Category Archives: Personal

How I used leadership and organizational development skills to survive four nights at a haunted hotel

[Image description: Closeup of a brown puppy, snuggled in a checked grey-white-pink-black blanket. The puppy has nothing to do with this post. I just didn’t want to look at pictures of scary things to find a relevant image. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Right away, I could tell that the hotel was haunted. Or just really old. The elevator would occasionally bring me to the basement when I pushed the button for the third floor. Sometimes, it would stop on the second floor, and the door would open, but no one would be there. On the first night, the light outside the bathroom turned on at 5am. Since it was motion-activated, I didn’t think much of it, because these sensors can often be overly sensitive. On the second night, it did it again.

I was in Oakland for the Art of Transformational Consulting, a training led by the legendary Robert Gass of the Social Transformation Project. (Thank you, Haas Jr. Fund for sponsoring my participation). It was an intense one-week program, where the days often went from 9am to 9pm. During these hours, I and 29 other participants, mostly consultants or nonprofit leaders, learned from Robert and from one another. We examined the deepest corners of ourselves, we analyzed case studies, we worked in pairs and triads and groups and sat in large circles. I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, encouraged to do things that I never thought I was capable of: Meditate, communicate without words, exercise. Continue reading

12 sentences that demonstrate why we need to be better at using hyphens

[Image description: A fancy cake on a white platter, in the sunlight. The cake is yellow with a brown crust. On top are pieces of fruit (mango, strawberries) as well as chocolate curls and sticks. Image from pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Today’s blog post will be short because I am in Oakland this entire week for a training and I just got back to my hotel room, which I’m pretty sure is haunted. (It feels haunted). And also, it’s my birthday today, and I don’t want to think very hard.

So instead of the profound post I was planning to write, I am going to rant about a seemingly minor but very serious problem that has been affecting our sector: the madness-inducingly poor usage of hyphens.

Just when we finally figured out the importance of the Oxford Comma, which is elegant, practical, and majestic–#OxfordCommaForever—I’ve been seeing more and more errors around hyphen usage. Even the brilliant leaders whom I respect make mistakes. I know that our sector has important things to work on, but just look at these abominations of nature: Continue reading

On love, parenthood, and the passage of time

[Image description: An adult and a child holding hands walking toward a sun setting over a lake. Image obtained from Pixabay.]

Hi everyone. After last week’s post on the shameful state of nonprofit board diversity, a colleague, noting my increasing grumpiness, emailed me to suggest that maybe I should do some more self-care, take a few days off from work to go on a hike or listen to music or something. I thought, Whoa, maybe I should lay off writing about serious stuff for a while and focus on humor and the goodness and joy that exist in the world. So I’m going to try to do that, at least for a few weeks. There are so many things lately that make us lose our faith in humanity. But there are also so many wonderful things, moments of quiet and profound beauty that we all take for granted in our quest to save the world.

Last week, for example, I walked with my four-year-old son and his maternal grandmother to the light rail station. He was heading north to preschool, and I was going South to the airport for a three-day work trip to keynote in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, so we had to separate and be on opposite sides of the track. I stooped down and hugged him tight as we separated. “I love you, Baby,” I whispered to him.  Continue reading

How to deal with your family who has no idea what nonprofit is or what the heck you do

Hi everyone. Before we get into this week’s post, I’m thinking of all the families in Houston and other areas of Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey, and of all our nonprofit colleagues who are working tirelessly to provide relief. Please donate. Here’s a list of organizations to give to.

[Image description: A mostly black-and-white photograph of a wide and empty road disappearing into the distance. Above the road there is a text box in black with white writing that says “Disappointment Road.” Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

A couple of weeks ago, my organization graduated the inaugural cohort of leaders from our fellowship program. This is our flagship program, where we recruit a cohort of leaders of color, provide them a living wage, healthcare, and ongoing training, and have them work full-time for two years at grassroots organizations led by communities of color. Of the 14 fellows in our first-ever cohort, 6 got full-time jobs at their host site after their fellowship ended. This is a big deal, since one of the program’s biggest goals is to ensure that leaders of color enter and remain in the nonprofit sector. I was hoping 25% would get jobs at their host sites after their two-year fellowship, but 43% is even better!

As the fellows walked on stage to be thanked effusively by representatives from our partner organizations who hosted them, I recalled the beginning of the fellowship, during the orientation retreat, when the fellows shared their personal stories. It was emotional. Among the things we talked about were the challenges stemming from our own families. Parents who did not understand why anyone would choose to do this work. Scorn from relatives here and abroad. A sense of purpose burdened by the weight of filial guilt. Continue reading

Time inequity: What it is and why it’s no-good, very-bad

[Image description: A black-and-white photograph of two hourglasses standing side-by-side within a black box frame overlooking an indecipherable background (it might be a city, out of focus). The hourglass on the left has white sand, and the one on the right has black sand. Both seems almost full and are trickling sand, culminating in small sand piles in their respective bottom chambers. But the black-sand hourglass seems to have less sand in the top chamber.]

People have been asking me, “Vu, how do you manage to write a blog each week while running a nonprofit and parenting a toddler and a baby, and yet still retain your youthful good looks?” The secret is simple: I don’t sleep, and also, personal hygiene and nutrition standards have been lowered. Having a second kid, especially, has sapped our time so much that we tend to eat over the sink in five-minute increments; I don’t mind, because it allows me to rinse pureed peas and quinoa from out of my hair.

I can’t blame the baby for flinging food at us though. We haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to him as we did with his brother. He just turned one, and I think half the people we know aren’t even aware that we have a second baby, so little have we mentioned him. One person seemed irritated; he cornered me one day and said, “Hey, I heard you have a new baby? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt terrible. All I could reply was, “Sorry, Dad…” Continue reading