“I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me” – My New Year’s Resolutions

The Mountain Goats performing onstage at Austin City Limits Live. The stage lights are blue and purple, and John Darnielle is playing a black acoustic guitar.

Goodbye summer, hello back-to-school, and happy new year! I love this new year’s season – I have personally found September to be a much better time for new beginnings and fresh starts than January. Luckily for me, Rosh Hashanah happens right around this time of year, which gives me a chance to reflect on my life and make new year’s resolutions during a time where I am motivated and emotionally and spiritually ready to make life changes.

For me, this new year is looking especially promising for resolutions and growth because I’m already in a period of major transition: I’ll be moving from California to Washington in less than a week! I also had a phenomenal end-of-the-year vacation this weekend – my partner and I went to Austin, Texas to eat lots of good food and see The Mountain Goats (!!) in concert. This trip was such a satisfying end to my year and really made me feel like I was starting the new year on a very, very high note. All of that being said, here are the 6 resolutions that I’m making for this sweet new year! Shana Tova!

1) Do more of what I love that I haven’t had the energy to do during the past few years

Recently I’ve done a lot of personal growth which has left me feeling mentally rejuvenated and energized. As a result, I’ve been able to dedicate more of my time and energy towards and old hobby that I let fall by the wayside during the past few years: language learning! I’ve gotten back into studying French and Spanish, and several other languages have piqued my interest during the past few weeks (Russian, Hebrew, Tagalog, and Afrikaans to name a few). I’m excited about learning and practicing again, and I’m looking forward to continue learning my languages as a part of this new year’s resolution!

In addition to language learning, I’m resolving to make more time to read in Washington, and I am going to look into taking ballet again! Ballet was a hobby of mine for years before I had to stop for health reasons. Now that I’m healthy and moving to an area with a much larger ballet scene, I’m ready to get back into my slippers and onto the floor! Additionally, getting back into ballet will be a fun way for me to incorporate more movement and art into my self care routine.

2) Maintain the work that I’ve done on myself

I’ve alluded to personal growth a few times on this blog already, so it should not come as a surprise that one of my resolutions revolves entirely around my personal growth and development. Because I’m in a time of transition, I know that the next few months are going to bring many stressors and challenges. This means that it is going to be especially important for me to work on practicing self care as an act of self preservation when I arrive in Washington – I want to make sure I don’t revert back to old habits or toxic ways of thinking in the new year! So, rather than resolving to grow even more during the upcoming year, I think it’s important for me to focus on maintaining my current level of personal development during this uncertain time. Once I get settled in, I can think about shifting my focus from personal and emotional maintenance to continued growth and development.

3) Build community

This year I am resolving to build community in three areas: in my new home, at my new workplace, and through a new volunteer opportunity. Building community in all of these areas will involve me going out of my comfort zone to meet new people, practicing my listening skills, and intentionally making connections with people who have had vastly different life experiences than I have. My work and any volunteer roles I pursue will give me opportunities to pursue boots-on-the-ground community building, including interpersonal advocacy and relationship building.

Finding a long-term volunteer opportunity in Washington is especially important to me as I believe volunteering allows you to integrate into new communities, connect with others, and resolve issues in ways that full-time paid positions cannot. I’m hoping to find a volunteer opportunity that I can stay with for a year or longer – I want to be engaged and committed to building community at an agency and with a population in a sustainable way. Currently, the volunteer opportunities that I’m looking into are teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) for immigrants and refugees and providing personal support and advocacy for people in recovery and members of the disability community. I’ll keep everyone posted when I find the volunteer opportunity that is the best fit for me!

4) Go to at least 1 place that I’ve never been to before

This resolution is pretty simple – everyone knows that travel expands horizons and can be a whole lot of fun. Some places on my list of potential travel spots are Montana (I’d love to hike in Glacier National Park) and anywhere on the East Coast! We’ll see where I end up!

5) Further explore sustainability

Moving to an area with a robust public transportation system is going to open up a world of opportunities for sustainable living! In addition to riding the bus and walking more, I’m going to focus on buying fewer items and reusing items as much as possible in order to cut down on my personal consumption and waste production.

6) Learn as much as possible

Moving to a new area will be an experience of a lifetime for me. I am resolving to keep my mind open so that I can learn everything that this transition and the people I meet along the way have to teach me about my new home, my new community, and myself.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Thinking About Quitting a Nonprofit Job

A view from a boat on Lake Washington at sunset. Hills and mountains are visible in the distance.

