With summer in the arts world, comes the end of seasons for many organizations and perhaps, a slower, more leisurely pace at work. (I can actually eat my lunch now instead of scarfing it down en route to photograph a masterclass or set up 100 chairs for an event!) Summer also means new graduates entering the nonprofit and arts administration world and I love nothing better than a list of advice for emerging leaders.
Nonprofit With Balls author, Vu Le published an 2015 article with 12 pieces of advice for folks graduating and entering the nonprofit sector that recently came back across my newsfeed. It does have excellent advice for newcomers to the field, but also some refreshers for people already in the trenches.
My favorites from his list are:
“Learn one thing from everything: You will attend so many things that suck: trainings, meetings, annual dinners, webinars, etc. It’s easy to whine and dismiss them, but things that suck yield valuable lessons about not sucking. My rule is that if I can learn just one thing from anything, it’s not a waste of time.”
This was the first time I’ve come across this particular piece of advice and in the few days I’ve had it scrolling through my head, it’s changed so many of my “things that suck”. Maybe the thing is not actually a skill or new information, but it’s patience and better focus.
“Don’t underestimate anything, even simple start-up positions or assignments. You landed a job as an Executive Assistant to an ED? That may seem like a not-so-prestigious position, but let me tell you, assistants are some of the most influential people in the field. Keep learning, and you can launch into a variety of opportunities. Or you are assigned to take notes for all the board meetings? You could be bitter, or you can use it as an opportunity to strengthen skills in board development. There have been so many times when a good note-taker ended up saving everyone’s hides.”
I started in this field as a volunteer who was tasked with changing every “Rd” and “St” in the database to “Road” and “Street”. It was miserable. But, I learned the database so well that I was asked to become a paid intern which eventually led to a full time position. Now when I look back at that, it gives me empathy and sympathy with the intern who is now the database grunt and I think makes me a better co-worker and eventually a better boss.
“Take time for the people you love. Do not think you are indispensable. Work will always be there, but the people around you may not. Especially if you are a character on Game of Thrones. Take Family Game Night seriously. Even when it’s a torturous game of Monopoly.”
We work long hours and lots of weekends. That comes with many of our jobs. And it’s easy to think (especially if you are a young person in your first job) that you absolutely cannot miss a show or take any time off to go to the family reunion or to the beach with friends. Been there, thought that. But not only is that not good self-care, it shows very little trust in the people you work with. They can absolutely manage the volunteers for the night and get the social media posts up the next day if you’re not there. Being a good employee is important, but being a good friend and person is critical.