Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Wake-Up Call

Image via Alan Cleaver on Flickr
Have you ever had a serious wake-up call?

I read about a man who would rather be a competent violinist than an important physicist. Playing music was his passion and physics was just what he was good at. At the time I read that, I was shocked. I had always been told that you need only find out what you were good at and do it well to be happy, and here was someone giving up a career as a scientist to play music because he loved it. But he had a wake-up call that happiness in your work isn't completely about doing it well, but about giving it your passion, too.

I got a wake-up call this week.

I volunteer on two boards, both related to emergency medicine. For one of them, I was asked to serve as the board's Development Chair. Though I couldn't quite sort out my feelings, my instinct was telling me to decline. However, this very small nonprofit is in a bad way financially, and I didn't feel I could just say no. Instead, I offered to put together a marketing plan and do some fundraising for the next six months.

And I've done a crummy job of it.

I did put together the marketing plan, but never got a chance to present it because I missed the meetings. I attended the kickoff for a Fun Run and Walkathon and got the paperwork moving to make the NGO a part of it, but squandered my chances to communicate with the board and members in the days leading up to the event. It wasn't even until the week before the race/walkathon that I realized that though I had solicited sponsors, I hadn't remembered to register for the race itself.

Lest you consider me a complete screw-up, there were other things at work here and not all of the bad moves (or actually, lack of moves) are on me, but that doesn't change the outcome. So what was my problem?

Lack of commitment due to inability to see clearly.

I've never been comfortable as a member of this NGO's advisory board and I had already thought seriously of resigning, but got talked into giving it another try. They have smart people on the board, but most of them are medical or emergency services people, not people familiar with NGOs. So when it comes to fundraising, marketing, communicating and all the other outreach an NGO has to do, there was little expertise to be had. They really wanted me to help with that.

Have I tried? Yes. Did I do my best? A resounding NO.

I felt clueless about the mission, it took me too long (their meetings are every other month) to figure out where I could help, and (though I didn't know it) I needed to take time to deal with several years' worth of challenges. I had a closet full of leftover issues that would no longer wait and which would take a lot of my energy. Energy that I then did not have for the NGO.

It's not like they won't survive without me. My lack of ability to fulfill expectations is probably a very small thing when seen in perspective. But it's a big deal for me because I haven't failed in such a large way personally for quite a while.

We'll probably make our financial goal - but we might have exceeded it. And there are other things I could have done that would have helped, but wanting to help and being able to are not the same things.

In retrospect (where vision is 20/20), I should have listened to my intuition when it told me I wasn't up for this challenge. I didn't have the focus or the energy required for it. I answered a call for help when I should not have and I ended up doing a half-ass job. My wake-up call: knowledge of how to do things can be useless if it's not paired with energy and focus.

It's a good learning opportunity for me, but I would rather it had not been at the expense of the NGO.

Resource of the Week: 5 Ways You Can Use FB to Help & Inspire Your Friends

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