Deciding when to leave a job or a volunteer opportunity can be a challenge: there are so many things that you need to take into consideration, including your finances, your resume, your professional development, and your overall happiness at work! Many of my peers and I have had to make decisions about whether or not we wanted to leave a job, and we all had a very difficult time deciding what we were going to do. Not only did we have to consider the average career concerns (how many months have I been at this job? Will it look bad on my resume if I leave??), but we also had to consider our strong emotional attachments that have developed from working in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits jobs are emotionally intense: people become attached to their clients and they are proud and emotionally invested in the work that they do to repair the world.

With all of these concerns in mind, I reviewed my own experiences and the experiences of my peers to parse out exactly why we left our various roles in the nonprofit sector, both paid and volunteer. Based on these experiences, I have compiled this short list of questions to ask yourself when you are considering moving on from a nonprofit job or volunteer opportunity.

1) Am I still gaining skills and experience in my current position?

One of the greatest things about nonprofit jobs and volunteer opportunities is that you have so many opportunities to gain experience in a variety of things! (This is in part because nonprofits are notoriously overworked and understaffed, but hey, let’s focus on the positive here!) In all of my volunteer and paid nonprofit roles, I have had amazing opportunities to explore new areas of interest, including fundraising, social media management, computer software, and group facilitation.

If you’ve found yourself at a place where you feel you are no longer learning new skills and mastering new experiences at your job, you should begin to reevaluate your role and what you’re doing. Perhaps there is a computer software that is relevant to your work that you could experiment with (Adobe Photoshop, ArcGIS, Constant Contact, etc.). Perhaps you could ask your supervisor if you could assist other employees or volunteers with projects to expand your horizons. Hopefully, your supervisor and coworkers will be supportive of your desire to learn new skills and grow professionally! If they are not, or if you just feel like you’ve stagnated at your current position, perhaps it is time for you to look into other employment opportunities where there is more room for growth and professional development.

2) Can I reasonably keep living at this pay grade?

Let’s be honest: jobs in the nonprofit world usually don’t pay very well. You very well might find yourself in the position where you love everything about your job from your clients to your supervisor to your day-to-day tasks, but you just can’t live on the wage you are earning. Depending on how long you’ve been at the job, you could always ask for a raise! A raise could be the financial boost you need to realistically continue working in your role. If, however, your finances are really looking bleak, there is nothing wrong with leaving your role or leaving the nonprofit field entirely for a better paying job. After all, you have to eat!

3) Am I being asked to do things that make me really uncomfortable or that I think may be unethical?

I’m amazed that I even have to say this, but I do because no one ever said it to me: if you are being asked to do something illegal, something that you think is unethical, or something that flat out makes you uncomfortable or unsafe, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TAKE ACTION, INCLUDING QUITTING. I have heard so many stories of people in the nonprofit world being forced into uncomfortable situations while volunteering or working, and in many of those stories the person felt an enormous pressure to keep working without complaint to avoid disrupting the status quo at the organization because it did so much good in the community. No one wanted to be the one to report problematic behaviors to a supervisor or regulatory agency because no one wanted to be “blamed” for putting the organization in hot water. I have known many people (including myself!) who have stayed in unsafe/unethical/uncomfortable volunteer positions and jobs for much longer than they wanted to out of a sense of loyalty to the nonprofit, and the result was detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing.

Before you decide to leave a professional situation where you are asked to do something illegal/unethical/unsafe, you should first discuss the problem with your direct supervisor. In some cases, an unsafe situation can be resolved with additional training or resources. In other cases, discussing a issue that you’ve noticed could lead to a direct change in your organization’s policies! If, however, you discuss the problem with your supervisor and they are dismissive of your concerns or they say that nothing can be done to remedy the situation, then you need to try something else.

One next step involves reaching out to a regulatory agency or an emergency services department that you think could help you navigate the situation. This is especially important if you believe you are being asked to do something illegal or something that is putting people (including yourself) in danger. Even if you are not a mandated reporter for child or elder abuse, it is still a good idea to report when you think an organization is systemically endangering or abusing clients. You don’t want to be associated with an organization that ends up in the news for injuring or killing a client – it would not be good for your professional reputation or for your conscience! Please do not feel guilty about reporting nonprofit and social service organizations for illegal behavior, endangerment, or abuse. If you’re incorrect about the behavior and the organization is actually in good practice, the organization will be fine and you will be fine because you are reporting in good faith. If, however, you are correct and the organization does have systemic problems with illegal activity or abuse, you could be saving lives by reporting.

Finally, please do not feel guilty for leaving a position, paid or volunteer, where you feel uncomfortable or unsafe performing the duties assigned. If you reach out to a supervisor or a regulatory agency and nothing improves, you are allowed to quit. You do not owe anything to your employer, no matter how much you admire the work that they are doing in your community. Your job is just a job, and no job is worth putting your own physical or mental health at risk!

