call it less good news. The less good news is that several of the strategies worked better than others but there was no one that jumped out as "the one." I'm not here to reveal the magic formula for board development. I'm still working on it but haven't uncovered it yet. The good news, in my opinion anyway, is that sticking with this plan of being patient, testing out things and reflecting on their success has paid off in a big and very noticeable way. But it's after a year of being patient and knowing that great boards - and true exemplary leadership - aren't built in a day, a week, a month or even a year. They are built steadily. Over time. On an ongoing basis.
Let's call this new formula for board success Time, Treasure, Talent and Time To Build.
Should I stay or should I go now?
- The Clash, 1981
Sure the Clash made this question pretty popular in 1981. But in fact, fundraisers are constantly asking themselves this question. This is borne out by the fact that the average turnover for development professionals is still in the range of 16 to 18 months depending on which of the myriad of articles you read on this topic.
This was on my mind the other day as I was speaking with a Development Director who had been with his organization for a little more than two years. As we chatted, he shared that even through the pandemic, the nonprofit he was with had met their fundraising goals and then some. He was especially proud of that achievement as many of his fundraising colleagues had seen significant declines in their revenue. Beyond that, he noted that his board of directors wasn't particularly effective. While three of the nine person board were pulling their weight - they both gave and got - the rest of the board really wanted to focus on governance. In my experience, this is the death knell for boards that are going to help their ED and development team fundraise. In summary, the Development Director was starting to feel that the job wasn't a great fit and that it might be time for a change. Yet, he wasn't sure and in fact, was very much on the fence.
Truth be told, the story I've shared above is not real. However, it many ways it is. It's actually a composite of the conversations I've had with both Development Directors as well as Executive Directors and it was done this way to maintain confidentiality and provide a broad overview of some common themes. Does any of it sound a little (or maybe very) familiar? The reality is that this is a much longer conversation requiring lots of thinking, a bit of stepping back to see where you're at as well time itself. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share a few of the key questions I often start with when this is the topic....
Have the reasons you joined the organization originally changed? Maybe you joined your nonprofit because you loved the mission. Or, perhaps you thought the CEO was an incredibly dynamic leader you could learn from and was incredibly inspiring. You might have even gone there because you saw all the seeds of a strong development operation that lacked the right person to nurture them (you!). These of course are just a few of the reasons I often hear when a fundraiser shares why he or she went to an organization. A solid first step in evaluating whether it's time to seek your next conquest is seeing if any of these or other reasons you joined have materially changed. And if so, what is the impact on you?
Have you done all you've set out to do? If you came to an organization to fulfill a specific goal, have you truly achieved that goal? Are there opportunities to do more and do they excite you? In my conversations, I often find that a fundraiser has gone to an organization as a next step in their career. That next step can be about the chance to raise a certain amount. For example, a fundraiser raising a $1 million budget is offered an opportunity to step into a role responsible for raising $3 million. Or a fundraiser is offered the chance to create a new program such as a major gifts program or launch a capital campaign. These are just two examples where a fundraiser can notch a very important career achievement. Does staying at the same organization offer equally compelling opportunities?
What's your gut (also known as your heart, intuition and inner wisdom) telling you? In my nearly two decades of working in the nonprofit sector and speaking with fellow fundraisers, I've noticed something consistently: By the time I'm having this conversation, the individual has usually made up their mind to move on to a new role. Sometimes they've already been offered it. Sometimes they're on the cusp of starting a search. Regardless, if they're talking about it to me (as a coach or otherwise), something is telling them that there's a fit problem - whether it's perceived or real. It's at this point that I'll typically tell the colleague, friend or person I'm coaching to go back and truly look at the first two questions but with a more realistic perspective.
If you find yourself in this quandary, I hope this can help encourage some thinking. But it should be just the beginning as opposed to your call for action.
This past Saturday I participated in a three hour training session for Braven, a terrific nonprofit I'm volunteering with. Braven's mission is to empower promising, underrepresented young people—first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color—with the skills, confidence, experiences and networks necessary to transition from college to strong first jobs, which lead to meaningful careers and lives of impact. They do this in four cities including Bay Area, Chicago, Newark and NYC. You can learn much more at (www.braven.org)
This training was Efficient, Engaging and Energizing! If you read my stuff you know I love 3's of anything (see 3B's To Focus On) so there you have it! I'm grateful that some - maybe many - of the nonprofits I have the privilege of working with read my posts. If so, here are some best practices when training a new cohort of volunteers - these were all evident in the training I experienced. Let's go straight down the line.
