Care Less & Achieve More at Work


I recently came across this post and found it fascinating: Want to Be Happy at Work? Care Less About It by Kelly O’Laughlin on Quiet Revolution. Whether or not you’re an introvert, you will likely relate to this post if you’re a hard-working Millennial working at a nonprofit. So many of us are working our hearts out for our clients and for the benefits of others, and unfortunately the term “nonprofit burnout” is not one that’s foreign to us.

I was hesitant to completely buy in to the post until she compared my 80% effort to others’ 100%… and then I got it. By not giving my all 100% of the time, I am recognizing that I am not perfect and cannot solve all of the world’s problems all by myself. It’s a moment of remembering my last post, Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn. This quote specifically resonated with me:

“Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

Let’s remember to focus on self-love and self-care first and foremost. Because we can only show up to take care of others after we have shown up to take care of ourselves.


Stressed Out? Here’s What To Do About It

As our world becomes more and more fast paced, the role of stress in our lives is increasing. We are expected to get better results, faster, and more easily. This expectation carries over into the nonprofit sector. Funders, donors, and clients are expecting quality services to be readily available, effective, and easy to use. Nonprofit employees would want nothing less, and have similar lofty expectations and goals for their own work and themselves. They are passionate about their work and the people they serve, so naturally they want to deliver their services in the most efficient way possible and help as many people as they can. They work hard to achieve success and they take a lot of pride in their work. Unfortunately, when expectations get out of control, there’s a very bad consequence: stress.

I recently took a course in Nonprofit Human Resource Management for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration program at University of San Francisco and did my final paper on the ways that Human Resources departments can address the problem of the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. I first administered an informal survey (to my delight, I received 158 responses!), and the paper reviews some of my very interesting findings from this.

At the end of the paper there’s an addendum that is a short takeaway for Human Resources departments to take.

I wanted to share this paper and addendum on this blog because I see you all, my readers, as my community, supporters, and champions of the sector. You have seen that this is a topic I care deeply about, not just for my personal sanity but also for the health and sustainability of the nonprofit sector. We need to address this problem!

Click here to see my paper, and please let me know if anything great comes of it!



Your Boss is Less Stressed Out Than You Are

I recently came across this article about a stress study done recently that produced an interesting finding: higher level employees are less stressed than lower level employees. This finding jives with what I found when I did a study on the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. My data was self reported, unlike the article’s data which measured biological symptoms of stress, but nevertheless, the outcomes were similar – entry level employees were some of the most stressed out ones.

This sounds counter-intuitive at first. One might assume that with more responsibility comes more expectation, more to do and more stress. The study actually came to the conclusion that with a higher amount of control – something that higher level employees enjoy – the level of stress decreases. This is a great argument for the power of empowering lower level employees and instilling in others a sense of responsibility and ownership in their projects.

I have another idea. I’m not saying I’ve proven this in any sort of research project, but it’s just my postulation. We know that stress is most often self-imposed. I’d like to argue that higher level employees have more life experience and more awareness about how to manage stress. They have tools in their toolbelt and can identify when things are getting sticky.

Not to mention the concept that Millennials – the group that is entering the workforce right now at entry level positions – is made up of overachievers, perfectionists, and ambitious workers. We put very high expectations on ourselves, and that is manifesting in stress. And that needs to stop now!

I encourage you to be proactive about managing your stress, no matter where you fall on the food chain. I thought this article was interesting because it’s causing us all to think differently about what stress is and the role it has in the workforce and in our lives. It’s turned our traditional definition of stress on its head. And since stress is such an abstract thing that should really be paid attention to and analyzed, that’s just where it should be.


Letting Go of Responsibility

Like most things I write about on this blog, responsibility is a double edged sword. At face value, it’s a great trait – it proves you have the expertise, knowledge, and experience to manage projects. I’m definitely one of those people who strives to have more and more responsibility, even if I’m in a low level position. There’s something thrilling knowing you have total ownership of a project – that you did all the research, planning, and follow through for everything. You know every component inside out, and you can vouch for the project, no matter what.

Although it can be fun to have responsibility, it can also be exhausting. If anything’s wrong, your reputation is on the line. You have to take into account everyone’s opinions in your decisions, and answer to them when things don’t go their way. And you have to do the work! Responsibility can be very difficult.

