I was recently told that I am a negative person. As a Positive Person™ I was, of course, appalled by the idea. Faced with this shocking news, I contorted my face into what could be graciously interpreted as a smile and objected with good humor. While this came as a blow to the innermost core of my being, the biggest challenge was that I was locked in a cabin with this person. Or rather, it would have been, had my close friends and partner not been there to back me up with the reality check I needed.
I mean, maybe this person had a point. We were talking about how when you move, books are always the first box to get packed but then you just have….a super heavy box of books. I was the one who brought up that keeping them is smart, even if you move a lot, because they’ll make great tinder for the apocalypse. And yet, from my perspective, I felt that I had found a bright side to hauling books from apartment to apartment—just ignore that apocalypse part.
Lately I’ve been putting in a bigger effort to see the best in a bad situation. More than just “finding the positives,” I do my best to think about how best to use the brightness, especially when it can’t fully illuminate the dark. There are few people who I think do this better than activists, especially those who have managed to keep chipping away at the same issue over the course of decades, making steady (if small) improvements.
I recently lost a family member who I deeply admired, in part due to his dogged determination to make a difference in the world. I feel his absence daily, and think about him the most when I’m working. As an activist and organizer, he devoted his life to racial justice, environmental work, and ending domestic and sexual violence. As a wide swath of community members gathered to mourn this loss, I repeatedly heard his colleagues and friends implore: “While we cannot all do all that he did, we can each do more.” And, in that simple request, I understood better than I had before how exactly people can sustain their energy over the course of decades on seemingly unmoving issues: they find the brightness they can and seek to grow it.
In this somber period, his belief in taking action to build a better future became my bright spot and I saw that the way that I can best honor his life is to engage more deeply with the issues that matter to me.
Work in the nonprofit field has its own distinct challenges—if you’re reading this I would be genuinely shocked if this was news to you. Certainly, some weeks are better than others, but the fact remains that nonprofits operate in an environment where funding is always limited, systems are usually insulated from the transformation of which you might dream, and change is often grinding at best. Knowing all this, the nature of our work can feel discouraging at times. And yet, with everything we face as a society, as young professional in the nonprofit sector, and as individuals, I can’t help but see that these incredible challenges only serve to make the brightness of our work more brilliant, and the landscape that our work can illuminate even more expansive.