This week marks seven years since I did my first of two interviews with my current employer, a nonprofit organization just north of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. The organization is known mostly as a State Department/USAID subcontractor, as most of its work is internationally focused. All of my work for this organization has been US based, either around social justice or higher education reform. Of course, given my upbringing, none of you should be surprised that I would find my way into work that reflects my attempts to help bring fairness to an unjust and unforgiving world.
Overall, I’ve spent ten of the past eleven years since finishing my doctorate working in the nonprofit world, including the seven at my current organization? I’ve taught off and on throughout those years, bringing excitement to an otherwise dull and tedious line of work. I was never an idealist — how could I be after my middle school and high school years. But I still held out hope that important work to help those less fortunate occurred in the nonprofit world. The reality is far more depressing than anything I’ve written about in any of my blogs. There are corporations — yes, corporations — that do more to help people get their lives together than anything I’ve seen in my years as a nonprofit manager.
But even more than the issue of disillusionment, denial, rage, despair and acceptance is the rediscovering of myself as a writer seven years ago, just at the time I did my first interview in the Dupont Circle area. That revelation (see Age of Discovery blog from October) meant that I’d reach the only conclusion that I could over the past seven years. That the best way for me to help others, help myself and find a zone of peace and happiness would be if I fulfilled my calling as a writer. And I’ve been doing as much writing as anyone with a full-time job, a wife and a child should expect and then some.
But even with that, I realize that for most of my colleagues in my current organization, my writing makes me an oddball. The only kind of writing they seem to care about is grant proposal writing — very technical, very report-like, very, very boring. There are law briefs and quantum physics papers more exciting than grant proposals, especially ones meant for the federal government. For those already familiar with this kind of writing, my comments may seem both harsh and irrelevant. Except that I’ve written or helped to write nearly 20 concept papers and proposals in the past two and a half years alone. I realize that I no longer care whether a grant proposal is successful or not. I know that most of what we do doesn’t reach the folks who need the grant dollars the most, everyday people like me during my Boy At The Window days.
So I plan to make a few changes in the next few months, closing the door that I opened eleven years ago when my advisor refused to support my academic job search, while working to open up (more like blow up) doors that I’ve pried open, but not quite all the way yet. I have a nest egg that I can crack open if my search for success as a writer (not to mention my search for other, more relevant employment) continues far longer than I would ever expect. First, I have one person I need to talk to about my future moves, and it isn’t my wife — she’s been supporting my decision for nearly a year now.
It’s a risk, of course, deciding to take a less sure road while chasing down a dream, hoping that my sprinter speed is good enough to catch what I believe should’ve been mine so many years ago. Life, of course, is full of risks, many risks that most of us are afraid to take, even afraid that the risk may actually work and be worth it. The problem with playing life safe is that if you decide not to go after something you truly desire, what you’d prefer not to have usually is the end result. Life for the best part of each of us begins when we decide to go after what we want, often regardless of the consequences. All I know is that I’d rather do what I’m about to do than have my four-year-old son remembering his old man as a sour and unhappy individual, someone who didn’t care enough about himself and his family to fight for everything that could make all of our lives better. Bottom line is, there are things in life more important than an easy paycheck.