For When I’m Too Terrified to Make My To Do List

The past few days, I’ve found myself feeling a little lost and unable to focus. I’ve gotten into a groove with my new job, even finding time to hang out with friends and getting in some (crazy fun pop dance) exercise.

I know I’m a little off – I’m just returning from a week hanging out at the lake my parents which slows life down with a lot of lovely simplicity.

But – I’m also finding myself checking Facebook obsessively. And playing crappy online games (please tell me I’m not the only one who gets obsessed with the sparkly gems of Bejeweled).

Tonight I found myself drawn to these distractions and tried to track what was happening just before I got the overwhelming desire to read every Facebook post from every one of my friends for the past 15 weeks.

It was a familiar problem. I’d thought of one thing I could do – I should call back that friend that called me earlier! And instead of just doing it, I got dumped with an avalanche of other things I should be doing. But! I need to return that other friend’s email! And! I really need to plan for my trip next week! But! What about those six appointments I’ve been avoiding making! Those must be done! Right! Now!

And that’s just in the first millisecond.

I know I’m not alone in this, where “do one thing” becomes “DO ALL THE THINGS!

I know that one thing that has helped in the past is a brain dump. I make a list of everything that occurs to me that I need to do. I write it down, one thing per line. There is no categorizing. There is no deciding if a task should be done now or next Tuesday. There is no judging about whether it’s really that urgent to inventory all the items that are currently being stored in my closet.

At least if I get all of the things on to paper, the yelling and screaming and jockeying for position that’s happening in my head simmers down a bit.

But I often resist the brain dump. It’s scary! There will be so much! And I’ll see how many things there are, and be completely defeated. There is not enough time! And I will fail!

Dynomite is seductively calling my name, just thinking about doing a brain dump. If I’m sure to fail, why bother doing it?

Until I remembered the sage advice of my friend Emily who is my personal organization savior. When I first balked at her suggestion of a brain dump, she counseled me, “How much you have to do is the EXACT SAME AMOUNT whether it’s held in your head or on a few sheets of paper. At least if it’s not stuck rolling around in your head, you’ll have a chance to use your newly freed up brain power for sorting out what can be done, delegated, or dropped.”

And I remember that she is right about this. My to do list does not magically become a longer list when I write it down. And the 27 things I wrote down tonight look possibly doable. Hey, I’ve already done 4 of them, about to be 5 when I press publish on this post. Not bad for a night that was about to be lost to the internet.

I might have to play a round of Tetris to celebrate.

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Pinch Me

Someone pinch me – I think I’ve magically landed my dream job!

Wanted: A nonprofit leadership position in the San Francisco Bay Area. An organization interested in trying out new models of leadership and governance, building on the power of shared leadership rather than the traditional board-ED-staff hierarchy.

Organization must be committed to building a more inclusive version of itself. And it can’t be scared of me trying out mindfulness practice, a balance of the brahmaviharas, an analysis of the Three Rootssuffering, impermanence, and non-self – in the work we do. – From my journals, September 11, 2010

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Buster Benson asks, “What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?”

I believe that Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and lovingkindness hold the keys to transforming our world to be peaceful and just. – From this blog, June 3, 2011

Enter the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a community of primarily dharma practitioners established to support socially engaged efforts of visionaries of compassionate social justice and dharma-based organizations for social change. A community people working right at this intersection of Buddhist practice and social action.

I started today as the Operations Manager, and will be supporting BPF for at least the next few months as they (we!) sort out the next version of the organization. I’m super excited to be part of this transformation, and am already brimming with enthusiasm about supporting this work.

I’m also excited to see how this blog can be useful in processing the transitions and transformations as they come to pass. It’s exciting to have a real live organization with whom to think through some of my big questions – how can care of the self be connected with caring for the world? How does changing organizational structure change what an organization can accomplish? What do Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and compassion have to teach us about creating a more just and peaceful world? How does an organization include a diversity of voices, and grow stronger when those voices conflict?

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Endurance + Precision

I am good at endurance. I am not a naturally gifted athlete, but in late 2006 I found myself signing up for the Iron Horse Training Class. At the end of six months, I would be prepared to ride my bike (which I didn’t own yet) up a mountain (climbing 6,650 feet) and if I was lucky I’d beat the train (or finish in 6 hours before I got swept off the road).

I was terrified, but also excited about the possibilities. What wells of endurance would I find deep within my body? Who would I be if I was able to complete this Herculean task?

