Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 1 of vacay and I'm doing my favorite thing: hanging out in a cafe before a business lunch.
Best thing?
I still fit in my Italy bathing suit!
Let's take that as an omen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who is Our Neighbor?: on American faith, floods and community centers

"Dear God, We thank you for being kind to us./Help us to think of other people./We hope we will be kind to everyone/All through the years." - a prayer written in the Anshai Emeth Temple
"Did pakistan help us after 911 or after the string of hurricanes that hit new orleans? NO you say. Then screw em. we have our own problems right here." - Facebook

"O...... HELL NO....! How in the world can you suggest that we send money to Pakistan when when we have long term unemployed that are suffering. We have been kicked under a bus and forgotten." - Facebook

"LET THEM FLOAT" - Facebook

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. - Matthew 23:27, ASV

This morning, I checked my Facebook feed and the White House had posted a story about establishing a flood relief fund for Pakistan. The misguided vitriol this post unleashed was predictable but also sad. The political angle can be covered by someone else; I'm interested in what this reaction to millions of flood victims says about the conflicted ways we Americans declare our Christian faith, especially in light of the widespread hysteria over Cordoba House.

In the New Testament, the easiest lessons to be taught are about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  We see this message repeated in the Beatitudes, in questions about who one's neighbor really is, in parables about good Samaritans and encountering strange women at wells in the middle of the afternoon. It is at the center of Christ's caution to 'him that is without sin, cast the first stone.'

Repeatedly, through Christ's ministry, we are reminded that we are all neighbors, even to those who spitefully use us; this lesson culminates in Christ's ultimate sacrifice, creating grace and forgiveness (and salvation) for all of us, even those who crucified him. The simplest reading of Christianity asks us to model Christ's sacrifice as well as his ability to love (through thought and action) his enemies.

For me, more than sticking to dogma or doctrine (which are often distractions against loving one's neighbor), learning to love my neighbor is a constant struggle. My neighbor is the rabid racist; the homophobe; the war-mongering, woman-hating Republican. And I am called to be like Christ and to love them, instead of punching them in their pie-hole, the way I really want.

(Like I said, it's a daily struggle and I ask for forgiveness often.)

And, apparently, it is a lesson that most American Christians will never really learn.

When given the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be Christian, instead of reaching out to our neighbors, we march against Islamic community centers, refuse to help flood victims and justify it with a mealy-mouthed whine about 'us':

'What about us? What about my pain? My suffering? What about my losses?'

Well, what about them?

If we bothered to read our Bibles, we'd know that we are never promised prosperity and safety; what makes us think our pain means anything? It is our condition to experience pain and loss. Holding the pain and fear of 9/11 like a talisman turns it into an idol, an object to worship, rather than using our faith to overcome our pain and fear. By holding such pain close we also reject God's ability to ease our pain and suffering. Why such little faith in what God can do?

It saddens me to see how little faith American so-called Christians have in our faith. It's sad that the most basic of Sunday School lessons is lost in our fiery desire to see others suffer to assauge our own suffering. But, as an old school Baptist preacher's daughter, I'm also worried. Because if the Bible has taught me anything, it's that God has a healthy sense of 'what goes around, comes around.'

If I was one of these Christians breaking the Golden Rule, I'd be a little concerned about that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

will i ever write about politics, again?

Have you wanted something so badly, you're almost afraid to get it?

That's how I feel about this new opportunity. I made it through the interview, the strategic comms writing sample tests (which were harder than I thought, though very very useful), and now I've submitted my salary requirements (which could be a teensy bit higher), and am about to enter Round Two. I'm so close I can taste it. I want it and, yet...

Though I've complained since January about the circle of hell work has become (for various external reasons, not the least of which has been the fiscal instability of the human services sector in Illinois) I've only recently realized that I need this change because I think I'm ready for a more permanent life.  This new opportunity represents my stake in my adulthood, at last. If you take a peek into my life, you'll see temporary second-hand furniture, books left over from grad school, habits hanging out since Boystown, nostalgia for the Lost Tart Years. I have lived like a woman on the lam.