It’s been tough for me to learn this, but I believe I have – responsibility is not something I need to go after all the time. Especially working in a nonprofit, the more responsibility you volunteer for, the more you’ll have. And it won’t necessarily reflect in your title or your pay. Before you know it, you’ll be working on very complex projects from start to end and won’t have anything to show for it. Of course, you are gaining experience, which is priceless. But honestly, I’m at the point where experience just won’t cut it. If I’m going to take responsibility for something, I need to be compensated for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I’m happy to help in any way I can. But I’m learning the lesson that I can’t kill myself working when I don’t have a higher title or higher pay. It just isn’t worth it. All I can do is what I was hired to do, and do it the best I can. And go home at night knowing that I won’t have to answer all the critics the next day.


How To Relax

The silliest title to a blog post that I’ve ever written. But – for some of us overachievers, very important to know!! Relaxing is not always something that comes naturally to us in today’s world. We’re used to going full speed ahead, being efficient, and getting it done, always thinking about the next project. We’re not so used to taking time for ourselves and chilling out.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take some time to relax and remember these tips. They’re not intuitive when your mind is always on the go!

  • Clear your mind. This means leave your work at work and put your commitments aside. Relaxing is not going to do any good if your mind is still going over your to do list. Nothing productive comes from obsessing over what needs to be done or dwelling on your problems. When it’s time to relax, put all of that thinking aside and clear your mind of the clutter.
  • Find what you love to do and do it, no matter what anyone else says. We don’t have TV at home, so Hulu is a treat to me. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy when instead of getting extra sleep, I want to watch an episode of Project Runway. Although it seems counter-intuitive to him that watching TV would actually relax me, I swear it does. For those 44 precious minutes I don’t have to think about anything except for Heidi Klum. So I do it!
  • Schedule it in. You know how I often give a tip that I myself have to work on including in my life? This one is it. It is so important to make relaxing a priority in your life – self-care is something that should always be at the top of your list, to avoid getting sick and being unhappy.

If I can leave you with one piece of advice, it’s to really take to heart the importance of relaxing. Even if you take just an hour a week… it’s so important. And keep these tips in mind! Your body and mind will thank you!


I’d Love Your Input!

I’m currently enrolled in Nonprofit Human Resources Management through the Masters in Nonprofit Administration program at University of San Francisco. For my class project, I want to evaluate the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. What a shocker, right?? Basically what this blog is about!! Anyway, I’ve created a short survey on the topic and if you work for a nonprofit organization, I would love your input! I’m hoping for responses by next Friday, June 22.

You can access the survey by clicking here.

Please pass along the link to colleagues or any other friends you know working in the nonprofit sector! Thank you!!


Does This Enhance My Life?

I’ve been asking myself that question regarding everything I choose to do lately. As I’m working full time and in school, and am blessed to have many friends and family around, I’m constantly being pulled in every direction when the only direction that really matters is my own. So, I’ve been working to frame every decision I make by answering a very important question: does this enhance my life?

The question can be interpreted many ways and in fact is very broad. Yes, there are obvious things, like work, that enhance my life because I get paid and can live the lifestyle I want. But there are more subtle ways my life is enhanced as well. Going to school enhances my life not only because it will help my career progress, but also because it’s sparked new curiosity in other parts of the nonprofit sector, it’s connected me to likeminded people, and it’s continuing to allow me to think critically about the sector and my role in it. Lunch with a friend enhances my life by allowing me to grow a friendship that supports me emotionally and mentally. Even something like accompanying a friend to an event – something that doesn’t appear to directly enhance my life – does, as I am supporting someone who will appreciate my friendship that much more.

I encourage you to think about the commitments you make in this context. Before blindly saying yes, ask yourself: does this enhance my life? Because while it may be a very worthy cause, if you overextend yourself, your contributions to the things that matter to you may be affected. And in the end, there’s only one thing that really matters: you.


Your Nonprofit is Making You Crazy

…and mine is, too!!

Now, we all know that I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for years and don’t plan to leave anytime soon (I’m even getting my Masters in Nonprofit Administration from USF)! But as much as I love the work I do, I’ve recently come to a realization…

My nonprofit is making me crazy!

The vast majority of people working in nonprofits are selfless, caring, passionate people. And when I say passionate, I mean passionate. We’re committed to the cause – mostly underpaid, working long hours, caring wholeheartedly about the work we do.

