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The Gift of Going: Leaving a Dream Job

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

For me, change - even good - brings hand-wringing, nervous laughter, inertia, and much processing. Sometimes I work on things through writing, sometimes on this blog, and sometimes in the margins of whatever book I'm reading. Mostly I talk to loved ones. Graciously, they listen.

Over two years ago, I left a position as a professional fundraiser for a charity and went to work in higher education advancement. Specifically, I went to work for the university from which I graduated. I joined a talented team engaged in a billion-dollar campaign to increase scholarship, program, and faculty funding. I embraced work travel, a first for me, and searched for donors to make transformational gifts. Asking for large sums of money is daunting, but I had experience with it, and the university's stellar reputation, along with my deep love for the place, had me giddy.

Then... March 2020. No more travel. In-person meetings on indefinite pause. Cultivation events petered out. We began work-from-home/home-school lives. We entered a surreal landscape with homemade masks, toilet paper hunting, and hand-washing lessons. Fears and concerns increased more rapidly than Jeff Bezos' wealth.

There were things about the shutdown I loved. I'm a closeted introvert, so staying home felt like heaven. I had my immediate family all to myself. I'm a massive worrier, so two young women daughters stuck at home safely with mom and dad was dreamy. And I loved the ingenuity and creativity that abounded in my small world and society as a whole. I felt a strange hope about the coming days. Maybe this would be like the months after 9/11 when kindness was king and concern for others beamed from every face.

Professionally, my heart went to our university's students (our oldest was a senior at the time), my co-workers, the faculty, the parents, our leadership. My department huddled together via Zoom as best we could. Our work shifted to checking on donors rather than asking them for help. We passed any time they would give us via phone or email, hoping to build greater affinity for their university but feeling like we won with even the slightest response. Any immediate fundraising momentum I had disappeared before my eyes.

To make things worse, heinous racially charged events in the summer of 2020 highlighted the reality of frail systemic change in our nation. The election brought more fear - and disgust - to our daily lives. Then, things worsened: the Insurrection of January 6th, a deadly winter storm, fires out west, constant strife between Americans. I spent a lot of time in conversation with my Maker. We all did.

Setback after setback rolled my way. Even though my admiration for my closest colleagues increased and inspiration came from alums, staff, and faculty, I felt myself going deeper and deeper into a very dark place. Morale in our group entered an all-time low. I was uncomfortable in our new open-floor-plan offices for all of the reasons you can imagine and more. We were expected to return to normal, engage with donors as we always had, and travel and seek and find, but there was no "normal" for me. I felt otherworldly.

My internal struggles at work combined with my personal concerns. Our oldest daughter lost all traditions surrounding the culmination of her hard work at the university: no final parties or gatherings, no senior toasts, no cap and gown, no commencement. Our youngest, a sophomore in high school with ADD, felt the effects of being ripped away from friends, peers, teachers, and the opportunities so crucial for educational and developmental growth. They were strong, but I worried.

Thankfully, my darling husband and daughters were open. We had tears and laughs. We talked to counselors and took medicine. We did self-care and gave each other a lot of grace. And something happened I didn't expect because, for some insane reason, I was surprised when my adult/almost adult children functioned with profound maturity. They shared their problems, and they patiently listened to mine. They commiserated and, at times, challenged me. They offered sound solutions.

Because of them, I started listening to myself. What did I want? Why did I want to flee my job? It had become exceedingly difficult, but was it hard because I needed to work harder - or was it hard because I no longer fit? Even though I cared deeply for my co-workers and the university, I no longer felt comfortable. Why was that?

According to the the US Bureau of Labor, in 2021 over 100,000 Americans were working as fundraisers for nonprofits and universities. Most I've met or worked with are highly professional, accomplished people. They are people I want to be like! And, many are like me in that they feel emotionally tied to the organizations they work for. They give to their organization and they bring their personal relationships into the fold where appropriate. Not every one does this, and there is nothing wrong with that! For me, however, work is not worth doing without including my personal gifts and connections. While I could do this at the university, I was not working with the same depth of heart I felt with other organizations I had served. I realized I no longer saw myself working in higher education. Someone else would be a better fit, and because I loved my university, I wanted to step aside so they could enter.

"Feeling discontent is exciting. Discontent is the nagging of the imagination. Discontent is evidence that your imagination has not given up on you. It is still pressing, swelling, trying to get your attention by whispering: Not this." - Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Leaving my position puzzled many, but what others think of me is their own business. My feeling of truth to myself, combined with my family's support, made it ok for me to turn in my resignation. I hope I set the next guy up for success, and I will always stay in touch with my team. I feel like myself again, and I am profoundly thankful to continue supporting and honoring my university with joy - plus a bonus of evolved/newly realized talents intact.

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