I’m here in the same kitchen chair where I sat exactly one year ago today. On January 1, 2019, I clicked “send” on the application to incorporate Integrate for Good as its own nonprofit organization. So many emotions ran through me that day...fear, excitement, self-doubt, uncertainty, but also an underlying feeling that it was the right time to “jump.”
One year later, I never could have predicted what 2019 would bring. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself.” In my journey to create Integrate for Good, I ended up creating a stronger, more courageous me.
In honor of Integrate for Good’s first anniversary, I ‘d like to share five lessons learned from launching a start-up nonprofit business:
Do what makes you come alive.
Passion is a powerful energy source that can crush self-doubt and the debilitating fear of failure. When you harness the power of passion, it fuels your success. It is contagious. It draws people to you and your work. Passion is undeniable. It shines in your eyes. It strengthens your words. It creates a wave that others want to ride with you.
When you invite passion to infuse your work, your “why” become more important than your “what.” Your work becomes a vehicle to achieve your highest purpose.
I love when people notice and comment on my passion. It is one of the biggest compliments I can receive. When my passion is shining, I know that I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what I was put here to do. I equate my passion with authenticity. When my excitement is evident, I’m being most true to myself. I’m still working on using less exclamation points, but that is still a challenge!
Know when to pivot.
How many of us have stayed too long in a job? Pursued a dead-end relationship? Followed a road map that while predictable, led to a destination not worth going?
Sometimes we stayed loo long. Sometimes we quit too soon. We’re not often granted all of the information we need to make important decisions. Launching a new nonprofit and sailing into unchartered territory has presented daily choices about staying on the same course, or deciding to turn the wheel. Those decisions don’t come easily. They don’t come with guide books or money-back guarantees.
But exercising those pivoting muscles makes them stronger. We learn from our own experience and the experience of others on the road with us. Our successes reinforce our confidence. Choices that don’t turn out the way we expect, educate us. When failure is not in our vocabulary, we either succeed or learn.
This year, I learned to show myself the same kindness and patience I show others. When we accept that the road ahead is not a straight one, we can embrace the ride and find the courage to turn corners, not always knowing what lies around the bend. But often, that’s where the best surprises are found.
Choose “Day One” over “One Day.”
For twenty years, I wanted to go back to school to pursue my doctoral work. Life happened and different priorities kept rising to the top. I realize now, that they were really just different excuses stemming from the fear of actually achieving my dream. If I finished my doctoral work, would I be able to use that experience to create the change I wanted to see in my community? Could I learn the new technology (like discussion boards and Google hangout), or would I be forever tied to my memories of overhead projectors, Vis-à-vis markers and my Trapper Keeper?
Then, there was the decision about whether to keep Integrate for Good as a project safely nested under a larger nonprofit umbrella, or whether to take a huge risk and see if it could fly on its own.
Both decisions were huge, with so much to gain, yet so much at risk. Eventually I decided, in both situations, that the regret of not trying, far out-weighed the risk of disappointment. Those decisions were the scariest I’ve ever made, yet have made all of the difference.
If we wait until we have all of the information, and all of the experience we think we need, we run the risk of the best opportunities passing us by.
Today is Day One of 2020. What have you been putting off until “one day?” Maybe it’s time to embrace Day One today.
Say “yes” more often, and say “no” more often.
“What if I embarrass myself?” “What if they think I’m not ready?” “What if I fall down?” How many times have we let “what if” questions limit us instead of inspire us?
This year, I committed to saying “yes” more often. “Yes” to joining new groups where I could network with new people. “Yes” to asking corporations to come on board as sponsors to empower our work. “Yes” to entering rooms where I knew no one.
I started asking new “what if” questions. “What if I meet my next board member at this networking event?” “What if this company decides to give us a donation that empowers us to support more young people with disabilities?” “What if I consider new and diverse collaborations and we are able to expand our capacity and impact?”
I also learned the importance of saying “no.” “No” to overcommitting myself. “No to people who wanted to discourage my dream. “No” to people who wanted to take advantage of my kindness and generosity. When you learn to say “no,” you make room for more opportunities that deserve a “yes.”
Celebrate the small victories. They are not so small after all.
In the nonprofit world, and the for-profit arena as well, there is always the demand of reporting numbers, of documenting outcomes in quantifiable ways. During our start-up year, I faced constant pressure to focus on these numbers, to count them and to increase them. “How many volunteer hours were served?” “How many people did we support?” “How much money was donated?”
It took an intentional focus to insist on also measuring the quality of these numbers, and telling the stories behind them. We can share that over 5,000 volunteer hours were donated through Integrate for Good just this year, but what about the two hours within those 5,000 served by Sophia.
Sophia, who lives with anxiety and significant learning disabilities, always traveled with a job coach from her local high school to volunteer with us at our local zoo. One Friday afternoon, she decided she was ready to travel and volunteer without him. When she arrived, her hands were shaking and her voice was quivering. But Sophia quickly realized she wasn’t alone. When she stepped off the bus, she was met with familiar faces and a community who knew her and looked forward to seeing her.
During these two hours of volunteering, we shared what it’s like to try something right outside your comfort zone. Integrate for Good and zoo staff joined in, along with other students sharing their own perspectives as young people with a variety of abilities and challenges.
After our volunteer time was over, Sophia walked back up to the bus waiting for her. While she didn’t need me to follow, I walked far enough behind to see her get on board without her noticing. She looked taller. I could sense her smile although I couldn’t see her face. To her, those two hours were life-changing. It was truly a privilege to witness.
It’s easy to get caught up in reporting numbers, and sometimes it’s easy to feel like they aren’t high enough. But behind every number, is a person. Behind every number is a victory. Taking time to acknowledge and celebrate success is energizing and important.
In a great article for Inc.com, Bill Carmody talks about how celebrating success changes our physiology, reinforces our success, tightens our network when we share success with our colleagues, and positions us to attract even more success. You can find the article here: https://www.inc.com/bill-carmody/3-reasons-celebrating-your-many-accomplishments-is-critical-to-your-success.html
Integrate for Good wishes everyone a new year filled with these five things: the opportunity to share your passion, the courage to pivot and grow, the bravery to make today Day One of something great, the confidence to say “yes” to new opportunities and “no” to the things that hold you back, and many moments of success to celebrate!