To celebrate my 10th year at Philanthropy Northwest, I had the opportunity to take two months away from the office to reflect and recalibrate. I am forever indebted to my colleagues Ann Saxton, Paul Kim, Gloris Estrella, Kristen Holway, Anjana Pandey and the rest of the team who made this possible by stepping in to manage programs and outreach to members from mid-December to mid-February. Thank you!
As word got out about my eight-week leave, plenty of advice followed. Write! Travel! Do something! Do nothing!
In a 2014 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Lori Bartczak of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations makes the case that nonprofit leaders need time off to combat burnout and develop leadership. Some funders, including Alaska's Rasmuson Foundation and North Carolina's Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, offer sabbatical programs to nonprofit staff for rest, personal renewal and professional growth. Our friend Nina Stack, president of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, spent two months last year immersing herself in New York City's cultural offerings during her sabbatical.
My research also found that, while extended leaves are becoming more common among environmental nonprofits, they're still unusual for most nonprofit and philanthropy organizations. In a sector filled with individuals who give so much of themselves in service to others, I wonder, does it make us feel selfish or guilty to take care of ourselves?
Relaxing, Regenerating, Replenishing
Since I’ve returned, many people have asked how my time away changed me. Of course, I rattled off the things I “accomplished." I spent time in Costa Rica (very highly recommended), Hawaii (where I grew up), Portland (Salt & Straw, anyone?) and Hood Canal (it's oyster season!), as planned. Along the way, I also checked things off my "bucket list of fun," including weekday hikes, long runs, volunteering, exploring vegetarianism, indulging a mild obsession with Meyer lemons, catching up with old friends and being disconnected from social media. Just thinking about it all makes me smile.
But after a few days back and catching up on thousands of emails, I wondered if I did it all wrong. After all, I didn’t write a manuscript or do any research. I didn’t backpack around the world as I would have in my twenties. I didn’t even redecorate my living room or start doing yoga.
In reflection, I think what I was trying to do — maybe subconsciously — was just slow down. Be playful. Be present.
It’s made me think how each of us needs to regenerate in ways that are authentic to us. I am happily rediscovering that what made me happiest didn’t require a ton of money or a two-month vacation.
- Skipping and singing on our way to school? Check.
- Live music (and dancing our hearts out!) on a school night (gulp!)? Check.
- Mid-day ice cream surprises? Check.
- Homemade ravioli party? Check.
- Long walks at lunch? Check.
Of course, we all know this already but to actually do them? That’s the real gift — not just to yourself, but your family, your coworkers, and dare I say, your community, too? In the end, the sage advice of The Giving Practice's Ted Lord and Audrey Haberman rang true (as it usually does): Your time away will be what you need it to be.
So what replenishes you? What motivates you to do your best work? What can I do for others now, upon my return?
“Today is special — that’s why they call it a present.” —Don and Marcia Liebich’s grandchild.
Lyn Hunter is Philanthropy Northwest's senior program manager, working on plans for our 2016 conference in Missoula, Montana this September. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.