Stuck in the Muck? Three Ideas to Help You Step Out.

I’m sure you’ve never felt like this before. Waist deep in muck with no idea how to get out. Feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and grief all at the same time. You might be asking yourself ‘how did I get here – again?’ I’d be lying if I said I’d never been there.

Earlier this week, I taught on this topic on a webinar geared towards nonprofit professionals. We have so much in our field that talks about techniques and how to do things, but too often we overlook the obvious – high burnout rates among people who work at nonprofits, high turnover rates, frustrations on both the side of board members and agency staff, and fewer people trying to get the same amount of work done. For many people moving into the nonprofit world, this is not what they signed up for!

If you’re still reading, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you find yourself in this spot now, I’d like to offer a little help – and a little hope.

First, know that you’re not alone. It doesn’t change anything, but sometimes it just helps to know that other people are going through the same thing. For me, while working for an understaffed organization with too high expectations, I felt completely alone. I felt that there was no one I could talk to who would be ‘safe.’ Just know, there are other people who have gone (and are going) through this situation. Find someone to talk to. It might be a clergy member, a life or business coach, a trusted friend. As a non-CEO staff member, just don’t try to confide in a board member – there are too many dynamics that can get thrown out of whack when you do that (yes, I’m speaking from experience).

Next, take the time to make a (realistic) plan. So often, we’re so busy trying to get things done that we don’t realize that there is no feasible way to get everything done that we’re trying to get done. That’s when things start to fall through the cracks and we end up just creating more work for ourselves. And we end up falling short of expectations other people have of us. Yes, it takes time, but it is well worth the investment. Once you have everything written down, it’s easier to assess – and easier to be objective. We’re no longer talking about how we feel, but rather about the current situation and realistic time expectation. Then you’re better able to go to a boss (or your board) and talk through what needs to change. Perhaps there are some things that wouldn’t be missed if they weren’t getting done. Perhaps there are some things that could be done by a volunteer, a board member or another staff member.

Finally, take a step back and look at the big picture. Remember what it was that first got you passionate about the organization you’re working for. In our day-to-day work (especially for non-program staff and management) it can be difficult to see the difference we’re making. We can feel disconnected from the ‘real’ work getting done (it’s all real work, sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way). Make a point each week to walk through a program area, read a story about a client, or talk to program staff. It could mean calling a few donors to say thank you – and ask them what it is that first inspired them to contribute to your organization. Do whatever you can to reconnect with that amazing feeling of knowing that your work does make a difference.

Thank you for what you are doing to make the world a better place. Thank you for taking a stand for what you believe in. I really appreciate what you do and know that others do as well.


Stuck in the Muck? Three Ideas to Help You Step Out. — 2 Comments

  1. Whew! Yes, everybody needs to hear this every so often as a reminder that “you’re not alone.” I’m one of the worst about writing things down and accessing. Part of my plan during “slow season” is to get better about this. THanks, Kirsten.

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