Timing and Length: The training kicked off promptly at 10:00 am and went to 1:00 PM for a total of three hours. Not too much to give up out of a weekend. More importantly, all of the time was well spent. No filler. Just real content mixed with the opportunity for the volunteers to get to know each other as well as the key team members from the organization. More on that below:
Content: As noted above, the training was a valuable mix of the Why, What (Happens) and How. Specifically, the training started off by providing us volunteers with background information about the nonprofit and why it does what it does. In this case, since the organization deals with young people, the team shared the benefits to those we'd be serving when we serve in the role we're training for. Next, we took a deeper dive into how we'd be doing what we do. This included providing a full understanding of the dynamics of the program, the platforms, the technology and the resources that would be available to us. This included plenty of access to guides as well as yes, humans that could help us (yea!). Finally, we had the opportunity to test drive what we were learning in small cohorts. (Bonus: This gave us additional opportunities to build our network among the volunteering group).
Continuous Learning and Development: This was just the beginning of the training for what will be a full semester engagement. Too often I've seen volunteer training viewed as a one and done deal. Here's what you do now off you go and do it. Not here. After this first session, we have several more sessions before we begin the actual role. Once the real program commences, there is ongoing training as well as a liaison - an exemplary volunteer from last year - there to support us as we do our work.
Oh and other thing - GRATITUDE! While no one volunteers for the thank you (or the t-shirts, bagels or the other niceties), it's always nice to hear thank you. And we heard it from everyone on their team both during and after the session. Personally speaking, I felt beyond appreciated.
I look forward to continuing to share - and hopefully you've got a takeaway or two that you can add to your toolbox.
A few days ago, I was in conversation with Amy Soper who serves as the Director of Volunteer Growth for Women Doing Well (www.womendoingwell.org). Among the many things that has impressed me about Amy and this new organization is their approach to developing their team. Amy mentioned that in the beginning of this year, their President, Julie Wilson shared that their theme for this year is Pace. In other words; their leaders should be looking at their own Pace, helping others with their Pace, and even perhaps occasionally questioning the Pace of the organization and its growth.
Something about the word Pace immediately resonated with me. At a simple or surface level, I tend to think of the word as it applies to running, one of my passions. And in that arena, Pace is simply another way of saying how fast you’re going - or the average speed you were running for a given training run or race. Pacing can also apply to many other areas of life as we pursue personal goals as well as results we want to bring into the world. So, as Amy and I talked, we went a bit deeper.
Since this was actually a coaching conversation, Amy and I were discussing the priorities she was establishing for her new role. In terms of her work, we discussed what activities and relationships could contribute to the Pace of her recruitment and training of volunteers. As we explored, I found myself again paralleling this with running and improving your pace. I say this because I know intuitively, there are things that will help improve your pace. For good measure, a quick google search brought me to an article called 7 Expert Tips to Improve Your Running Pace. If you’re a runner, I encourage you to click on the link. If you’re not, stick with me, as there’s plenty beyond running coming up....
My point in sharing the above is that if you’re like me, there are times you struggle with priorities. You question whether doing more of this or less of that will get you to the results you’re looking to create. This is true whether it’s something as critical as your organization’s mission, a personal goal like writing a book or running a marathon or perhaps just finding some inner peace and calm. It begs the question of what you truly need (to do, be, or focus on) and what you can truly leave behind.
For example, to build your pace in running it’s worth focusing on your cadence, arm swing and body posture. You probably don’t need to worry about things like your height (you can’t change that anyway!) or running “harder”. The same goes for delivering on your mission. No doubt having quality programs helps, strong servant leadership can make a huge difference and a sustainable financial position is critical. At the same time, you could spend less time securing the best bagels for your fundraiser, having the snappiest website around and tweeting once an hour and still have a substantial impact on those you serve. And finally inner peace and tranquility? I’ll leave that to you but suffice to say getting stuck believing you are your thoughts and vice versa probably won’t help.
Like all good articles, you’ve got to have THE BIG TAKEAWAY and here it is. I created an acronym to help you as you work to find the optimum Pace in your world. I truly hope it helps.
P - Priorities; Have you identified what results you want to create and how critical it is that you create them?
A - Actions; Do you have a clear sense of what you need to do to create those results?
C - Clarity around Challenges; Have you identified the obstacles you’ll need to overcome and what you don’t need?
E - Effort and Energy; Are you truly ready to Expend the Effort and Energy?
