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Taming time: An entrepreneur’s advice

The members of the Consultant Cafe Conversation pause to smile for a photo.Time is the most precious resource we have. If you ever foray into the world of self-employment, you become vividly aware of that fact. Suddenly you have to bill your work, often on an hourly basis. Each moment matters. Sandra Boone was kind enough to invite me to host a recent Cafe Conversation about what it’s like to start and run your own nonprofit consulting business. 

I was happy to accept, and although the great group of smart professionals who joined me asked about a range of topics, one theme that cropped up frequently was the importance of time management. So here are a few tips culled from our discussion and selected to be applicable to anyone in the work world, regardless of whether or not you're running your own business.

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What do you mean you need a work visa?

“What do you mean you need a work visa?” After this question, many of my job interviews turned really awkward. Another common question that would follow was, “So, are you here illegally?”

Uh, no.

As an international student at a U.S. college, I always knew in the back of my head that if I wanted to stay and work in this county, I would need my employer to sponsor my work visa. What does that mean? Simply put, you have to submit an application and your employer pretty much pays the country to let you work here. But the truth is that this process is nothing short of a nightmare. It might seem that the complicated part is the visa application, but, in my experience, the challenge came long before the visa process.

I was fortunate to have a good International Student Program at my school. They were always very helpful, and they had all the information we needed to know. If you are going to embark in the adventure that is a work visa, make sure you reach out to someone who is familiar with the process to guide you. If you don’t know anyone (or even if you do), here’s some advice from a person who’s been there.

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How to get the most out of YNPN-TC membership

First off, let’s clear up one question: How do I know if I’m a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (YNPN-TC)? If you’re anything like me, you might not be exactly sure what membership means. I started attending YNPN-TC events several years ago as I was finishing up a term of national volunteer service and starting to explore my career options. Did that make me a member? I got more involved and starting volunteering on the Programming Committee. Did that make me a member? I applied and joined the board. Did that make me a member?

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Short answer: YES! (From the get-go!)

Long answer: Once you attend an event with us and/or sign up for our email list, you’re official! YNPN-TC membership is 100% free so you never have to worry about paying dues. (Side note: We now have 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, and supporters are always welcome to donate to us to help us continue to provide high-quality programming without charging a fee to members.)

Now that you know how simple it is to become a member, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your membership.

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It is easy to be a bad supervisor

Note: For this blog, I’m using manager and supervisor as synonyms, and they should be viewed as skills implemented and required based on job responsibilities. Your title may say Associate Director of Regional Bouncy Castle Rental Logistics, but if you have 3 folks who have to send you their time cards every 1 to 2 weeks, you are supervising someone.

It is easy to be a bad supervisor. No seriously, it is way easier to use the positional power to make your supervisee’ lives harder, your organization’s results down, and your staff turnover high and team morale low.

The nonprofit sector has trouble already with competitive wages, compassion fatigue, and the need to live up to representative community leadership, so it can be easy to blame those factors as the reasons folks leave their organization or even the sector. While those are all are real reasons for why folks pop on Linkedin on their lunch break, Gallup finds year after year that more than 50% of employees leave their job because of their boss/manager. The nonprofit sector isn’t immune from this, and, if anything it can be even worse.

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Give Yourself a Hygge

Homer Simpson is just a big, toasty cinnamon bunHoo-gah. Unless you’re well-versed in Danish culture, that may not sound like anything other than an old-timey car horn. But this word, spelled “hygge,” represents a mindset and lifestyle that is spreading far beyond its Danish origins. Hygge is a quality of ultimate comfort, coziness, and well-being. Imagine that feeling you get when snuggled in a blanket, sipping a hot beverage near a fireplace. Or sitting down to a candlelit dinner with your closest friends. Or, in my case, lying in a cuddle heap of puppies. Hygge is the name for that feeling.

