The grind. You’ve been there. When you started, you happily threw yourself in, seeing how your work fulfilled a greater purpose and mission. Then, you got caught up in the day-to-day work and feel disconnected not just from your job, but also from your cause. You start to wonder if you’re actually making a difference.
I think there are things we can do on a regular basis that allow us to grow professionally while reconnecting us with the reasons we decided to pursue social-impact careers in the first place. Here are activities to try every day, week, month, and year.
- Rewrite your organization’s mission with your role included. For example, if your organization states, “Our mission is to provide our students with the outstanding education they deserve,” rewrite this to include how you help the org fulfill this mission: “As a fundraiser, I help us achieve this mission by raising money to support programs that bring our students high-quality academic opportunities.” Put this right above your computer and read it every day.
- Thank someone. So many people think showing gratitude has to be a huge endeavor (and don’t get me wrong—I am a big fan of hand-written notes and love letters and send them often) but it really doesn’t have to be. It also doesn’t have to be limited to the people at our jobs; we are often supported by a wide range of people. So walk over to a colleague’s desk; send a friend an email, text message, or Facebook message; take your sibling out for lunch; let the students you work with know what you’ve learned from them that day; and if you are spiritual, say a prayer. When expressing your gratitude, be specific about what you’re thankful for and how you’ve been helped. Doing this makes me happy and feel more connected to my work.
- Take a break. No matter how much we love our jobs, we are reenergized when spend some time away from work. And time alone can boost creativity. So carve out some alone time on a daily basis. Maybe you commit to leaving work no later than 6 p.m. or not having lunch at your desk. Maybe you wake up early to have a leisurely morning (I do this and am pretty protective of my morning time) or you set aside 30 minutes to go for a walk. The goal is to deliberately add something to your day that allows you to feel relaxed.
- Keep an “I-loved-this-now-I-am-ready-for-that” journal. While I am all for gratitude journals and even failure journals, I like to reflect at the beginning of the week. This way, I can incorporate the good and bad things that happened in the previous week into my plans for the upcoming week. This works for me because context and a commitment to getting better help me work through challenges and appreciate progress at work. Your approach can be a formal journal entry or it can be a few minutes of pacing back-and-forth in your room, notepad in hand, having a loud conversation with yourself (ahem, my preferred method).
- Sit in a different department. See how your organization works to meet its mission leveraging different skills by talking with someone in a different department—and lend a hand if you can. This is actually how I got interested in fundraising. I was running a leadership program for teens in Philadelphia and a coworker kept asking me for data and stories for grant reports and applications. At some point, I had to stop ignoring the emails and sit down with her and I am glad I did! I got to learn more about development and ended up working in fundraising four years.
- Connect with the people you serve. This might be difficult to do, depending on your line of work (for example, if you work in finance for a health-based organization, it might be hard to connect with clients due to confidentiality reasons.) So consider formal and informal ways to get on the ground: chatting with the communications team about interesting stories or sitting in on a class/workshop/meeting being held for your organization’s constituents. Or, ask your manager for ideas on how you can see the impact of your work. Sometimes, just listening to what people need and what’s helping them succeed is great motivation.
- Hang out with your peers. At my last job, I connected with three other young women who also worked in development at charter schools. We all met accidentally, but we ended up seeing each other regularly for dinner and drinks. Aside from gossip, it was great to share information about opportunities, get insight on how to deal with frustrations, and chat about what it was like to be working, living, and loving in NYC as 20-something women. Find a group that enriches you personally and helps you become better professionally.
- Volunteer your skills for a different cause. Consider this a stretch assignment: by leveraging your skills in a new situation for, perhaps, different goals, you are pushing yourself to do better and sharpening your skill set. Not to mention the opportunity to connect with new people and see potential ways your cause and another may overlap—a great way to foster collaborations.
- Read a book that speaks to your inner drive. Yes, I know we got into this work because we want to create a better world. But you know what else makes me excited to roll up my sleeves and work for change? Stories about growing up with difficult families. The topics range from how parents stayed together without killing each other to how to deal with death and war. Written from the POV of growing, overcoming interpersonal challenges, and learning to accept who your family is, these stories strongly resonate with me and make me feel part of something bigger (i.e. You mean I’m not the only one?). What topics connect you to the human experience and drive you to be more involved?
- Attend a conference you’ve attended before. Isn’t it awesome to walk into a conference hall and see familiar faces? Attend workshops that allow you to build on information you learned last year? See how your field is changing and how you can be more involved? Bonus if the conference is a different city each year, allowing you to explore a new city and how that community wrestles with social issues. Attending the same conference can be both refreshing and comforting.
- Go to a new conference not related to nonprofits or social change. Isn’t it awesome to walk into a conference hall and know nothing about the topic? Just kidding, but how often do we put ourselves in a position where we have to bring our profession and cause to a new audience? Or explore different tools or different ways of thinking when it comes to scaling our impact? This isn’t to say you should pick a conference randomly; instead try to pick a conference related to your profession (communications or finance) or skills you have to use regularly (writing, project or people management, budgeting) but not in the nonprofit space.
- Take a vacation. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Go away for a little while and don’t feel guilt about it. Can’t take a big bulk of time off? Try taking three or four day weekends occasionally.
Of course, you don’t have to do all of these things, however trying to incorporate opportunities to reenergize and reconnect with your work and your cause is always worthwhile.
How do YOU stay passionate?