Get out of my dreams, Get into my car
These are the lyrics I kept hearing when Brie Seward, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Southern Arizona told me about her recent experience with one of her donors. I also have to admit that I love it when a post comes together so easily based on a live experience of one of my amazing clients.
I'll back up for a second to provide some context. As I noted, Brie leads the team of a terrific nonprofit. We've been discussing a few strategies for building out her organization's fundraising. We had been talking about how to really connect with her donors and in particular two critical meetings with long time donors she had coming up. She wanted to help these donors see they that meant more to her than simply dollars in the door. In fact, we had been discussing opportunities to connect through questions, alignment and most important, true and authentic listening. An occasional surprise or two doesn't hurt either (can you hear the foreshadowing???)
I was excited when Brie let me know that she had some great news to share on our next call. She said the meetings were financially successful and were the best she'd ever had. She mentioned she'd done a lot more listening than talking. She asked questions. She learned more about their business. She learned what was important to them as both sponsors of the Autism Society as well as growing organizations. Brie also mentioned that given that their meetings were virtual, she wanted to do something a little special.
When Brie's meeting started, her donor heard a knock on the door. His assistant then brought in a tray of cookies. Brie shared that since they'd typically met and had coffee or snacks together for their meetings, she wanted to create the same experience. So, she simply ordered up the tray and had it timed for their meeting. Expensive. Nope! But thoughtful as anything. You know it. And her donor absolutely loved it.
As Brie and I discussed her success, it was clear the need to get into her donor's world had connected in a very real way. She articulated it better than I ever could "You have to Get Out of Your Computer and Into their World." Immediately Billy Ocean's song popped into my head.
Besides my strange addiction to including aging pop songs in my posts, I really do believe that Brie's experience is one we can learn from. It's the simple idea of wowing our donors - or clients - depending on who you work with. It doesn't have to be pricey. And no, you're not buying their business. You're simply showing that you care, value the relationship and want to do something a little extra special.
So, in this age of virtual meetings, I'll leave you with Brie's question: How are you getting out of your computer and into your client's world?
After the disappointment and financial failure of Rocky V in 1990, Sylvester Stallone put out a series of well, let's put it politely, even more disappointing movies. He tried his hand at something like comedy with "Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot". He then went for something a bit more dramatic with "Oscar". He did several others before recognizing that his strong suit - and the place where his talents were more appreciated - were playing his signature characters such as Rocky and Rambo as well as other action-oriented roles. In fact, there are numerous less memorable projects he was involved in throughout his career - many more in fact than what he's best known for. Yet, those are the standout. That is what he's known for.
What are my credentials as a movie reviewer and why am I sharing the above with you? To the first question, I have no credentials - I'm merely sharing my fan-based opinions. As to the second question, I'm spending a lot of time in my hometown of Philadelphia these days. Philly is one of my favorite cities to run in and today I was doing one of the most inspiring routes that ends up at - you guessed it - the Art Museum and those steps that Rocky ascended so many times. So, my mind was on Stallone and the Rocky movies which I'm not ashamed to say are some of my absolute favorites. Reality based? Who cares! You can't watch them and not believe that dreams can come true - and more importantly, every one of us has the ability to make our own dreams come true.
And perhaps most important, what's my point? After those brief flirtations with other opportunities, Stallone moved back to the zone of action-oriented films. Ultimately, he doubled down on the whole Rocky-thing. He brought him back to the screen in 2006 with the well-received film "Rocky Balboa" even giving the character more depth with a plausible story of a late in life comeback (think George Forman). And Rocky was given new life in 2015 with the introduction of the Creed movies with the now elder boxer coaching his former opponent's son.
If you're tired of the movie stuff, we're done with that so stick with me. Take away all of the film stuff and what you have is a story above is a great example of recognizing our true nature (though I have a a hunch the actor never studied up on Syd Banks and the Three Ps). Stallone realized that he enjoyed the freedom to try other roles on. At the same time, he stopped running away from the type of acting and creative work that he seemed to embody and come so naturally to him with ease.
We can do the same thing. I am all about personal growth and development and especially taking on new challenges. I hope you are too - it's what keeps life really interesting. If I didn't like getting a little uncomfortable and helping others stretch, I certainly would be in the wrong line of work as a consultant and coach. But there is a certain beauty and ease to understanding, accepting and even leveraging our truest selves. That's the self that emerges when we're doing the work and the creating that comes to us as an extension of ourselves.