I was going through a tough breakup and dealing with funding challenges at work. It was easy to get down on my life and focus in on all that was frustrating. I knew I needed a big anchor to keep me focused on what was still amazing in my life, and training for the Iron Horse provided that.

Sure, it was hard. Physically and emotionally.

I still remember the terror I felt the morning of our first outdoor ride after four months of training on indoor cycles. I came to work and felt the ever increasing dread in the pit of my stomach. My coworker who was also my teammate in training asked if I was ready to ride and I burst into tears and sobbed for a solid hour.

Or the training day when we climbed a ridiculously tough hill, a 10%+ grade all the way up for 6 miles – tougher than anything we would face on the actual ride. We rode up the hill as the April snow started to fall, and I WISHED it was uphill both ways as my sweaty gloves were actively working to freeze my fingers as I coasted down and tried not to crash on any of the tight curves.

I was already hurting just 10 miles in to the actual ride, during the “easy” flat section that had given us a vicious headwind all the way through the valley. As we entered the remaining 40 miles of rolling hills and steep mountains, I was already ready to quit. But I had told everyone I knew that I was doing this race, so I thought I’d just go a little farther and maybe quit when I got to Purgatory, the aptly named ski resort that marked the bottom of the steep climbs. And by the time I got to Purgatory, my thighs were burning and my lungs hot. But I thought I could go a little further and at least say I tackled part of the mountain. So I rode on.

And so it went. Just committing to a little more each time. Even as I was about to summit the final pass, I was watching the clock. There was a chance I would not make the 12:40pm cutoff to continue. At the time, I was READY for the van to come pick me up. Sure, I was just a mile from the summit, and it was then just an easy ride in to town. I was so close! Yet I was so ready to be done. But not so ready that I would get off my bike and just stand there waiting to be picked up. I rode on.

I came around the final curve, saw the stately mountains ringing Molas Pass and started to cry. I could see the top. It was 12:39. I was going to make it. I was going to finish the Iron Horse. I had endured.

Endurance is awesome. I’m glad I have it in my skill set.

But sometimes it’s not awesome. Like when I know grad school is not right for me, and I stay for five more years. Or when I know a job isn’t the right fit, but I feel like I should try to make it work.

Then endurance is being sentenced to twenty years of hard labor. It’s putting my limited energy straight down the drain. There is no flexibility to gather new in-the-moment information that might change my mind.

Do I throw out endurance?

No. I just need to add something. Precision. Endurance for the wrong reasons is painful. It is precision that helps me know what work is right for me, what activities bring me energy, or whether my body is hurting but feels okay enough to keep riding.

Sometimes these energies feel at odds. I am good at endurance, so sometimes I am imprecise in stating what I need. I’m pretty good at putting up with less than ideal conditions, and it often feels easier to go with the flow rather than asking for change. Precision takes a lot of internal tracking, a lot of attention and mindfulness, a lot of care. It’s usually not something I can know for sure ahead of time. It takes trying something out before I can even do the internal tracking necessary to know whether it works for me or not. Precision requires experimentation, trying something and adjusting on the fly.

I want to be more precise.

I’m entering into a period where I want to be clearer about what I want, about what will work for me and what just won’t. I keep waiting for clarity to descend into my brain, the fog lifting and everything to be obvious. But it seems that what is more called for is a mountain of experimentation, with detailed tracking and attention to what works best.

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Welcome to the Club

The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you could picture your intuition as a person, what would he or she look like? If you sat down together for dinner, what is the first thing he or she would tell you? – Susan Piver

I have actually met my intuition. Or at the least the midwife to my intuition. Her name is Sharon and she has an uncanny knack of making me say the things that are true, no matter how scary or irrational or confusing they might seem. She’s seen and felt and heard so much, it’s impossible to surprise her. No matter how crazy, everything is held.

Sharon has a mother’s body, strength in soft folds, every inch loved for its purpose and its magic. Her confident gray hair, kept long and straight, grows naturally without the overstyling of products or scissors. Her grounding eyes reflect piercing kindness and tender insight. Even before words, her presence softens my own anxiety, straightens my gaze, and grounds me into what I already know to be true.

Today she would say, “I know that you’ve read that poem by Oriah Mountain Dream, that one that says ‘What if it truly doesn’t matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?….What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature- gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present? …. What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?'”

And I would say, “Sometimes I read that and think it means I should stay right where I am, that unfolding is a stationary task, a rooted flower opening to the sun. That it is my job to accept what life has delivered to me, to make do with what is rather than chasing after what could be.”

