Why do you do what you do?
Why do you choose to spend 40+ hours a week working at a nonprofit organization? Why do you tirelessly commit your time, talents and energy to a cause you care about?
I’m willing to bet it’s not for the money, though hopefully you’re making more of it than you used to. It’s probably not for the fame or the accolades either, though you deserve every bit of credit you receive.
If you’re like most nonprofit people I know, you’re motivated by your organization’s mission. You believe in the specific sort of change your nonprofit is working to create, and your team’s unique approach for creating it. But even more than that, you’re driven by your personal vision for your life. You see yourself as a person who can and should make a difference in the short time you have on this planet, and you’re not willing to relegate your impact to “after hours.” Instead, you’re committed to making it your life’s work, no matter the sacrifices.
That sort of intrinsic, purpose-driven motivation is what makes the nonprofit sector so amazing. It’s what allows nonprofits to solve problems that businesses and governments can’t (or won’t). It’s what allows organizations to keep moving their missions forward, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in their way.Intrinsic, purpose-driven motivation is what makes the nonprofit sector so amazing. It’s what allows nonprofits to solve problems that businesses and governments can’t (or won’t). Click To Tweet
But lately, I’m worried that many of us who work in and with nonprofits have begun to lose sight of our personal vision, and how our nonprofit work fits into it. Or worse, to lose hope that any of it matters.
I blame this on the trauma of 2020, followed by the instability and uncertainty of 2021. As Kyle Chayka so aptly put it in their recent article for the New Yorker:
“ is a year that feels as though it does and does not exist, a hangover from the depths of terror in 2020 that provides a significant improvement and yet remains vacuous and unstable. For a moment, with the arrival of vaccines in the spring, we all thought we were on the cusp of Roaring Twenties vibes, a Hieronymous Bosch-style summer of orgy and excess. Instead, with the serial announcement of new covid-19 variants, we became strung up with tightrope vibes, as if we could fall backward in time at any moment.”
Indeed, most of us spent 2020 in crisis mode, trying to keep ourselves, our families and our organizations afloat through a global threat unlike anything we had ever experienced in our lifetimes. Then, we spent 2021 in a continual cycle of small improvements followed by major setbacks, real hopes dashed by false ones. It’s been hard enough for long enough to cause even the most optimistic among us to feel at least periodically anxious or hopeless, to let our personal visions fade and burn out, overtaken by our motivation to simply survive.
Now, I know COVID is far from over, and its disparate impact on health, education and more will likely be felt for many years to come – perhaps for the rest of our lifetimes. But as 2021 comes to a close, and the two-year anniversary of the pandemic draws near, I’m feeling like it’s time to reconnect with our personal visions again. It’s time to find a sense of hope, even through the struggle, that what we do matters.
Personally, I’ve decided to spend these last few weeks of the year as I always used to before the pandemic hit: reflecting on how I’ve grown and changed as a person in recent months, and asking myself as many questions as I can to get clear on what I want from my life and my work in the year(s) ahead. I feel so lucky to get to work with nonprofit organizations, to get to devote my career and my 40+ hours a week to causes I care about, and I want to make sure I don’t let my sense of personal vision for why I do this work (or why I do anything else I do in my life) slip away. If you’re feeling the same way I have through the chaos and craziness that characterized these last two years, I hope you’ll do the same.
Here are a few resources that may be able to help:
Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
This book and workbook were created by the two professors who taught the wildly popular Stanford course on using design thinking to build a life you can thrive in.
The Desire Map, A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul by Danielle LaPorte
A personal favorite of mine, this book/workbook takes you through the process of deciding how you want to feel and then structuring your goals and life vision accordingly. When I went through the process of discovering my core desired feelings back in 2018, it was nothing short of a revelation.
Three Tips to Assessing Your Current State in Life by Lisa Nichols
Lisa’s video and post share some powerful ideas about making a five-year plan for your life and then writing yourself a thank you letter for ten years from now, thanking yourself for the things you’ve gone through over the last 10 years and how you’ve handled them.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
This classic book was my introduction to the concept of a personal vision statement. I created my first personal vision statement as a 22-year-old, while working in my first (corporate) job, and have continued to refine it ever since. It’s what led me to start Prosper and stick with it for the long haul.
Why and How Visioning Works by Ari Weinzweig
I’ve used Zingerman’s process for visioning a few different times, both personally and professionally, and I love it. I just rediscovered an early vision document from my first year as an entrepreneur, and since I hadn’t re-read it in years, I was a bit shocked to find that a good 90% of it describes my current reality. Now that I’m 10 years in, I’m thinking I may revisit the process again to create a vision for my next 10 years of entrepreneurship.
Please add your favorite resources in the comments, as well.
Following today’s post, we plan to go quiet until the start of the new year to give our team at Prosper and you, our community, an opportunity to rest, reflect, recharge and enter into 2022 reinvigorated. Despite the continued uncertainty we’re living through, I’m hopeful that this will be our year to once again find a sense of hope, clarity, and drive to pursue a purpose-driven life, which we’re all lucky to have the opportunity to do through our nonprofit work.
Thanks for being here with us and following along with our content in 2021, through all the ups and downs. We never take for granted your interest in our ideas and trust in our expertise, and as we get clearer on Prosper’s vision for the year ahead, I’m happy to report that we have a lot of exciting things in store for you in 2022 that I think you’re going to love. We’ll see you back here in the new year.
As we always say: onward and upward!