My problem with non

In my year and a half of professional upheaval (which sounds dramatic, but for lack of a better phrase), I’ve adopted the term “recovering journalist” to describe myself.

I’ve used qualifiers like “well, I used to… or I just left…” in conversations because it feels strange to take ownership of a new job in a different sector, and one that I’m still figuring out. (Also, #partylikeajournalist still makes me laugh and there’s no #partylikeanonprofitpro site.)

But being an ex-fillintheblank isn’t the most fulfilling way to identify, now is it?

That’s why Seth Godin’s “The problem with non” strikes a chord. It starts out:

Non as in non-profit.

The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?

Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It’s because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn’t right or good enough for you… there’s an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.

The message is about marketing, ultimately, but first it’s a call to embrace the role of change agent.

In order to truly feel like what I do matters, I need to get past this nonsense.

I’ve long loved this Thoreau quote because I always thought of myself as a girl who knew what she liked and what she wanted and committed to what it would take to make those things happen. (Vision of myself with a big hiking stick, plowing forward toward some goal or another.)

But for the past year, I’ve been looking every direction but forward. Back, toward what I was. Sideways, to compare myself to the people around me and try to assess my level of success. Down, because I’ve been ashamed at my bouts of uncertainty. Each of those directions stifles the imagination.

Never having transferred or changed my major in college, I think the thing that freaked me out was pausing. If I’m supposed to go confidently, what does it mean to stop and reevaluate? Should my original objective dictate my direction, or is the course set more by my ability to live by my values than check off achievements? I believe it’s the latter.

How do I solve this problem of non? Instead of fretting over whether or not I’m on the right path toward “what I want to do with my life,” I’m surrounding myself with people who make me smile and simply doing.


Then last week I went to an awesome meeting, organized by Danny Heggen. (Check out his 31 Tips for Des Moines project.) He brought together a few of his young nonprofit professional friends at Smokey Row for the kickoff of what we hope will become a kind of YP group. I met three enthusiastic people and we got started on a list of future discussion topics. The plan is to meet monthly to share ideas and best practices. It was energizing, and the first time I’ve felt like I belonged to this new-to-me world.

Camaraderie beats comparison, every time.


Filed under Life lessons

6 responses to “My problem with non

  1. Q: “If I’m supposed to go confidently, what does it mean to stop and reevaluate?”

    A: When we’re moving confidently forward, we have already stopped to evaluate. Now, we’re just tearing stuff up in a totally BA way.

  2. Love the idea of a np networking group!

  3. ljp

    Awesome post. Bookmarked for the days I feel the NONsense.

  4. Danny – thanks for inspiring this!

    LJP – Glad I’m not the only one who has those days 🙂

    Alezxson – I’ll keep you updated on upcoming meetings!

  5. carol beamer

    Bingo!! You got it girl!! Surround yourself with people who make you smile and just keep doing. Do that and the rest will happen as it should

  6. Pingback: Side project: YNPN Des Moines | BS in the Midwest

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