How do you know when you're in that magical zone? Here are a couple good markers - or at least what I've found to be true for me. You know it when time stops mattering. You're not rushed and you have plenty of time to do exactly what you're doing. You know it when there's no gripping and no tension. You know it when you find people asking you to do more of whatever your thing is (and they'll probably say something like "hey, that's your thing!).
The other point to remember is that you'll certainly know when you are NOT in that zone. Much like that "Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot" moment for Sylvester Stallone, you'll instinctually feel it when you're going against your true nature. And it's great to test those boundaries every so often to see where else we can make a difference. However, if we get that gift of knowing where we make our most impactful contribution and can truly be of service, there's much to be said for making that our life's work. I hope you are on the way to finding your inner Rocky.
Here it is the first day of the year and the first day of the rest of our lives. Or at least that's what I've been reading from many posts. Actually it's January 4th and after a solid week off of everything, I realized I hadn't made any mega resolutions. I had set some big goals for myself last year. I'm glad that despite what 2020 had in store for us, I achieved several of these like writing a book (to be published in about a week), recording several of my songs, and some running goals.
This year however, I decided to forego the whole SMART goal thing and go for what I hope will be more developmental goals. In fact, I like to think of the following as not so much as goals or objectives but as Being Resolutions that can support me in simply being the best version of myself - the one that can make the best contribution to my family, friends and community. Here's what I resolve to do in the coming year:
Slow down - way, way down. I like to think that if we learn one incredibly valuable thing each year, that's an important accomplishment. For me, the standout concept I was introduced to this past year was that of SLOWING DOWN. I am incredibly grateful to my coach Melissa Ford and her coach (and just an overall special coach, writer and speaker Steve Chandler) for encouraging this thinking. I know it's critically important because I struggle like crazy with it. But it's not just that I struggle - that would just be work for work's sake. It's that every time that I get past that struggle and actually SLOW DOWN, great things happen. In fact, I've learned that if I slow down and fully stop, really cool stuff happens. If you want to learn more about that, check out I Took A Break. Really Good Things Happened. So, my first resolution is to practice at and get better at Slowing Down. I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to do it. Maybe I'll take an afternoon off in the middle of the week. Or I'll try a morning in the beginning. One thing I'm sure of is that some trial and error will be involved which brings me to Resolution #2....
Make more mistakes - and bigger ones! I could have also labeled this simply Be More Creative. The second most important thing I learned last year was that the more often I put myself out there creatively, the more creativity becomes a wonderful and joyful practice. While creating things i.e. music, writing, as well as drawing and painting (when I was a teen) has always been important to me, it's taken on and even a greater importance as I work as a coach and consultant. I find the ability to create something fresh and new - and not necessarily perfect - to be an incredible way to start every day. What's even more important, the willingness to do it in a way that truly reflects who we are as opposed to some previously created set of rules, is one of the best means of self-expression we can have. So, what does it take to get better at this? Quite simply the freedom to take risks, screw up every so often (as long as you're not hurting anyone!) and make put out big, bold and exciting things into the world. Will everyone love what you're offering? Nope. But some will. And as I learned as a musician, don't write your songs to please an audience that you're chasing. Create the music you love and eventually your audience will find you.
Strive to be incredibly - AVERAGE. Have an average day! Go get 'em - get that C! You are so amazingly average....Can you imagine finding joy, encouragement or enthusiasm if someone said any of these things to you in the beginning of the day? Probably not and it's understandable. Most of us are conditioned on the idea of having a killer day, getting an A on every test and simply being the best. The problem is that those are labels that too often hold for the short term and rarely hold consistently. As writer and author Michael Neill describes in "In Praise Of Average", you can create a remarkable life by striving for average yet consistent achievements every day. For example, if you're in sales, committing to just ten prospecting calls a day over 250 work days equals 2500 calls. Even if you're an "average" closer that only closes 1% of those, that's 25 new clients per year. Imagine doing that over a 30 to 50 year career. Or what if you want to commit to being a better friend, parent or spouse - doing one intentional act of goodness adds up quickly when you do it every day. You get the picture. My final resolution is to strive to be more average in the major areas of my life including family, community and work.
While these probably don't fit the model of your typical New Year's Resolutions, I'm kind of loving them. Why am I sharing them with you? Two reasons. First, I hope you (the reader) if you read my posts from time to time, will hold me accountable. Feel free to ask - or better yet call me out - if you find that I've gone into mass productivity or perfection mode. More importantly, if you haven't created your resolutions yet, give yourself a break - you still have 361 days to do so. I also hope that by sharing my goals, these can inspire you towards some new thinking, approaches and ultimately, a happy, healthy and utterly average (every day) 2021.
