One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2015

Sleep, Self-Care & The Social Change Agent

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sleep01 As I write this, I’m taking care of my mother’s cat – she’s off for a sleep study. (It’s part of her post-transplant self-care plan).

Normally, on a night like this, I am used to pushing myself, burning the midnight oil until there’s nothing left but a few burnt cinders. As a former nonprofit professional (and current consultant), practicing sleep, self-care, and other positive behaviors can be a challenge, especially in our highly-connected, tech-oriented world where some challenge the idea of work/life balance.

The argument goes something like this, “We’re now playing in a global field, and expecting to keep regular hours in unrealistic. If you want to succeed, you must be plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” As someone who has attempted to live that lifestyle, I have come to learn that my own work in community development has been impacted by my self-care….and it all begins with getting enough sleep.

You know the guy who was drinking that triple-espresso at the local coffee shop and staying up until 3:00 am catching up on work? That was how I behaved in the past: I took on all sorts of projects, drove myself crazy believing that I had to get all this done, because who else was going to do this noble work…and then a few things happened, the most important of which was my father’s death nine years ago. He, too, was a hard-working man who drove himself harshly, and what I realized was that if I didn’t take care of myself, I couldn’t do the work that I enjoyed doing.


One of the first things I learned was how to get enough sleep, and what happens when I deprived myself of adequate rest. (As the chart on the right shows, it’s not pretty, folks.) It meant changes in my diet, my work habits, and my overall lifestyle. It was slow at first, but I found myself feeling much more confident, more assertive…and actually functioning on a much higher level.

For many people working towards social change – whether within a nonprofit organization, a social enterprise, or even a community – there are mixed feelings about sleep self-care. Usually, there can be guilt: after all, we can be very giving people, and if we’re giving ourselves over to a higher cause, taking care of ourselves can seem….well, selfish. Sleep, self-care, and other such “positive” behaviors – in this mindset – are merely ways to avoid responsibility. If we work to drive social change, that is our only principle: everything else should be sacrificed.

In my younger days, I believed this. It cost me much. But as I began greater self-care, my mind became clearer, and I began taking a personal inventory. (Note – I worked in the chemical dependency field, so I apologize if my use of terms from 12 Step philosophy appears inappropriate – it’s the best way I have to discuss my experience).

And after many nights of deep sleep, as well as some personal exploration, I came to realize….that many of the cliches are true: you can’t love someone else if you love yourself first. When you set boundaries for yourself and others, others may not be happy, and that is on them. And nobody else can pick up the ball unless you drop it first.

C Now Every Minute CountsRecently, I had to give up an organizing activity on Meetup due to lack of time. It’s one of my character defects: I will take on anything and everything rather than focus on a few select projects. Although a few people have chosen to take on keeping the community going in other channels, I realize that I could not meet that group’s expectations and maintain my own interests. Something had to give, but the great thing about the process is that – hopefully – it will lead to greater collaboration, even at the expense of the group.

But as much as I may be accused of being selfish, I have to take care of myself. Setting boundaries has many benefits….including a good night’s sleep. Self-care is a vital component of any social change agent’s lifestyle, but it also serves as a vital reminder of a lesson I discussed in March: you can have anything you want; you just can’t have everything you want.

Have any great strategies for getting more sleep, or even balancing self-care and social change work? Any other comments or questions? Please feel free to leave your thoughts and insights below, or join the greater conversation on our Facebook page.  You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), and you are welcome to contact me personally: my contact information is available via this blog’s  About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!
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Written by gordondym

August 26, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Commentary, Community

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How to Support a Nonprofit Job Seeker

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hireme-400x25025 Whether seeking the next full-time career-building opportunity or even a short term freelance/consulting gig, a nonprofit job seeker in Chicago faces multiple challenges…not the least of which are the attitudes and behaviors of various peers and organizations.

So in an effort to help those fellow travelers (like myself) who are trying to get work (or in some cases, build a business), here are some tips for those looking to show their support. Believe me, dealing with job loss and job transition can be difficult, and for many nonprofit professionals, the transition can be slightly tougher. (And this is also worthy for those involved in the social enterprise field as well)

Ready? Here we go…..

