More than 150 Echoing Green Fellows gathered in Joburg for the 2015 All Fellows Conference to refine and re-energize their leadership. Here's what we learned.
One of Those Days
You can tell you’re going to have “one of those days” pretty early on. Before 9 AM, I had forgotten to bring shorts to the gym (so I worked out in pants), forgotten my cell phone charger (and my phone ran out of battery as soon as I got to work) and as I got ready to make my morning coffee, I spilled the grounds all over the kitchen (when that all happens before 9 AM, you should probably go home and start over).
The day got worse. Or at least I perceived it to. I felt completely off my game. I screwed up my personal life. I felt behind on our annual giving campaign. Three people canceled meetings on me. I unnecessarily got cross and annoyed with a team member. And before I knew it, it was 7 PM, and in addition to a still-full e-mail inbox, I had a Red bull, double espresso, and beer all sitting next to me on my desk.
Everybody has days like this. But for social entrepreneurs, they can be more pronounced. There’s a fairly simple logic behind this. When you’re starting something you believe in, work is life: it has to be. Therefore, if work sucks, so does life. And vice versa. So it seems. That’s what it felt like today. And then the spiral leads to thoughts of failure. Fear of me personally failing Generation Citizen. Fear of me failing personally.
So I went home, had a drink, and watched some really bad football. Then I read this: http://www.waldenu.edu/About-Us/38170.htm. A commencement speech by Cheryl Dorsey, Echoing Green’s President, on failure. It’s utterly brilliant. We spend our whole life afraid of failing and it completely hamstrings us. As Cheryl eloquently states, we shouldn’t be afraid of failing. Rather, “Failure is not a dirty word, a socially unacceptable outcome that has to be talked about in hushed tones. Reaching for something that seems so improbable, and maybe it is, but means everything to you is the very definition of opportunity and the lifeblood of all social change movements.”
Here’s the thing: at the end of a day like today, I’m okay. I’m more than okay. And even if GC fails, I will be okay. And so will my team. I believe in it, deeply. But the opportunity to engage in this experiment, to see how far we can take this organization and this idea, is pretty powerful in its own right. I can still fail. But it’s a little different from failing a few years ago when I was a staff of one and affecting 80 kids a year.
But there’s another thing that all social entrepreneurs have a hard time recognizing: work is not life. It’s a big part of it. But it’s not all of it. I think sometimes I have confused doing good work, which I believe GC is, with being a good person. They are related, but they are not one in the same. I have bulldozed family, friends, relationships because of an obsessive desire to work. But it’s actually an obsessive desire to not fail. I can take an hour to turn off my phone and be present in the now. But I don’t. I need to check my e-mail…to see what’s happening at work. Why?
The dirty little secret is that I have no idea what I’m doing, work or personal. I feel like most of us don’t. I put up a front: in work, we’ve created a 5-year plan, systems, and a high-functioning team. But in actuality, each day is a completely different challenge. If creating an organization like this were easy, it would have been done.
And so I’ll wake up again tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll remember shorts and my cell phone charger and not spill the coffee. But it’s still going to be a complete challenge. So instead of complaining about my day and fearing failure, I can only embrace it: this amazing and unique opportunity to create something out of nothing with a completely inspiring cast of supporters and teammates. And the opportunity to carve a life full of love and adventure. I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m damn well going to try harder to do good work, and try harder to be a good person.
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