Over the past few days I've struggled with my writing. As I chronicled last week, I took a break from my daily writing and good things happened. My mind was free and empty and the space allowed for calm and quietness. Eventually, new and inspired ideas emerged. It was fresh and unforced.
But this week, with the holidays upon us and a change in my usual routine, I had a new awareness. It was a need - an almost pressing need - to come up with Something Important to Say. Reflecting on my experience from last Friday through today, though I wasn't sure how it happened, my freedom was gone. I wasn't approaching writing with a willingness to be empty and see what would come. For whatever reason, perhaps it was the excitement of sharing my writing on Less Stress More Success, I had created pressure on myself to Come Up With Something Big.
If you're wondering about the point of capitalizing phrases like Something Important to Say and Come Up With Something Big, there is one. Quite simply, those were my thoughts on overdrive creating a whirlwind of judgement. Me judging me. My thoughts had gone on a Writer's Rampage. I was worried if whatever I wrote was Significant and Worthy enough for others to read.
This became a recognizable struggle through this morning when I started and ditched three different ideas for articles. One was about nonprofit work. Nope - not interesting enough. Then there was one about Success and why we deem it to be so important. I liked it but too light and not inspiring enough. I finally gave up after trying my hand at yet another Bye Bye 2020 article. I think we've all seen a few of those. Everyone gets it by now.
With a half hour before a coaching session, I meditated for 15 minutes, something I hadn't done since the previous week. While the meditation was focused on gratitude and I was appreciating the experience, suddenly I had the idea to write about this experience - exactly what you're reading about now. I grabbed the piece of paper I had set aside for coaching notes and jotted this down. All of the sudden, there was no judgement. My thought about Significance were still there. Yet I became quite comfortable recognizing that it was a thought. It might pass and it might not. Either way it was OK. All of the sudden I was comfortable in the silence. Rather, I was comfortable simply writing as a practice and as an exercise in creativity.
This isn't a pitch for meditation though I do recommend it. Rather it's a pitch to cut ourselves some slack. Nina Blackwood put it so well in "What If There's Nothing Wrong With You?" when she stated that we'll always come up short when we compare ourselves to others. It's even worse when we compare ourselves to ourselves. Personally, my thoughts had created an arbitrary bar for Significance (whatever that is!) that my writing had to hurdle over. I had forgotten the joy of simply creating.
It would be extra dramatic and in fact seem very Significant to say Never Again! I will never let my thoughts rob me of that joy! The truth is that probably won't be the case. For the moment though, I'm comfortable in the silence of having nothing terribly significant to say today, just a new awareness. And I appreciate your being here till the near end of this little journey.
We'll see what happens tomorrow...
This past Sunday, I was pleased to read Giving Billions Fast, MacKenzie Scott Upends Philanthropy for two reasons. First, at a time when nonprofit services are more in demand than ever, it was a win to read about this level of generosity. In summary, Ms. Scott gave over $4 billion to 384 organizations. I can't deny that a part of me is still wrestling with the question of whether there is a "better way" for the helping sector to thrive than being primarily dependent on donations. I won't go down the rabbit hole of that much longer discussion. For now, till we find that next way, nonprofits thrive (or don't thrive) based on the generosity of donors. And the reasons for support can range from outright altruism to the more transactional: marketing, tax benefits and other motivations. I look forward to tackling that question in a more robust way going forward.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Ms. Scott's giving was that it was done with no strings attached. After doing the requisite research on a broad range of charities, she made her gifts without the onerous reporting requirements that typically come with institutional giving. But reporting and restrictions aren't limited to the world of foundations. Individuals are free to ask for whatever they want - anything from naming to reporting to speaking opportunities at events. As a side note: Ms. Scott's gifts were made as individual, not foundation gifts so they weren't bound by the usual legal and tax requirements that come with foundation giving,
In any event, the operative and refreshing word here is TRUST. In a way that bucks the way much of philanthropy is done these days, she chose to place trust in those she gave to. As Ms. Scott went on to say, "Not only are nonprofits underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fund-raising and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them." The article then quotes Katie Carter of the Pride Foundation, one of the recipients, who stated "That mentality of trust is what we need in philanthropy".