Sharon smiles, “Unfolding is also sometimes like unfurling a sail and letting it catch the breeze to see where it takes you.”

I sigh resignedly, “And I’m the only one who knows when it’s time to take root and when it’s time to sail.”

Sharon’s deep belly laugh fills the restaurant, other people turn to see what’s so great about our conversation. “Welcome to the club where we start really being who we are! I have no idea where it will take you, but get ready for a seriously fun ride. And I promise you that the company on this ride is fan-fucking-tastic.”

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I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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Connections

It always makes me smile when a random connection happens. I was so used to random connections happening in the small town I’ve lived in for the past 7 years. Walking into most public spaces, it wasn’t a question of whether you would see someone you knew, but who. With only 14,000 people, I was daily reminded of the vast and numerous ways that everyone is connected. The web is almost visible, you can see the strands that connect me to you to everyone you meet on the street.

So when it happens in San Francisco, each time I’m a little more amazed. It feels the same, that there’s the vast web of interconnections and I’m tightly bound up in it even though I’ve been here just over four months. And as I feel how tightly woven this web is, I realize how deeply held I am in this new city of mine.

I run in to people I know all the time in San Francisco. On the train, on the street, at restaurants. One day on BART, I ran into a member of the leadership team of the Anne Braden program. The randomness of this instance – that we both happened to be riding into the city at the same time, on the same day, and happened to get on the same car out of 9 cars to choose from on this particular train. If I’d have been 7 minutes earlier or later, or picked one car closer to the front of the train – we’d have never met.

But of course, it gets better. A simple meeting like this is starting to feel commonplace in San Francisco. But this day held even more connection. We start talking, and towards the end of the conversation I mention that I’m heading to meet my mentor, who I’ve been paired with as part of the program. As I start to get off the train, a woman who has been sitting in the seat right next to where we’ve been standing says, “Please say hello from me to your mentor – I know her from my work at SF Women Against Rape.” SERIOUSLY. Yet another person, on the same train, in the same car, who could have been running 7 minutes late and caught the next train instead, or who could have chosen another car, but instead found herself sitting next to us at just the right time and place, who is part of this web of connections that wraps itself even tighter around me.

Where I feel it even more in San Francisco is when I read something I love, something I’ve been thinking and feeling, something I’ve been hoping and wishing tha I can find others who know something about this. Like this lovely post by Yashna Maya Padamsee, who says “We need to move the self-care conversation into community care. We need to move the conversation from individual to collective. From independent to interdependent.”

YES. I am so tired of the conversation about self-care being about individual problems and individual solutions. I am experienced at burnout, and it’s so easy to feel again and again like I am the center of the problem. But in reality, our cultural push to work and overwork is driven by capitalism. And the ways that we are internally driven to feel shame and guilt if we don’t “achieve” in the right ways are fueled by sexism, racism, heterosexism – every system that tells us that we are not okay, broken, and inadequate. Making space for myself and others to practice self care is a radical act to say that we are okay as we are, that we have worth separate from what we produce. Cultivating self-care is essential to our movements to transform our world.

Of course, this story cannot end with a simple connection of ideas. I read this article, am touched and go on Facebook to share with others. And of course, brilliant people I’m connected with here have not only posted this article themselves, but are tagged in the original post as people who Yashna thought of when writing this post. I am already building connections with the people who I moved here to connect with.

In case I have any questions about whether I’m in the right place, connecting with the right people ….. San Francisco continues to remind me that I am right where I most want to be.

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The Post-It Question

Now that I’m settling in to San Francisco living, I am pondering one of life’s too-big questions: What am I here to do? What should I do here?

I have this belief that there’s a life out there where I get to only do those things I love. If I have to do a bit of crappy work, it’s clearly in service to a larger purpose that I’m dearly committed to. That there’s a magic job in which life will magically be filled with ease and rainbows and kittens frolicking in the sunlight.

But even people who do what they love sometimes have to swallow a frog. And even people who are great at asking for what they want – they don’t always get what they want.

It feels like I’m expecting some magic pill to swoop in and deliver a life of ease. It is so hard to break this mindset, as it’s pounded in to me daily by advertising that the way to make my life better is to buy something. Take something. Drink something. Buy something else that will make you sexy and irresistible. Just keep buying and you will eventually feel better.

So if the perfection of a job does not exist somewhere out there*- how do I evaluate what kind of job would fulfill me? Would make me feel of use, like I was contributing to making this world better?

