Is it ever enough? This is the question that drives me, haunts me, inspires me, and motivates me more than any other question in these times. I feel it most acutely as I watch and read and learn about what is happening around the world and in our own country and in my community. I feel it as we enter into this next phase of the pandemic and acknowledge that this is not a temporary way of life like many of us thought in 2020, but a way of being that is likely to be measured in years not months.
What can I do? How can I contribute? Where will it matter? Is any of that enough?
I feel these questions bubbling up for me about my own actions, and I feel it for our organization. I also know I am not alone with my questions. I see it in the faces of so many people across the Zoom screens, and I hear it in the voices of nonprofit board members and staff as they contemplate their next personal or organizational step. It looks like a wide-eyed and closed-mouth plea for confirmation or celebration or even encouragement that the step they are about to take is enough. Frankly, their faces say that one more step would suck all the air and all the joy and all the energy out of any reason to do the work at all. It is in these moments that I think we are collectively finding the balance of “just enough” to sustain ourselves and our teams.
It isn’t hard to guess why intense feelings of simultaneous urgency and exhaustion accompany the “enough” question. This personal and leadership question is part of a larger reckoning we are seeing across the country. News headlines and researched reports tell us that staff, volunteers, and donors are asking every day what is worth my time, money, and energy? As a nation, we saw this deep adjustment happen in the aftermath of 9/11. When faced with the uncertainty of life, it seemed we wanted every moment we had to matter. As a result, we changed jobs, we moved, and we adjusted where and how and how much we donated and volunteered our time and treasure, and we adapted to a new way of life. We were a nation forever changed. As we honor the still unimaginable loss and awe-inspiring heroism of that day 20 years ago, I am struck by how in very, very different ways we are grappling again with the reckoning that comes from the uncertainty of our lives.
For example, this past week NPR reported that 40% of Americans will change jobs this year. I don’t know how that will translate into our sector or in your community, but I can see this shifting in the requests we are getting at Foraker and in so many more quiet conversations about people’s need to reprioritize what is core for them. We also know that as a result of safety protocols and personal fears, the seismic shifts in volunteerism are still unmeasured but deeply felt. Report after report tells us that charitable giving is also shifting as many foundations find or refocus their equity lenses and corporations downsize their philanthropy to adjust to a COVID economy. At the same time, individuals seek more meaningful ways to be transformational rather than transactional with their money. Layered over all this is the promise of federal relief dollars that could be game-changers when it comes to broadband access, safe drinking water, food security, childcare access, and so much more.
The challenge with all this shifting and moving is that it is hard to find the spot where we center ourselves – where we feel that the ground underneath us is steady enough to take the next steps to seize the opportunities in front of us. The irony of this moment – the moment of asking is it enough – is that this is the time when we have to be at our very best, to have all the people we need on our teams, to work with all the people on other teams across nonprofits, tribes, local governments, and business to make the highest and best use of these dollars at the very same time our teams are shifting, our funding changing, and our trust waning.
It can just feel like so much all at once. And so, we breathe and we ask ourselves, what is enough?
While I cannot begin to know how you will answer this question for yourself, I can share how I see myself and others navigating this space. I hope these ideas will spark an idea for you or just bring you comfort in solidarity. None of these ways of being are new, but in the context of the question, they might just quiet the spin cycle of your thoughts.
Finding the balance of enough in leading our work
While somewhat obvious, let’s look a little deeper at the instructions. “Do it” can be used for the quick wins that offer us an energy pick-up to fuel the harder items on the list. “Dump it” is an opportunity to say this thing I thought was important actually causes more work or chaos for others and it is right to let it go. “Delegate it” sounds great but remember to have grace with your team. Delegate isn’t an “I don’t want to do it” moment, it is a moment to acknowledge that others on the team (staff, board, volunteers) might be a more appropriate lead on the item or might actually love to do the thing you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Delegating is about acknowledging the strength of others and being accountable to others in your requests for support. “Delete it” is different from dumping it with the same result. The act of deleting an item from the list is to acknowledge that either it has been there forever and there is not enough energy from the team (including you) to move it forward or that because of all the other work it now no longer has the importance that it had when it got on the list in the first place. Let it go and feel the relief.
Did these ideas spark for you? While I focused on your work, I also want to keep acknowledging that many of these ideas could also translate into your personal journey. This idea of enough is not just about work – it is about our whole selves. Sure, there are other lists of ways of being that could provide personal grounding right now. Those might include taking an extended break – not just a few days but a few weeks or months, or even taking the leap and applying for a Rasmuson Sabbatical (the deadline is fast approaching). Or it might look like making an extra donation or giving just a little bit more to a nonprofit that is working on issues that matter to you in the hopes that it will balance the anger, frustration, and anxiety of what is happening in the world. Or maybe it looks like making space every day to breathe in the coolness of the coming fall air, or to walk or run or hike, or sit in the rain or sun for a little bit longer. For each of us, the answer is likely not just one thing but the thing that works in the moment. It is likely not just something we can do once or twice, but an opportunity to say and feel that whatever we choose in our work and our personal life is just enough.