As with many other cultural phenomena to hit the U.S., the hygge trend has worked its way into the mainstream, appearing in everything from self-help manifestos to cookbooks, even hair color trends. After stumbling upon this concept online, and going on to read Louisa Thomsen Brits’ The Book of Hygge, I thought about the other aspects of life where these teachings could apply. See, I will be the first to admit that I am one of the many nonprofit professionals that gets very emotionally invested in their work--sometimes to their own detriment. Being deeply committed can be great, but, especially for the more anxious among us, it can also mean you end up in situations where even small problems can put a huge damper on your happiness. Happening upon hygge after a particularly tough week at work, I had a very uncharacteristic thought...what would it feel like to take things just a little less seriously? What would it look like to cultivate a hygge-like sense of well-being in my professional life? Here are three learnings of hygge to help you bring emotional coziness to your cubicle.

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For those times you feel like a fraud

Recently, someone requested a meeting with me to chat about many things—from the nonprofit sector in general, to what the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits does, to ideas he had for the sector that he wanted to run by me. As I sat and waited for him to arrive at our meeting, one thought kept going through my head: ‘He is expecting to meet with an adult, but he’ll get here and see me – a kid (even though I’m 27). What business do I have being here?’ It’s a feeling I know all too well – imposter syndrome.   

According to The American Psychological Association, imposter syndrome “occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.”  People will often think their accomplishments are the result of luck – not ability, and often worry that others will expose them as a fraud.

I always assumed these worries I was having were because a) my anxiety gets the best of me or, worse, b) because they were all true. I had no idea this was a legitimate thing. When I realized that these thoughts I was having weren’t actually true, I started to wonder what I could do to shut that voice up. It’s a work in progress, but here are some things I’ve learned that might help you if you’re going through this as well.

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Why I fail loudly and you can, too

Assorted lemons some cut in half and some wholeTo be a young nonprofit professional in the Twin Cities is to be surrounded by peers who are doing interesting, relevant, and impactful work. We can point to thriving nonprofits and a vibrant arts community as evidence that we’re part of something big and good – and that is usually true! But with such a lively nonprofit ecosystem comes the reality that there are plenty of people angling for the same opportunities you are. And chances are, you’ll fail. At least, I do! Rather than focusing on how to minimize my risk of failure, I’m more interested in openly sharing the risks I take (and the failures I experience) with others and suggest you give it a shot.

As part of a healthy nonprofit ecosystem, opportunities for personal and professional growth surround us; however, there’s understandably a limit to the number of individuals who can take advantage of them. To be clear, I have read 380,000 thinkpieces where Silicon Valley-types talk about failing, and I’m cool with that—but it’s not exactly what I mean.

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7 things I’m afraid to tell you

I’ve noticed a theme of authenticity in all the lessons I’ve been learning lately, both personally and professionally. For this blog post, I felt inspired to practice being authentic by sharing things I’m afraid to tell you (my peers and professional connections). I invite you to do the same, with whoever your “you” might be. It feels good to know you’re being true to yourself!

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Forget plans, try planning

A pile of post it notes, everyone's favorite Strategic Planning Tool"Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential." - Winston Churchill

It's time for a new Strategic Plan!

For those of you who just groaned out loud, know that I am actually a huge fan of Strategic Plans...or rather, of Strategic Planning. The process of taking a detailed look at the organization and creating a path towards a more successful future is one that every nonprofit organization should approach with excitement. While it’s possible to get trapped in the process of developing the absolutely perfect strategic plan, it’s better to forget the drive towards perfection and word-smithing. Instead, push forward into the toughest of questions and let your MVV (Mission, Vision, and Values) be your guide to determine the best path towards the future.

YNPN-TC is currently on its last six months of the previous Strategic Plan (more on that below), so we are in the process of developing our newest plan that will be launched for 2018. This new multi-year plan will be developed over the course of the next six months, and it will be published for our members to see once it’s complete.

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Letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves

Friends,

It has been a doozy of a year. I feel spent. A lot has happened on a personal level. I labored for 34 hours and experienced a traumatic birth during a nursing strike. A friend overdosed and died. A beloved family member fought a very scary illness. It only crescendoed from there.

And yet. I met my son for the first time. I got a promotion at work. My badass book club and family showed up in every way possible. In a time of accelerated pain, there seems to be inversely proportional joy sprouting up.

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Our mission, vision and values guide all that we do at the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (YNPN-TC).

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