That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? . . . Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jenny Blake’s Post-It Question has been my favorite prompt so far. I have been daily looking at my post-it note where it is still pasted on the edge of my monitor: “How can I get paid to help people get past what’s blocking them?”

It’s been challenging for me to see how many people come to me for help to get past their blocks – friends, family, acquaintances – people realize that I’m good at this, so I become their go-to coach. And it’s hard for me to really complain about this being a challenge because I LOVE doing this. I love to hear their story – messy, emotional, confused – and tease out what’s important. To find the most emotional point where this person is being triggered, to make sure that part is heard and respected, and to start to brainstorm possible solutions.

I’d love to do this work all of the time. This is the challenge – right now, none of my work is directly about helping people get past what’s blocking them. And I’m always recommended to be a therapist – yet I’m not that interested in individualized solutions to feel like I could do that all day, every day. I’m curious to find ways to apply this in groups. Like I love group dynamics and thinking about how groups can get past their blocks. And I’m curious if I can better describe my process for getting past the blocks – so that it’s easier to train people to find their own solutions more quickly and easily than picking up the phone to call me.

*The Buddhist in me wants to remind myself that perfection is much more about what’s happening on the inside than the outside.

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I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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Minimum Living

I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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“Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.” – Jonathan Mead

I spent most of the day Saturday at TEDxSF at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Not a bad day’s work to be sitting in a room full of smart people listening to some brilliant TED-style talks. The day’s theme “ALIVE! Maximum Living as a Human” made me ask a lot of questions – what makes me feel alive? What squelches my aliveness, which I feel as this heavy, tired, foggy sensation in my body? What outright makes me grumpy, frustrated, and unhappy in my day to day life?

Since moving to San Francisco, it has been my ongoing question – what should I do here? There are so many opportunities, so many potentially interesting, engaging, and amazing things to be doing every night of the week. Which should I do? And more importantly, which longer term commitments should I make – to work, to community organizing, to community building, to personal development and education? The choices seem endless, and every attempt to choose one thing leads to a profound loss at all I will be missing out on.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I love to be of use, but I also know that I get burnt out quickly if I’m not doing what makes me come alive. If I’m not doing work that gets me out of bed every morning, that makes me cry when I think of the difference I am making in this world. Social change work is too hard to also have the heaviness and lethargy of work that makes you feel a little more dead inside every time you show up.

“Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down.” – Matt Cheuvront

How do I know what makes me come alive? I know for me, time spent without purpose is critical to feeling in to what makes me come alive. I usually need quite a bit of it to get through all the jitters after coming down from the adrenaline high of being on all the time, but I know that when I finally have enough I start to feel in to what feels good in my body, what gets me excited, what makes me smile and get giddy and start plotting and call friends to get them involved too in the coolest thing ever.

So my bold, irrational pursuit? Do nothing. Take some serious time off, make space in my schedule for long uninterrupted stretches of nothingness. Pursue boredom, that empty yawning Grand Canyon that opens up before I can find that small speck of aliveness. As the brilliant Nina Wise said, in her  talk that hilariously summed up TEDxSF, “Perhaps instead of maximum living, what we need is minimum living.”

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One Strong Belief

I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Buster Benson asks, “What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?”

I believe that Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and lovingkindness hold the keys to transforming our world to be peaceful and just.

I have been fortunate to have amazing friends who share many of my political views and understandings of life. Right now, I have a set of friends working actively on creating a more just world, and a set of friends engaged in Buddhist meditation – but those circles have little overlap. Whatever circle I’m in, I have work to do to make my beliefs understood and I often feel like I’m on the edge of lecturing people about things they don’t really want to hear. Like when I had lunch with some Buddhist friends, and started breaking down the dynamics of sexual violence when our conversations meandered from living in France, to the sexual mores of France versus the US and how that relates to each country’s perception of DSK’s rapes of multiple women. Or when I’m with activist friends who cringe at training activities that get a little “woo” – especially if they slow things down and ask us to be mindful of the body. I’m overjoyed when I meet people who find interesting the overlap between social justice and meditation.

I chafe at Emerson’s love of the independence of solitude. As a community organizer, it goes against every cell of my being to just hang out with my solitary beliefs. If I find an idea compelling, I want to share it. Preferably not in a dogmatic way, but in a way where others can interact with it and tell me where it’s not quite right. And when it speaks to them clearly, I invite them in to my life as co-organizers, as friends, as family so we can work together to spread this idea, and change the world.