I fully agree with all of the above. And please don't misunderstand. I am all for accountability and transparency for nonprofits. But I would add that the present challenge goes well beyond this critical question of trust. In my experience over two decades in the nonprofit sector, I've seen the focus of many funders move from creating results a.k.a. real change to measurement often simply for measurements sake. Intertwined with this question of how donors and charities can see themselves as partners on the same side of the table are the following questions about measurability that should be examined:
Are We Choosing Metrics Over Results? The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no. But there are some clear symptoms: Are you and your team spending more time collecting data as opposed to looking at what the data means? Do meetings with donors put you on edge and have your team scrambling to fill in key metrics as opposed to being challenged to figure out whether the metrics have borne out the hypothesis for your intervention. These are some leading telltale signs.
Are We Learning From the Metrics? Is your charity simply collecting data or learning from it. One step further would be using these metrics to see what’s NOT working, owning and course-correcting for it. One of the other big challenges the nonprofit industry faces is an environment that rarely supports experimentation, risk-taking, and even (OMG) occasionally failing. Metrics should be used well-beyond fulfilling reporting requirements. Used strategically, they’re a resource for identifying how we can do what we do - but better and more effectively.
What’s the Right Balance? I’m not advocating that we step back to the days of simply “doing good stuff” with nothing but touching stories to share the impact of our work. What I am taking a stand for is awareness and finding that important balance between communicating the impact of donor dollars while ensuring that your charity always has its eye on the prize - Real Results that Change Lives.
What are your thoughts on trust and measurement in the nonprofit sector? I'd welcome your thoughts...
Over the weekend, my daughter called me out on my hesitancy to make a temporary move that I had been looking forward to. "What are you so concerned about?" she asked. "The stuff you leave behind is just stuff. You are doing this for the people in your life you need to be with." She was right. But then I added that I wasn't really prepared for this move. There were things to be done. Lists to be made. Boxes to be checked. Stuff to be researched. She asked when I would be prepared? Two weeks? A month? More? I realized what a powerful question she had asked. The truth is, nothing would have prepared me for this surprising opportunity I had in front of me. I wasn't prepared. I wasn't unprepared. I was simply hesitant to act and I had to get over it. Make the move. Figure it out from there.
I often see a pattern like mine when I coach. Maybe you've even experienced this yourself. You have an opportunity, an option - or sometimes a problem. Rather than act or make a move forward, you talk yourself into "preparing" or "getting ready" for whatever it is. This then morphs into a cycle of endless preparation. The preparing can involve any number of activities which have the deceptive nature of looking like important and valuable work. Sound familiar?
A couple examples: There are coaches I know who are always one certification away from going out and getting clients. They want to be sure they're prepared. I have a hunch that no matter how many classes or certifications they have, they still won't be quite prepared to create clients. I know individuals eager to make a social impact by starting a program or nonprofit. They need to watch one more inspiring documentary or webinar before creating what they want to see in the world. And for fundraisers, there are endless tools of preparation. Amp up the webinars, throw in virtual networking events, and all kinds of other learning opportunities and you could spend the rest of your career preparing to actually fundraise.
By the way, all of the above are a very real examples of the challenge of our believing our thoughts vs. acknowledging truth. When we take a step back and reflect, we can own the fact that our thoughts - or perhaps a story that we've been telling ourselves - has gotten in the way of our growth and progress. Perhaps in a previous situation, we took a leap of faith and failed due to a very real lack of preparation. If this becomes our story, our label and our thinking, we'll often find ourselves stuck in preparation mode. If however we can see the truth, this is a new situation with new variables, we can recognize the need or lack thereof for more preparing.
And please don't misunderstand. I'm all for preparation when there's a value to it. But all too often, I've seen activities like classwork and networking become the work instead of a resource to do the work. I also fully recognize that there are plenty of roles, events and opportunities we do in fact, need to seriously prepare for. For example, individuals that ascend to the senior levels of management often get there by learning their way to success. They do it by serving in a multitude of roles before reaching executive status. One more example (on a lighter note): As a committed runner, I wouldn't suggest anyone tackle a marathon without the proper preparation. In fact, one aspect of running I love is the importance of preparation and creating a foundation on which to build on. You start where you are - maybe it's 1, 3 or 5 miles. Then you go on to 10 to 12, 14, 16 miles and on it goes.
Here's my main point: There are so many actions we can take Right Now that will make a difference in our lives as well as in the lives of those we love, serve and care about. And often, there is no magical preparation for them. There is just the service and the opportunity.
I'll leave you with the question: Are you preparing for your life or living it to the fullest?