  • Believe That It Can Be That Frustrating: No, that nonprofit job seeker isn’t being lazy, and they are “trying hard enough” to work. It can be difficult to be honest without coming across as whining or complaining. And when that well-meaning Facebook friend posts something suggesting otherwise….yes, there’s a twinge. Listen to what that person is saying, and understand that yes, it can be that difficult trying to gain a job. We are doing our best, and we are doing enough. Please believe the nonprofit job seeker the first time. On that note….
  • Avoid Giving the Same Well-Meaning (But Bad) Advice – Sending multiple copies of a resume blindly to multiple agencies (or the old “spray and pray”) will not get a nonprofit job seeker hired any faster. Nor will volunteering for a nonprofit result in an instant job because of how wonderful that person is. (Although volunteering is recommended for sharpening job skills, it shouldn’t be seen as an automatic foot-in-the-door). Those e-mails from well-meaning “career coaches” who take on a slightly shaming tone….best not to forward those. And that old adage about “finding a job is a full-time job”? That nonprofit job seeker’s heard it all – multiple times. That person wants to know something different, and something that might actually work. But on a slightly different note….
  • Please hold that nonprofit job seeker accountable – Sometimes, you need to know exactly what that nonprofit job seeker is doing. Trying to find work while handling other life events is a challenge – keeping the job seeker honest may mean asking what they have (or have not) done. (But know when to push and when to avoid – recently, I attended a networking breakfast where a consultant criticized a relatively new member – neither one knew the other – over their career approach. If we ask for advice, that’s one thing; if it’s unsolicited, that’s just being unprofessional and disrespectful). Besides, it’s a great way to get the nonprofit job seeker focused on related efforts, including….
  • The NonProfit Job Seeker Isn’t “Picking Your Brain” – They’re Networking: It’s easy to think of someone asking for a few minutes of our time as wanting to just “pick our brain” and/or use our contacts without giving back. Part of the job search involves networking (which isn’t quite what you might think), and reaching out to generate contacts, renew our relationships, and actually find that next gig. (Plus, if looking for a job is a full time job….well, that also means we need to spend time networking). However, I will admit – there are some nonprofit job seekers who abuse the privilege, or who only reach out when something is needed. But think of it this way (and this comes via a recent group discussion with Troy Henikoff): putting in time and effort to connect is like putting a penny in the “Take a Penny, Leave a Penny” jar at a store: you’re not doing it to gain wealth, you’re doing it to build karma.
  • Experiences For the Nonprofit Job Seeker Are Similar to Those of the For-Profit Job Seeker: It’s easy to see nonprofits (and on some level, social ventures) as more “vulnerable” to layoffs, budget cuts, staff shrinkage, and other factors. If a nonprofit job seeker wishes to transfer to the private sector – and vice versa – that is no guarantee of job stability or proper behavior. (And freelancers have a slightly greater challenge, since they are in a constant state of job seeking/acquiring/working). Deriding a job seeker who wishes to find work in either nonprofit for for-profit arenas is never a good idea: the same skills, experience, and work ethic apply equally in both.

Employment issues affect everyone, especially as our economy shifts into a more service-oriented model. For the nonprofit job seeker, these changes can mean additional challenges in finding and maintaining work. For those of us who know them, we face equal challenges in supporting their efforts. Hopefully, this blog post will provide some greater insight and comfort to those in either position.

What are your thoughts – what challenges do you, the nonprofit job seeker, face in your day to day life? For loved ones and colleagues of the nonprofit job seeker, what are your challenges in providing support. Please start a conversation by making a comment below below or join us and talk on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

August 20, 2015 at 9:51 am

Follow Up: Chicago Cares Serve A Thon 2015

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Recently, I participated in Chicago Cares Serve-A-Thon 2015, and although I wrote about the experience, I don’t think my prose did the event justice. There was a high number of participants in a wide variety of activities….

However, this recently released video is a great example of everything that went into the event. (And you won’t catch a glimpse of me in this video – I wasn’t fortunate enough to be recorded).


Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon 2015 from Chicago Cares on Vimeo.
Chicago Cares has even released a Serve-A-Thon 2015 Impact Report which goes into greater detail about attendance, areas served, etc. It’s a great reminder that personal impact can make all the difference.

Something to consider, especially with some of the topics we’ll be covering in the next few weeks….

There are plenty of activities for the socially-minded in Chicago – if you have suggestions, please leave them below. You’re also welcome to join the conversation on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Meet Your Neighbor: Open Books In West Loop

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One of the many advantages of working in the nonprofit field -(and being a Chicago Now blogger)  is that I get the opportunity to attend some really great events and visit some really cool places. Thanks to an invitation via a Facebook group, I had the opportunity to visit Open Books, a social venture dedicated to funding literacy through used book sales, at its new location at 651 West Lake. (Special thanks to Public Good Software for their help in sponsoring/running the Open House I attended)

What’s really impressive about the new facility is not the increased space, or Open Books’ dedication to promoting literacy programs throughout the Chicago area. It’s what you’ll find on the second floor.

On the floor above Open Books is Literacenter, which is a very smart concept. Think of it as a coworking space for literacy organizations: there are dedicated conference rooms, open areas for freelancers, and even larger spaces for select organizations. With coworking spaces focused on social change like Panzanzee and Blue 1657), Chicago is taking stronger steps in driving & economic development in Chicago while providing support and resources for social change organizations in networking, collaborating, and building their own internal capacity.

Although there’s a small photo gallery for your review, don’t take my word for it – give Open Books a visit. In fact, if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I will be part of a Sherlock 101 panel sponsored by Chicago Nerd Social Club. (NOTE: I’m on the CNSC Board). For more details, check out the CNSC Calendar or Facebook.

Open Books does a great job of promoting literacy, and has an excellent selection of used books. Its new facility at 651 W. Lake is large, spacious, and most importantly, builds upon their current mission. It’s worth a visit, and they’re neighbors worth knowing.

Please feel free to share your comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Written by gordondym

August 4, 2015 at 10:17 am