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Say No so you can Say Yes

I say no to new opportunities at least 10 times each day. Hundreds of time each day, if I count every time I say no to buying the extra iPhone accessory the sales guy is pushing my way or say no to the guy on the street corner who asks me to spare fifty cents.

I am terrible at saying no, so each time I have to muster up the energy to say it, and each time there’s a lingering dread – should I have actually said yes? The pain is even greater when it’s something I would actually love to say yes to, but I’ve reached my limits of time or money – like when I have to say no to an invitation out with friends because I’ve got another commitment that I can’t get out of.

Moving to San Francisco, I’ve had to quadruple the amount of times I say no. I moved here because there’s so much cool stuff to do, but there’s SO MUCH cool stuff to do. It’s impossible to do it all. In Durango, most of the time it WAS possible to do it all, if you were willing to do a bit of party hopping or show up to a meeting 20 minutes late. In San Francisco, the sheer volume of activities and the travel time to get from one activity to another make it impossible to do everything I would love to do.

Increasing My “NO” Capacity

I’ve been struggling to increase my capacity to say no, especially because my life is already overflowing with projects and activities. I have two jobs, which combined could take up 26 to 60 hours of my time each week. I also participate in the Anne Braden program which is a minimum of 15 hours per week, with cool extra opportunities each week which could involve an additional 2 to 20 hours easily. So I’m at 41 to 80 hours of activities, before we even talk about all the tasks associated with moving to a new place, connecting with old and new friends, writing this blog, and all those basic self care activities which I find so easy to neglect. It’s all great opportunities, but it’s a lot.

A couple weeks ago, I had two different people ask me how I manage to juggle all my competing responsibilities. From their perspectives, I do it well and they wanted more insight on how they could apply it to their own lives. I’m always better at giving advice to others, and then realizing it all applies directly to me and what I most need. So this is what I discovered I needed myself in the process of thinking through advice to others. Hopefully some piece will be helpful to you too!

Know What Your Big Rocks Are

While I have used a lot of different time management tools over the years, my current problem is less a time management problem and more a problem with setting clear priorities. One of my favorite books in setting clear priorities is one of the time management standards – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I always cringe a bit in recommending this to others, because the author, Stephen Covey, has been accused of deceptively repackaging religious ideas into business language as a way to spread Mormon ideas to the general public. I don’t want to be a part of that, and at the same time I’ve found some of his metaphors and tools to be extraordinarily helpful to me.

My most well-worn chapter is for Habit 3 – Put First Things First. You may know the analogy of filling a glass with rocks – if you put a pile of pebbles in first, there’s no way you can get any big rocks in later. But if you put the big rocks in first, the pebbles will easily sift down between the crevices to fill in the remaining space.

Get Out of Crisis Mode

Covey also talks a lot about prioritizing the important but not urgent tasks. Especially in my work at a rape crisis center, I could have spent all day every day simply responding to the crises that came my way. Yet when I worked like that, I never had the time for strategic planning, building relationships, community organizing, and self care. And even work that I could anticipate – grant reports that were due or a press release that needed to get out for an upcoming event – these became last minute emergencies that got done right on deadline or were delivered with apologies for being late (again). I was always in crisis mode, and I never had time to do important work that would make a long term difference in ending sexual violence.

I got fed up with this mode of working. We deal with ENOUGH real crisis in our work. The shit that doesn’t have to be a crisis should be organized and produced with ease.

Who Are You Going to Be This Week?

So, how do we work differently? The most effective tool I use is weekly planning, with a clear set of goals for the week. I often don’t know day to day what I’m actually going to work on, but when I have a pocket of time, I have a clear list of what to work on.

Yet this list must be manageable – if my list is “Write a novel” and “Raise $30,000” – I’m probably not going to reach those goals all in one week. Most time management tools will tell you to break these down into smaller goals, but what size is right? It’s hard to know.

Covey switches the planning from task-based to role-based. A person can only manage about 7 roles in your whole life at any given time. Usually my job is more than one role as I’m juggling fundraising, marketing, organization development, and production.Yet, I also have personal roles that are important to me – like being a good friend, getting my new house set up, organizing a social justice project.

For me this week, my 7 roles might be:
– Person who just moved to a new place
– Data analyst
– Anti-racist training participant
– Fundraising & development planner
– Bookkeeper
– New roommate
– Friend

Each of those roles might have 2-3 important goals to achieve this week, and I can kind of map out when those things might get done during the week and still have a lot of space in my week to deal with whatever else comes up. The container of having a maximum of 7 roles forces me to be very selective about what’s most important to get done and then clarifies that the rest is over capacity and needs to be pushed off to next week, delegated, or cut back. Next week my roles might look totally different, or some of the same and some new ones.

