In a break from my more standard postings of dating and relationships gone awry, I’m writing about waiting. There are many theories about how to best do this, actively waiting (bleck), passively (double bleck), or in my case impatiently. I’ve been waiting for my break through for close to a decade now and the transition into doing nothing and doing something has been so gradual that once the something happened I barely noticed. And then when I did notice I found myself so tired from all the waiting that I had little drive to do the thing I said I wanted to do for so long.
The thing I talk about wanting is not something tangible like a trip or the newest version of a gadget. It is something much harder to pinpoint, much harder to hold on to; it is a passion. Something to devote some, if not all of one’s life to. A calling. This elusive thing that some seem to just ‘know’. My mother for example, is one of those fortunate people who knew from a very young age what she wanted to be when she grew up. The story she tells is of a fourth grade girl who seemingly out of thin air picked education as her life’s work. How did that happen? What god of knowledge did she pray to that granted her this incredible insight into what to dedicate her life to? I wanted to know this god too, and pray at their alter.
Through my younger years I had no one topic or cause that held my attention unwaveringly. There were spells of interest in the arts or a certain moment in history, but eventually my mind would start to wonder what else was out there to discover. The merry go round of thought sustained me through high school. And then came the dread of college. I did not want to go. I had nothing that I was passionate about enough to major in. I saw no point in spending money to bumble around trying this and that. But familial pressure prevailed and I ended up going to the only school that applied to. In hindsight it was a risk to apply to only one school, but then again it shows how little interest I had in actually going.
Time passed in the halls of higher learning and somehow I settled on History to which to apply myself. I genuinely enjoyed the field and had wonderful professors that fostered my inquisitiveness. Through my years I learned that I had a soft spot for women’s issues (shocker) and social justice. I also came to understand that a degree in history was relatively worthless, at least according to nearly everyone I spoke to about my field of study. Whenever I received that feedback I would shrug and mumble something about teaching, but I never let the negative feedback sway me away from something that I actually enjoyed. After so much time trying to find something to hold my attention there was little chance of me giving it up, even if the world at large didn’t understand my attraction.
Two years after graduation and I found myself in the corporate world. I was luckier than some who with their degrees still hadn’t found work, but I didn’t like what I was doing. The field I ended up in had nothing to do with history, but utilized my communication skills and ability to analyze information. Again giving into peer pressure and a stubbornness in my nature that refused to give up on something without at least an attempt at a fight, I stayed. Instead of fleeing, my free time was spent trying to isolate what it was I really did want to do.
Through a slow process of elimination the topic showed itself and I thought that the hardest part was over. Little did I know that finding the car to chase was the easiest part of the whole damn process. With my newly discovered path illuminated I set out full force. I called local and national organizations, watched and read everything I could get my hands on to educate myself on my topic of interest and brought it up in any conversation where I was asked ‘where do you see yourself in ten years?’. And then nothing happened. Nothing happened for 6 years. I pounded on doors of GNO’s offering my services in whatever form I could in order to get my foot in the door. I was told time and again that there was nothing for me to do. It was difficult for me to believe that there was nothing to be done. If these organizations had everything so well covered surely issue wouldn’t still be a prevalent problem, let a alone a growing one. Right?
Wrong! The worst part, I would come to find, was that my experience was terribly common. People ended up starting their own non-profits just because the established groups ‘couldn’t use their time and energy’. I was flabbergasted and frankly pissed off. How were we, as a community, supposed to make any difference when willing individual’s time and honest offers of effort and skills were turned away out of hand? The answer, it would turn out to be, was tenacity.
Unfortunately the thing that was propelling me forward was also burning up my energy reservoir. It was a slow road to start gaining traction and for however grateful I was at the small steps made I was also resentful that more wasn’t happening. The forward movement I gained was with an international organization with a nation focus. I was ready to fly forward and change the world now that I had an established group to attach my name to. Then reality hit. I was the low man in the pecking order. I was ready and willing! Why was it so difficult?!
The more time I spent in the space the better my understanding of the non profit world became. Everyone vies for the same grant money, PR, and prestige within the community. My disillusionment with the system was real and deep. In contrast to my job, where I knew people were about the bottom line I thought that people in the non profit sphere would play nice together, cease being human, and turn into fully altruistic beings who breathed the common good above self. The reality of course, was that there were just as many complexities to building and maintaining a non profit as with most things in life, and the issue we were trying to tackle itself. It was complicated.
And so goes that complexity. For every gain we seem to make there are negative consequences. There are multiple different view points within the community, from how we handle the problem, to what constitutes effective policy, to how to best talk about the issue to the community at large. All of it has left my energy somewhat depleted for the work that I can actually do. I wonder, for all the time and effort spent on identifying what it is that I want to do will the end result be worth the pain?