4) Is my mental health or personal life being negatively affected by my job?

There are several situations where a job could affect your mental health or personal life: you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, you don’t fit in with the company culture, you’re feeling overworked, you’re working in too high-stress of an environment… the list goes on. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or exceedingly stressed out by your job, consider what options you have for improving the situation. Could you try therapy? Yoga? Incorporating more self care into your routine? Do you need to set up firmer boundaries with your clients or coworkers? Could you ask a supervisor for more support?

If you’ve gone through your options and your situation isn’t improving, it could be time to consider changing positions. Perhaps you need a role with less direct client contact, perhaps you need to switch the population that you work with, or perhaps you need to get out of the nonprofit industry altogether. Regardless of the solution, you need to do what’s best for you and your own mental health!

“You don’t know where you are until you arrive.”

The rolling green hills of San Luis Obispo, California, as seen from Prefumo Crest at sunset. Morro Rock and the ocean are visible in the background, and fog is beginning to roll into the valley.

In t-minus one month I’ll be moving out of California semi-permanently! I’m excited, but also very nervous – I’ve only ever spent a few months living away from my hometown, my family, the ocean, and the year-round temperate California weather, so this move is going to bring some enormous changes for me. Though I have solid plans for where I will be living and working when I arrive in Washington, on a larger scale, I have no idea where this move will take me.

“You don’t know where you are until you arrive” is a quote from the song Going to Wisconsin by The Mountain Goats. The song itself sounds pretty rough around the edges, as do most early Mountain Goats tracks, but the sentiment and lyrics of the song are clear and poignant and perfect. I’m probably over exaggerating, but the song did come into my life at the exact moment I needed to hear it, and for that reason I’m very attached to the lyrical aphorism that lends itself to the title of this blog.

After I quit my first job out of college and moved back to my hometown, I was convinced that my life had been completely derailed from the path to success that I had been trying to follow. I wound up taking on a new job and new volunteer opportunities and trying to make the best of things. Within a few months, I started feeling pretty good about myself and my choices; I began to think that maybe I could get myself back on track again.

One morning at my job, I decided to search for a new desktop background – something that could help make my cubicle and desk feel more personal and calm. I went online and found some images of quotes from The Mountain Goats placed over classic paintings. I looked at all of the paintings and read through the quotes to try to decide which image I wanted to greet me every morning when I logged into my computer. There was one lyric in an image that I kept coming back to even though I had never heard the song it came from. There was just something about “you don’t know where you are until you arrive” that was calming and reassuring and that made me feel like everything in my life was happening exactly how it was supposed to happen.

That’s when it hit me: I had never been derailed from any path to begin with. I was on the same life track that I’d been following for years; I’d just hit some ups and downs along the way. This was a moment of true clarity for me. I felt like for the first time in a long while that I could see and appreciate exactly where I was in my life. I could see what choices I had made in the past that put me on the path to where I was at that moment. Moving back to my hometown no longer seemed like a derailment, but just another point, albeit a lower one, on the same life track that I’ve been following for several years. In that moment, I had truly arrived – I could see where I was in my life, and I was happy about it.

I appreciated this moment of clarity and insight, even if it did only last for a moment. In the time between then and now, I have felt that clarity about where I was – felt that I have arrived someplace – only a few times. After my move, I imagine I won’t feel like I’ve truly “arrived” in a spiritual and emotional sense until November or December, several months after I have physically arrived in Washington state. And I’m okay with that. Not every decision or life change can (or should) yield an immediate positive or negative result. Often you have to wait for something to happen to find out if you’ve made the “right” decision. Life is complicated. Sometimes a life change might feel initially like a bad choice or like you’ve failed, only for you to feel much better about the change a few weeks later. Sometimes changes feel good when they’re first made, but worsen as time goes on. I’ll only know where I stand in the moment of clarity when I have “arrived” somewhere wholeheartedly.

For now, I am trying to think positively about my upcoming move. I can’t stop feeling nervous (nor should I – being nervous before a major life change is perfectly normal), but I am refusing to stress unnecessarily about whether or not moving is the correct choice for me at this point in my life. I have chosen to walk this path, and I won’t know where I’ll end up until I have lived and experienced the move and everything that follows. I know where I’m moving and where I’ll be working, but I don’t know what my life will be like in 6 months or a year from now. For that, I’ll have to live and walk along my path until I unexpectedly realize I have made it somewhere. You don’t know where you are until you arrive.