Wonder of wonders, I think I am ready to put down stakes.

Oh, I'm not saying I'm about to capitulate to the expectations of standard womanhood. Traditional marriage and bearing children are not in my plan, and I don't really anticipate that changing. But the urge to say definitively what it is I need (rather than what I don't), and then create the structure to support my need, has grown stronger.

I need stability.
I need love and companionship (which it looks like I'm on the road to achieve.)
I want professional success and longevity.
I want a fully functioning, whole life.

If this opportunity doesn't come through, the urge to live a full life won't go away. My desire to live a real, grounded life won't be derailed.

Just delayed a little.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the search continues

To say I have a lot riding on the success of tomorrow is an understatement.

I have an afternoon presentation to a group of corporate giving types about the need for public engagement on our state budget issues (grant makers are notoriously hard to move into advocacy mode.) Then I have a, um, rather important meeting with an organization in the afternoon about their strategic direction and where I might fit in. 

Who's attending my presentation? The woman I'm meeting with later in the afternoon.
Not only does my presentation need to avoid being lame, it needs to 'enhance my brand.'
No pressure.

And on top of that, it's going to be one of the hottest days of the week and the humidity will be outrageous.  Tomorrow is not the time to look like a round, moist, tropical princess.

I need to look professional, dammit. And that means no sweat. Or curly 'fro.

Wish I had time to comment on the backlash against FLOTUS' holiday in Spain (and why, once again, black women need to be Jesus) but I don't. 

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

'Is this our issue?'

In my job, I hear this question a lot. 'Delia Christina, should we respond to this? Is this our issue?'

Most of the time, an issue is 'ours.'  Whether the issue is about women, violence, assault, child care, or economic stability, it could definitely find itself in our sweet spot and we'll talk about it.  But what about Prop 8? What about the move to alter the 14th Amendment? Would these be issues in our organizational sweet spot?

Absolutely.  Those issues give us an opportunity to share our values. Because we're an organization with a history, vision and mission statement that puts racial, gender and social justice front and center (they're on our business cards, for Pete's sake) then yes, civil rights and equal protection for all is 'our' issue.

I understand organizations are leery of mission drift. One minute you're a hard core youth violence organization and then the next you're advocating for green grocers in the neighborhood - your board, staff and supporters are confused. But if being a voice for better health outcomes in under-resourced neighborhoods through better access to local produce is a reflection of your deep set desire to transform local communities and the people in them, then what's the problem? 

They may not be what you do, but your values should reflect what you stand for.

Years ago, after the reelection of George W. Bush, I was in a strategy meeting with some Chicago area bloggers and advocates; a leading progressive blogger was there to flog his book and he said the problem with the left at that time was that it failed to 'lead with its values.' His words stuck with me. And when I look at the Right, I have to agree. No matter the issue (immigration, mammograms, paid family leave, gay marriage or contraception), they lead with their values. They don't care about the issue. That's a silly little detail.

What matters is using the issue to talk about what you believe in and your transformative wish for the world.

Of course, I am assuming an organization is comfortable with the values it says it has.  I have to admit that I have a problem when I sense that people in an organization want to shy away from an issue because it makes them afraid.  I'm not saying that one shouldn't be pragmatic about the reality of oppositional word of mouth. When anti-choicers framed American Girl's support for a girls' empowerment program as 'pro-abortion', my organization (also a girls' empowerment org) became nervous. As well we should have been; some attention is just not worth it, especially when it's ... less than rational. 

But if you're willing to tout your work back in the 60s as a social justice organization then you better be comfortable today speaking truth to power and pointing out when social justice has been kicked to the curb. You can't suddenly rear back and say, 'Well...'

That's cowardly.  Which is a value! 
But is that the value you want to have associated with your organization?

Monday, August 02, 2010

everyone needs a public strategy

Even foundations.

I am a hard core evangelist about organizations developing a public strategy. I believe it works, I think it brings value and I know it can transform a sluggish organization into one that breaks barriers and moves quickly, fluidly and proactively.

