So, I was lucky enough to attend an event for my alma mater tonight, Wheaton College. I was lucky enough to get to run into some amazing people I have met over the years and hear an amazing discussion about the importance of philanthropy, how everyone can make a difference.
During the entire mingling, drinking and networking phase, I always find myself shrinking. I find myself shrinking way down. Thinking, what can I offer, what can I give? When people ask me who I am and what I do, I am almost enraged at myself at what I say, again and again. "I just work at a non-profit."
I think it is often because I feel like many people at these events are there for a purpose. They are there to meet that person that will get them where they ultimately want to go or help them connect to the person they ultimately want to become. It really makes me angry that I sell myself in this way. I find it so ironic that the speaker was discussing the importance of not meeting people for the sake of "what they can get me eventually." How important it is to genuinely want to get to know people because you want to know them, regardless of where they can get you. Ironically, while I appreciate the sentiment of the conversation, in reality, I feel that is what these things are all about.
I like to think I am above this all and not into these events for these superficial purposes. I like to think when I converse with others and speak with them that I am genuinely interested in them, their story and what I can learn from them. I can only hope this is the case and that they feel the same way about me.
However, when people are speaking with me, it is almost like I have an automatic caveat. Like I am trying to say, "are you sure you want to speak with me because there isn't anything I can get you....I just work in non-profit." I know this is an awful view to have of myself. In NYC, especially, I often feel like it is really all about how much money you make and what you do. Unfortunately, for many I come across, my profession is not a "sexy" one. I don't make a lot of money, I don't get to interact with people with a ton of power in the typical sense of the word. As soon as I mention what I do, people typically lose interest and or their eyes glaze over. I work in fundraising, I raise money for a very important cause, I work in direct mail and try my best every day to be efficient and to ensure our donors our thanked and the money is handled efficiently.
Why do I have such a "not good enough" view as far as what I do? I think my recent feelings, may be in part, because of a workshop I attended at Fundraising Day in NYC. Last week I went to a discussion about "the wealthy" and why they give. The discussion focused a lot about how the wealthy decide who to give their money to and what goes into their decision making. There were many mentions how many wealthy feel "that they can do it better" (than non-profits), how they believe we are not efficient, they don't understand how "there are so many smaller non-profits dealing with the same thing," "how we are a bunch of people with sociology degrees trying to solve problems, " etc. This is all paraphrased. While in some regards I guess I appreciate this insight. At the same time, it kind of enrages me. Here I am, a fairly intelligent person with a Master's in Public Administration, really trying to make a difference and leave the world a little bit better, learning after all of this that some of those that have the real power, leverage and ability look at those of us running these non-profits in this way.
No wonder I feel like I have to say "I only work at a non-profit." I always thought I made a noble decision, a thoughtful decision and now I am wondering if I was totally naive in my decision making? I like to think that some people hear what I do and are inspired to contemplate how they can also make a difference. Yet, I am left here, sitting on my couch at 11:00 p.m. angry at myself for once again saying "I only work at a non-profit." Maybe I say it to try and prevent people from having a conversation with me, if they are only wondering what they can get out of it.
In retrospect (the kind of 11 p.m. retrospect that only comes after a few glasses of wine, a coconut drinks and a class of Veuve), I am proud of what I do. I am proud of where I work and while I may not have the New York lifestyle people dream about or the one you see in the movies, I like to think in the end it makes me get one step closer to finding my passion. I feel like if nothing else, it helps remind me of who I am and what is important to me. I feel like everyone finds different ways to get what they want out of life. For the time being, my way of making a difference in the world, consists of working for an amazing non-profit that has been around since 1853. For the time being, while making more money would be amazing and make my life so much less stressful (wedding, loans and bills), I do like to think it has taught about not having and not wanting and just being happy where I am. While I may not jump up and down daily about every single task that comes across my desk, I can fall asleep a bit easier at night, knowing there are over 70,000 children and families across NYC living in poverty that are getting access to holistic and necessary services, in small part, due to the money I assist in bringing in. I really do miss the direct service side of things, and in no way am I trying to say that things wouldn't happen without me, what I am trying to say is I am doing my best.
I like to think the next time I attend a networking event, I will not look at the floor, I will not say "I just work at a non-profit" if someone asks me for my card. I like to think I will hold my head up high and know that while I may not be the contact or connector that person is looking for, that at least I am a good person to get to genuinely know and interact with. I am a person who really wants the best for everyone and I can only hope that that does come through, even when I lack confidence in my non-sexy job.
Coming up next:
Math, science and sneakers
Pat, Patty, Patricia
And that's all she wrote...