Category Archives: Personal

Nonprofits, we need to talk about mental health and suicide

[Image description: A bunch of flowers with yellow centers and white petals, likely daisies, resting on a metal railing of some sort. Blurry brown and beige background depicting land and a small patch of light blue sky. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this post is going to be a little serious, but I hope you will read it and discuss with your team. The recent suicides in the news have made me think about our sector and our responsibility to one another.

Ten years ago, a friend of mine took her life a day after calling me asking to hang out. I would learn later from her mom that she had been dealing with bipolar disorder for a long time, and hid it from her friends and coworkers. I wished that I had been a better friend, that I had known what she was going through, that I had supported her more.

My friend’s suicide made me realize that we have a long way to go when it comes to mental health awareness, even among those of us who are in the nonprofit sector and thus are supposed to be more attuned to the people around us. Because mental health conditions are mostly invisible, our colleagues, friends, and family members may be going through challenges, and we may not be aware of it. Or we may be unintentionally creating an environment where mental illness is stigmatized, leading to further isolation. Continue reading

Why I’m working less, and why you should too

[Image description: A grey and white dog asleep on the carpet, facing the camera. Image by Adam Grabek of Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. Before we get into this post, a quick announcement: My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is looking for two new team members: An Operations Support Program Manager and a Development and Communications Associate. Join the team, and pass the word. We have awesome snacks! 

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. A while ago, I wrote a post called “The Myth of Indispensability,” which deals with the loss of my mother and how all of us need to spend more time with the people we love, because we never know how many more days we have left with them. 

Since that post though, I haven’t really been following my own words. Working for a nonprofit is all-consuming. I know you know what that is like. Our work is often not confined to a 9-to-5. It is often in the evenings, on the weekends, sometimes in the bathroom on the phone (hey, whatever it takes to get that online grant application submitted). Even when we aren’t at the office, we are thinking about work, worrying about clients and payroll and programs and reports. And we never feel that we are doing enough, that we ourselves are enough.

And while we work, the people we love change. Kids grow older, our parents grayer, our friends don’t call or drop by as much anymore. I had to contain my emotions one day when my then-four-year-old held on to my leg as I was leaving for the airport. “Daddy, I don’t want you to go on a work trip.” I didn’t know how it happened that my tiny, sweet little baby who was only eight pounds was now speaking full sentences. It reminded me of what a colleague once said years ago, but whose words I never absorbed until that moment: “Your projects will always be there. But your children will only grow up one time.” That was a difficult ride to the airport. Continue reading

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