This crisis, against all of our early hopes, has proven it will last – it’s an ultra-marathon we face with an unknown duration, curves in the route we can’t see around, and surprise hurdles thrown in just when we think we might start to hit our stride. But, when I think about it, so are the missions we serve each day and the visions we set out to achieve.
Our work in the nonprofit world is, as Simon Sinek has framed his latest book The Infinite Game, infinite; nonprofits serve a long-game, taking on the toughest of issues knowing there is no finish line (at least not one in immediate sight). Our imaginations, commitment, and optimism envision a future where we have eradicated hunger, cured cancer, realized true equity.
But we know that to pull it off, we have to look far ahead, grasp our visions to our chests with all of our strength and persevere each day even though the work is hard and exhausting, challenging and sometimes defeating. We know it’s worth it. We know we can get there. And we know we can have great impact all along the journey.
Just like the amazing RBG, we must persist.
But how? How do we continue to source the energy when we are continually drained by uncertainty and new obstacles? How do we stay focused when we’re constantly thrown off course by momentous distractions? How do we keep our teams aligned and moving forward when we all have so many fears, are juggling so much, and aren’t even in the same space?
At the very beginning of the stay-at-home order, my cat Gunther went missing for five weeks. Five whole weeks. And then, he just showed up one Friday; came right back home. We have no idea where he’d been but he’d clearly had a long, arduous journey. He had lost a ton of weight and you could feel every bone in his body. He was filthy – I could see the fleas crawling on him.
Somehow, he found his way home. I don’t know how far he traveled but it was clear the adventure was not full of fun. He struggled to find food. And it was clear from obvious anxiety his first night back home that he had struggled to find a sense of safety and security while he was gone.
Back at home he quickly rebounded, regaining his energy and confident, social personality – even if he was a little worn and weathered.
His journey reminds me of the journey we’re all on right now. The nonprofit community is struggling to find our sense of security and gather the resources we need to serve our missions and maintain our weight. We are afraid of what else is around the corner and we’re still uncertain of what the future holds.
But the lesson Gunther carried home with him is one of complete focus on your vision, determination to pursue it despite incredible obstacles, and the persistence to make it through each day no matter how challenging.
Nonprofit leaders – you’re on a really tough journey. And you’ve got this:
- Find your focus (look to your mission/core purpose). Hold onto it with all your might.
- Define the future you have set out to pursue.
- Remain flexible as you need to reroute your path to that future.
- Keep moving forward despite the risks ahead.
- Journey toward your vision one step at a time.
We don’t know what the end of the marathon will look like when we get there and we don’t know what shape will be in when we arrive. But we do know there is a future ahead. Those who keep moving towards it step-by-step every day with unflinching focus on our mission and vision will be closer to home (no matter how many bumps and bruises we collect along the way).