Mission, vision and values are the three-legged ‘stool’ that nonprofits and community efforts stand upon. They are the foundational pillars that we construct our work and programs around. Yet, sometimes external and unexpected circumstances can get in the way. They cloud our focus causing mission creep, misaligned (to our values) decisions, and detours from our visions – the futures we dream about and what we hope for.
Fatigue and burnout can get in the way too. Certainly, the last three years have taken a toll on most of us. For me, it feels as if 2020 has been one long, perpetual year that won’t end. Three (3) years later COVID is still here (recently joined by the flu and RSV). Extremism and strife within our political systems persist, our democracy feels fleeting. Nonprofits are still clamoring for resources that should be flowing to them and the communities they sit in.. Not only is the work challenging, our collective and personal mental health is weaker. Our physical bodies and minds are exhausted. We are in an existential crisis. The mission, vision, and core values of our country, its states, and our sector are in shambles. And, so too, I believe, are our personal commitments to them.
Losing hold of our personal missions (our why), our own values, and our visions for ourselves can snatch hope from our hearts and minds. And if I’m honest, by the end of last year, situational despair was impacting all of that. Including my attitude about the work I love and the causes that I hold dear. Hope is a personal value of mine, yet by December, my hope-well was getting depleted.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give up. At NEW, we’ve prioritized our well-being and worked to resist the hopelessness that hard times bring. We’ve embraced radical honesty with ourselves and each other. Holding fidelity to our mission, vision and values offered a lighthouse amid a sea of chaos in 2022 (and 2021 and 2020). Our teams have done and contributed to powerful work born amid the chaos of the last few years. Our discipline has helped us make important decisions. We’re addressing and investing in our compensation and benefits, and increased time off. We’re doing deep planning work and articulating a clear theory of change. We’re restructuring our teams and retooling our budget to reflect our values. And we’re interrogating those values often, including recently deciding to reconsider them.
In 2022, we took a bold step. We announced a first-in-thirty-years plan to completely transform our space. And at the same time, articulated our values-aligned stance on fundraising and philanthropy. Admittedly, it’s been harder than I’d expected to rally large investments in our building transformation. As I got more ‘no’s’ than ‘yesses’ from donors at the end of the year, I questioned myself. And questioned whether we should take on a project of this magnitude. When I consider our vision for this space, it is more than its brick and mortar, its square footage and occupancy count. I see a place to find shelter and sanctuary in times when we feel alone and overwhelmed. A place to find other people with similar experiences or interests, and build community. And it’s the memories made, collective growth, friendships forged, and potential that’s uncovered within its walls. That is what I long for.
In our last staff meeting of the year, I took an impromptu moment to acknowledge each person on our team, one by one. It was a moment where I got to see and witness their humanity. To share with them what they meant to me and to NEW this past year. The false narratives about ‘strong’ leaders went out the window as I shared how they’d, at times, been the few sources of hope I’d clung to.. And, as I spoke a word to each person I felt a subtle shift in my spirit.
As Mariame Kaba offers, “hope is a discipline’. And its corollary: hopelessness thinking is optional. Another colleague, Ebony Robinson, reminded me that “happiness is tied to the happenings [around us].” Happiness can be fleeting. “But joy?”, she says, “it is our birthright, no one can take that away.” I’ve been running these notions around my head because, upon first absorption, they don’t jive. How can hope (all light and spirit) be a discipline (all serious rigor)? How can I feel joy amid all the despair? How can ruminating on the problems of our society and the challenges in our private lives be optional?
It is a choice. Our thoughts, our feelings, our physical health feed upon and reinforce each other. When we choose hope, it reframes our perspective. We acknowledge our despair, our limitations. We accept that our influence on this planet is tiny and short-lived. Yet our presence, our influence, still has meaning.
As this writer notes: “So, we seek out the beneficent. We lead with trust. At first, we must force ourselves into thinking that’s so contrary to our cynical society. Until hope becomes a pattern. Then a disciple. And we emerge into a more positive way of being.”
In the words of our beloved, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Cheers to a joyful & hope-filled 2023,