Know What You Want to Say YES To

It’s hugely helpful to me to have to define the most important roles in my life and have that drive what I do, rather than try to randomly cut tasks from my to do list. I’ve seen this work tangibly for me when purging out old stuff. When I look at a previously treasured item and ask, “Do I want this or not?” the answer is usually “yes! I want this! It’s been important to me!” But when I change the problem to, “I get one box of treasured items – what are the most important ones to keep?” it seems effortless to send off to Goodwill a lot of things that I no longer treasure that deeply, so that someone else can enjoy them.

Seeing my most important roles clearly each week helps me see what I’m saying YES to when I’m saying NO to other activities. It makes saying no much easier because my own limits are much clearer and visible to me. It also helps me say yes to new opportunities that come up that fit with my top roles for the week. So I may not have any social activities planned at the beginning of my week, but I know that it’s something I will need and want. By including it as a role, I leave space to fill in fun social activities to meet that need.

Getting ready for a lot more “NO” in my life … so I can have plenty of space for all that I want to say “YES” to.

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Giving Myself More Space to Speak

I have been noticing how quiet I am here. Yes, I am busy. But I also have a lot on my mind, a lot that would be helped by talking through it, writing through it, grappling intensely with all that is going on.

Yet I’m facing a lot of fear about not getting it “right” if I try to write things out here. Particularly around processing so much of the insights, epiphanies, and challenges brewing in me as a result of my participation in the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program. I’m noting here how silence can be a detour in my struggle to be a white anti-racist. I catch myself thinking, “I’ll wait until I have it sorted out, then I’ll write about the insights, not the messy internal process that got me there.” I’m much more comfortable projecting an idealized image of myself as someone who has it together, a leader, the person to come to with questions and concerns because I’ve got it figured out.

But I don’t have it figured out. I moved to San Francisco this February because I had reached the limits of what I knew, and I wanted to learn from others. From my work in an anti-violence nonprofit organization, I had reached the capacity of what I could do within the organization.

As part of the Progressive Leaders Fellowship, I had time to think through what I most needed to experience next and create a plan for how I would develop that aspect of my leadership.

I hope for a future without racism, violence, gender bias, homophobia, and hatred. To create that future, we need to rebuild our social movements of the 1960s and 70s. These days in the US, we rely too heavily on social justice non-profits to do the work of ending oppression.

We need to rethink the roles that social justice non-profits play in creating or limiting social change:

  • How does a business model for non-profits take us away from building social movements?
  • How do narrow missions keep us from working across issues for social change?
  • How do current non-profit structures contribute to staff burnout that ultimately drains away our best people?

We need to reform social justice non-profits back toward their roots in social movements, while at the same time we seek other structures outside the non-profit realm that contribute to rebuilding our movements. The specifics of this vision aren’t yet clear to me, in part because they need to be built collaboratively, based on the experiences of many people working to end oppression. The immediate needs are spaces to build a larger vision for how nonprofits and other organizing structures support ending oppression.

In re-reading this vision, I am excited that my move to San Francisco has allowed for exactly this. The Anne Braden Program is helping me root deeply in the history of U.S. social justice movements, and see my work as part of this larger, longer-term vision.

Yet, I’m also experiencing some dissonance with my blog title being focused on “nonprofits” – as I think more and more about movements and not nonprofit organizations, I feel limited by this scope. So much so, that this morning I contemplated a blog name change – perhaps to “Rooting Movement” or something similar that would allude to the broader basis in social movements that I am shifting toward.

Yet as I contemplate this shift (which may or may not happen) – I also remember that I am speaking to people who are based in nonprofits, people who feel frustrated with the limits of their organizational structure, people seeking the broader container that social movements bring to our work. And that remaining with a nonprofit-centric name will continue to allow me to be connected with people seeking information about nonprofits.

For now, I make these two commitments:

1. I will write and press “publish” even when my thinking still feels messy and incomplete. As a mentor reminded me last week, “You might try worrying less about your coherence. Even when you think you aren’t speaking clearly, I am understanding you.”

2. I will allow myself latitude with what I publish here under the name “Rooting Nonprofits.” I will give myself more space to write at the intersection of personal and political, and more space to write about larger social movements and not only about work within the four walls of a nonprofit organization.

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