The key word is 'strategy.'  Strategy isn't passive or accidental. It requires purposeful, directed thought and planning.  If an organization is strategic, it doesn't 'rest' on its laurels. The work is never sufficient to speak for itself. If left to its own devices, your work can often be misconstrued or misunderstood. Leaving the work to 'speak for itself' assumes your audience knows what your work is saying. 

Do they?  Do you even know who your audience is?

The organization I'm working for now was basically the best kept secret in Chicago. No one knew its mission or vision. Sure, they knew *some* of the work we did.  But they never had the whole picture.  If we let the 'work' speak for itself, we'd still be a best kept secret in Chicago. People would still think we had pools and residences.

What do they know about us now? That we're the largest provider of comprehensive sexual assault services in Illinois; that we've proven experts in the field of early childhood services; that we are an emerging voice for women's economic stability and empowerment. They know we're an organization that fosters women's leadership and an organization that looks ahead and anticipates socio-cultural shifts in order to deliver services faster and better.

How do they know it? They've heard our story in newspapers, blogs, and on tv.  They've heard legislators repeat our story in Springfield; they've read our story in Crain's and other private sector publications. Our board members and high level volunteers repeat our story wherever they go. Our staff, the main disseminators of our brand identity, are on message and can tell our story in whatever elevator they find themselves in.

In a word, that's my job.

How I'm Getting Through a 'New Normal' Job Search, pt 1.

I have begun a very quiet job search.
(Though, how quiet is it when I'm talking about it on my blog?)

This is the first time I've begun a search while in a current position and it feels different; rather than feel relaxed and carefree, there is an urgency that didn't exist before. Before, my job search had always been precipitated by a monstrous external event like a lay off; back then, I'd reconnect with a recruiter (this was when I was in admin) and within a month or two, I'd have a handful of interviews and then have a job.

This time, I'm searching in anticipation of a monstrous external event.  To be honest, if anyone is working in direct service non profit, I think now is the time to start translating your non profit experience into a private enterprise context where you can.  (Especially if you live in a state with a horrific state budget and the human services sector is looking at big cuts, like California or Illinois.) In Illinois, at my Large Women's Non Profit, we are anticipating at least another 10-20% budget reduction, if not higher. In my position, I represent pure overhead - I am on the bubble.

So I need to get ahead of that, if I can.

Job searching while panicked is never pretty - or effective. Currently, the average length of a successful search is 9 months. My self-imposed deadline is much tighter than that. To hold off the panic as long as possible, I've begun to apply some of same techniques of my job to my current search:

Landscape Assessment - Who do I know? What opportunities are out there? What opportunites aren't out there, yet, but I need to be positioned for? Where do I want to go? How long do I realistically have for this search?

Qualifying/Cultivating Targets - What is the quality of my network? Which is the faster, most efficient path toward a new opportunity? Who are the people who will give me needed guidance and/or leads, or other information? Who will I need to 'tickle' in order to let them know I'm out here, and what will these conversations need to sound/look like? What do my targeted orgs lack that I'm willing to contribute?

Making the Ask - What exactly do I need to ask my network? More than contacts (or referealls to other contacts), what information do I need to adk for in order to make my search more targeted? What is my messaging?

I don't pretend that being well-prepared is all one needs. By no means.  But the hardest thing about job searching is the mental game. It is so easy to become dispirited and filled with disappointment, and being organized (for me) is a way to keep the search focused, measurable and targeted.  I do not want to reach the place where I'm sending my resume everywhere.

Other things I've done to be organized and systematic about my approach:
On Google Docs, I've created spreadsheets, contact sheets, strategic relationship maps.
And I'm constantly revising my resume. 

The most important thing I'm doing (it's a constant process of navel gazing):
Really asking myself what I want my professional future to become.  Who do I want to be now?
What is the stretch opportunity?
What are the values I want this next move to embody?

More on that later, though.

How are you handling the 'New Normal' Job Search?