But when it comes to the day to day work we do… this passion can go overboard. Because we care so much, we believe so strongly in the work we’re doing, we fight for our opinions, programs, and priorities. They mean something to us. They matter.

Well, shoot. If you get too many people like that in a room… they’re bound to make anyone go a little crazy.

The next time you’re in your office, take a second to look around. There’s probably someone making copies, someone frantically getting ready for a committee meeting, someone on the phone with a potential volunteer. And I’d guess the hustle and bustle doesn’t exactly slow down at any point.

So, here’s the thing: this type of constant, passionate work is great in small doses, but in the long term, it’ll make you burn out. And that’s not OK unless you’re inching toward retirement. (Even then it’s not really OK!)

So, what to do? I’m not advising you to up and quit. Not telling you to go find a mindless administrative job that you don’t care about. Instead – accept that your nonprofit is making you crazy. Embrace the fact that everyone cares in excess about their work. The next time you’re in a meeting with someone who seems to be going on about her program, remember that she really believes in this project.

Be understanding, but also realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. The next time your colleagues are gearing up to stay in the office until 6:30, politely leave at 5:00. When noon rolls around, take 20 minutes for a break in the lunchroom. At your desk, remember to breathe and live peacefully. After a little bit of this, you’ll realize you’ve done something:

You’ve taken back the crazy.


Living Peacefully

Happy 2012! I hope you had a nice holiday celebrating with loved ones and spent the end of the year reflecting on what went well the past year and what you’re looking forward to in this one.

As opposed to making a New Year’s Resolution this year (as I did last year with stopping our TV service – which was a great decision, I might add!), I decided to adopt a 2012 mantra. My theme for 2012 is hereby:

Living Peacefully.

2011, while wonderful, was a stressful year for me. It was full of change, new beginnings, and the unknown… and consequently, I got stressed out. Not just annoyed once in a while… really stressed. I felt anxious much of the time. I was unhappy often. It was a difficult adjustment.

Now that it’s been a few months since all the big changes, I’ve gotten a handle on that anxiety. I’ve been proactive about making adjustments to my life and the way I approach stress. For 2012, I want to continue on that path in a big way.

To me, living peacefully means always approaching my life in a calm, balanced way. It means living in line with my values. It means living my life the way I want to, doing the best I can, and knowing that’s perfect.

Whenever I find myself getting worried or stressed, I think about one way I’m living peacefully, or, if I’m not, a way I could in that moment. And then I tweet it. I find telling others about how I’m living out my mantra helps me actually embody the saying. So, the next time you see me tweet how I’m living peacefully, I encourage you to think about if you’re living your life the same way, and retweeting if you agree. Because we could all use a little more peace in our lives.

– N.C.

I Am an Overachiever

I’ve never identified myself as an overachiever. I would definitely describe myself as driven, motivated, goal oriented, and even a little Type A – but not an overachiever.

Until I read 5 Mistakes That Cause Overachievers to Fail by Jennifer Gresham on Everyday Bright.

Unfortunately, I’m becoming very familiar with these failures Jennifer references in this post. Too familiar. And I would venture to guess that many nonprofit staffers feel the same – we’re all passionate people or we wouldn’t be in this field. When does passion go too far?

I have been incredibly stressed out lately. Yes, I’ve had a lot of life changes in the past few months – moving, new job, new grad school program… but still, something more has been tugging at me. Something beyond the usual nerves of something new. Something more substantial.

I read this post and realized – that’s it. I’m an overachiever. My overachiever self is going crazy trying to balance all these new parts of my life and do them all perfectly.

I’m spending a lot of time worrying about what others think. I want to impress my colleagues, look smart to my cohort/professor, and fit in perfectly with my new community. I want to be the perfect employee, friend, and girlfriend. I want to achieve perfection in every aspect of my life.

Instead of inspiring me, these goals are causing me to be anxious almost all of the time. I’m worried about balancing it all and being perfect all at the same time. I’ve realized I’ve become obsessed with this idea of being good at everything. Not just good – great.

When I had just one or two things going on, it was doable. I would say I was a pretty great employee and girlfriend back where we used to live. But now we’ve moved and I’ve added on student and family member… with a brand new job that demands more… and less time to be a great girlfriend… clearly, my perfectionist self is in overdrive. How can I make this happen??

I can’t.

What I can make happen is doing the best I can at everything I do. And knowing that’s good enough.

It’s better than good enough – it’s perfect.