In fundraising, the work is never done. Being able to walk away from unfinished business when we have to is a skill I’m learning. We are constantly prioritising what’s important, and keeping up is both motivating and challenging. I don’t think I’m alone in this, or that it’s unique to the not-for-profit industry either. Those I know who are making tough, long-term decisions to further their careers, or have taken the leap to open their own business or start contracting talk about the pressure, the hustle, the fear of failure. We’re trying to set up lives that keep us secure and afford time for what we love as well. The balance can be tough, and I’ve seen this impact loved ones’ decisions, relationships and mental health.
We have a saying at work when menial, but nonetheless important tasks are swallowing our time, when the pressure is on, when the tension is high to raise what we need to raise. Those working in charities, from what I’ve experienced seem to be less forgiving of their own and others’ errors. It may be because there’s less acceptance of risk in our industry, or vulnerable people who may cop the results of our mistakes. Every so often, someone in the team will say, “Hey, just remember. We’re not curing cancer.” Which is another way of saying, “It’s OK – your work isn’t that important.”
This phrase helps us to remember that our work isn’t shifting the course of the earth. What we do doesn’t matter to more than 99% of people. What seems frustratingly important and stressful now, won’t in a month, in a year. We can back up a little to see the forest instead of the trees.
And it’s true. It’s like a hand squeeze just before you go on stage. It’s a pit-stop with Powerade in the middle of a race. It’s a hand on your back when you’ve been up all night. A moment in time that says, “Here, we know you’ve got this. You’re doing so well already. This moment isn’t the be all and end all. There will be a time when it’s not like this anymore. Take a breath and remember – you’ve got this.”
Now, I understand this phrase doesn’t work for those who are actually eradicating cancer. Or homelessness, or extreme abject poverty, or ebola, or use of nuclear weapons… Some people do have very important decisions to make. And the only thing I could possibly say if this is you, if you do bear the weight of huge decisions with implications that reach across the world and far into the future, is just to remember, if you can: you are not alone.
For me, at the root of this phrase and behaviour that precedes it is an unhealthy ‘tape’ I’m playing in my head. I think that what I do at work is who I am. I’m writing about it because it’s so ingrained, I forget that the loop is there. Maybe you do too.
And here’s what we actually need to remember:
We are not the sum of how we spend 40 of our 168 hours a week (a mere quarter). Even if it’s a tough week at 70 hours of work, that’s still less than half our week. No matter who pays us to contribute labour to keep this economy running, we are not the sum of how we spend this time, or the decisions we make while we’re here.
If we don’t or can’t work, that still does not define us.
We are not how we spend all our time, ever. We are not everything we’ve ever thought or done, or everything we dream about, or everything we think about ourselves.
We are not how we treat other people. We are not how we’ve been treated.
We are not what we produce, contribute or donate. We are not what we take and consume.
We are not our memories, our regrets or our fears.
We are not how others see us.
Who are we? Well, we need to change the tapes to find out.
HT to Rob Bell – I still remember where I was standing when you spoke about two pieces of paper, and what I needed to write on them.
“You are telling yourself a story. A story about who you are and who you aren’t. A story about what you’re doing in the world. A story about your worth, your value, your esteem. We all have this inner dialogue… and we get to change the tapes.”