Posts Tagged learning community

Letting the Mistakes Go

One of the hardest things about being a new director is facing all the mistakes I make. Especially those mistakes where I know I could have done a better job if I just had more time to plan and consider my response.

Part of the learning curve in a new job is that my to do list just comes at me way too fast. And if I let the mistakes pile up, they start to weigh on me. And then I’m more tentative the next day, more indecisive, questioning my judgment. I don’t have time for this. And it’s not actually helpful.

I’ve instituted a new routine at the end of every work day. It’s especially helpful to mark the end of my day since I’m working at home. But it’s greatest use is helping me reflect on my day, learn what needs learning, and then let it go. The next day, I feel more free to keep trying, keep learning, keep screwing up, and keep learning some more.

I reflect on these five phrases

  • I forgive myself for any pain and suffering I have caused myself or others due to my own ignorance and confusion.
  • I ask forgiveness from all those whose pain and suffering I have caused due to my ignorance and confusion.
  • May I show love for the world by loving myself, just as I am.
  • May I be happy and free.
  • May I take what I learned from today, and use what I have learned to benefit all beings

Then I list five things I learned during the day

  • I need to have energy going into this weekend. Remember it’s better to be present than prepared.
  • Scary calls never seem to be as bad as I anticipate
  • I can speak clearly about my concerns, and it actually helps everyone.
  • People need rest. More than I think.
  • Just starting to jot down a messy list can magically turn into a polished PowerPoint presentation.

Often these learnings aren’t just from my mistakes – I am gathering information about what’s working so I remember not to get stuck by phone calls or fear of speaking.

Also posted for me to reflect on every time I sit at my computer: “Remember: There is no amount of self care that will magically make this situation easy. Some situations are just hard. Keep breathing. Relax into greater wisdom.”

Do you have daily practices that help keep you sane? What works for you?


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White Anti-Racism in New-to-Me Social Movements

I am excited to be part of the 2011 class of anti-racist white folks participating in the third Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program by the Catalyst Project.

I just completed a move to San Francisco in part because I sought more training and connection with this kind of work. In small town Durango, Colorado, I felt disconnected from a larger movement and any sense of history of social change work that I was part of. I felt alone, isolated, like I was one of just a handful of people who cared about anti-racist work as part of the larger struggle for any kind of social change.

It’s amazing to be immersed among so many people committed to anti-racist organizing, so soon after my move to San Francisco (I started the training less than 48 hours after I arrived). I didn’t anticipate the way that I would be challenged by being immersed in new issues that are of primary interest to white community organizers in the Bay Area – issues like the anti-imperialist movements for global justice that have grown out of the Seattle WTO protest in 1999, Jewish Anti-Zionist and Palestine solidarity work, and anti-war work organizing with soldiers and veterans.

In small town Durango, these issues are present but not central to the issues we struggled with as a community. Part of that feels like our isolation from state, national, and international politics – it can feel disengaging to be several hours and mountain passes away from decision makers on these issues. Part is also the make-up of our community – Native American sovereignty and Latino immigration issues were the pressing issues that people of color were organizing around.

But I also have felt a certain internal laziness about learning more about these issues. They are complicated by a lot of different voices. They require taking a strong side. Many of these issues have a long history that must be understood – sometimes hundreds or thousands of years.

I am realizing that  it’s not that I struggle to take a side on anything. I struggle to take a side when I can’t actually have conversations face to face with people who are most affected. I have really fought to unlearn binary ways of thinking about the world. Now if I can’t hear multiple sides and understand the complexity of how different people are viewing an issue, I feel paralyzed to take a side just based on my gut reaction or what one person is saying.

I sometimes feel like an ineffective ally because I need to know more to take a strong position, and I have only a limited capacity about how much new information I can take in at a time. I am trying to give myself some space for learning, understanding, and finding my own way on these new-to-me issues. It’s hard when I feel internal pressure to impress my new radical anti-racists friends by being down with all the right politics.


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An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

This is the second installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction


Responding to Impermanence

winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all

Creative Commons License photo credit: jenny downing

We know that nothing is truly stable. In business, a strategy that is successful this year will go out of favor the next. The “right” way to fundraise with one person is the “wrong” way with another. The buildings we build today will need repair tomorrow.

On a May day in 2005, I woke up and went to work, thinking it was a day like any other. My first year teaching sexual assault prevention programs in schools was wrapping up, and I was looking forward to a summer where I could review my “pros and grows” – where I had succeeded and where I could improve in the upcoming year.

Liane met me at the door. As the Executive Director of Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) for the past four years, Liane had made a strong impression on me about how to run a nonprofit and maintain some balance and joy in life. I wasn’t expecting her news. “I’ve been hired to be the director of another nonprofit organization and am giving my notice today,” she paused slightly before dropping the next bombshell, “And Claire is probably going with me.” SASO was losing its two full time staff members, leaving me in my part time role to hold down the fort until new people were hired. Liane looked at me with some seriousness, “You really should think about applying for the director position.”

I had never seen myself as an executive director – at 28 I wasn’t sure I was old enough or had enough experience for the position. As I began to look at my mix of skills – skilled at writing, comfortable speaking in front of people, facility with budgeting and accounting, and enjoyment of working with people – I began to imagine that I could take a step into this role. What one day seemed an impossible challenge began to seem a grand opportunity. I applied, and got the job.

The learning curve was steep. As the last remaining staff member, I had to figure out how to hire staff, get them up to speed in an agency I had worked at for under a year, and start juggling the fundraising, grants, and financial management tasks that I was just learning to do. I quickly dropped any story that I needed to be “the boss” who was “in charge” and needed to “direct” everything happening “below” me. Instead, we were a team, learning together how to do our jobs, each a leader in our particular areas of expertise, each willing to help out the others when we needed an extra brain on a sticky problem. Our ability to drop the hierarchy and practice team leadership was noted; agency partners continually commented on the strength of our team and our ability to achieve greater success because of our approach.

I cannot imagine leading in another way, particularly in an organization dedicated to transformation and healing. Working with the trauma of sexual violence was our outer work. It is a deep practice of compassion, of being with the suffering of others, balanced with a deep practice of equanimity, of being completely unable to fix others’ suffering. As happens, this deep practice with others’ suffering continually touched into our own wells of suffering. The work is triggering, which while painful, is a great gift to be given the opportunity to face and heal our own suffering. We learned quickly that our inner work was just as essential. That when our own suffering was triggered we stopped to be with the feeling and honor where we’ve been. We would set new intentions, start planting those seeds, and tend to their growth. Our work together became a deep practice in inner and outer transformation, of ourselves and those we worked with. There was no division between our outer mission and what we practiced within. And there was much practice of joy with the realization that impermanence allows for the possibility of transformation.

In a nonprofit, how do we capitalize on our deep understanding of impermanence? A commitment to learning communities is key. By continually operating in a learning mode, we do not get entrenched in one right way of doing things. While we plan for things to change (because we know they will!), we focus on responding to current reality in the most appropriate ways possible.


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