On the compulsion of honesty

I’ve been noodling around with a blog post on speaking in code—and breaking the code—for a while now, and I’m not sure if that piece is ever going to see the light of day. Some insights strike me really powerfully but then I can’t decide if I’ve distilled them enough to make them useful to other people.

Which is an interesting criteria, BTW. I mean, I’m not writing these days for any particular audience. I don’t promote my pieces, except to share them on LinkedIn, and I haven’t tried to monetize or seek funding for my writing in any way. Mostly, I’m writing because I like to write, and after decades in the workforce, with lots of experiences both good and bad, I feel like sharing what I think I’ve learned—I hope, in a constructive fashion. I’ve been through some not-great stuff, but I also have this soft, squishy, rainbow-tinted center that fervently wishes everyone would just behave well to one another and do the right thing. I especially want to see better behavior in the workplace because we spend so much time there and we want, so badly, to work on things we care about, with people who we can admire and respect. (I also get easily triggered when people behave really, really badly which is why the Trump era of incompetence and evil has been so, so hard for me.)

Anyway: even though I’m not writing on this blog for any particular purpose or audience, I have gotten a surprising amount of feedback on my writing. Sometimes it’s because I share a few posts as a writing sample for a potential client and then the people who requested the samples tell me that they’ve read through more than what I sent them. It’s been surprising, and most gratifying, to learn that people actually read my writing. I still have that feeling of, “You actually read it? That is so kind of you. Thank you SO MUCH.”

I did have one friend tell me that my writing on this blog, while powerful and moving, was also at a level of honesty that might not align with my professional aspirations. I’m not sure what those aspirations are at the moment, other than “work for people I like,” and “get paid,” but I appreciated his cautionary flag and he’s right, in one way. I admit that in the not-so-distant past, I had a moment of being interested in switching to corporate communications after a lifetime of working in the social sector. I thought it might be a way of getting past my disillusionment and heartbreak with my latest string of nonprofit jobs and focus on adapting what was a pretty formidable arsenal of communications skills to an entirely new context. I also thought it might be a way to make money.  And–I live within cycling distance of most of the big tech companies; the appeal of an easy commute felt irresistible there, for a moment.

But none of them wanted to hire me, and for good reason! Number one, even though I know perfectly well that my communications skills would transfer to any setting (I mean, c’mon: I can lead, manage, message, and write for any genre—with lightning speed!), my resume screams NONPROFIT DO-GOODER and Google and Facebook and the like don’t seem interested in those types. (Even their philanthropic arms sound like they want business-minded people.) And number two, I think I’d get crushed by the cultures of those places. If any of those companies actually bothered to check my social media channels (I actually don’t think they did, I don’t think my c.v. even got a second glance in the millions they receive each year), they would note that I am direct, no-nonsense, with a marked tendency towards irreverence and lapses into rage. And I am not prone to talking about “winning” and “innovation” just to sound smarter than I am.

(Some of my corporate friends have told me about hearing motivational speakers at their meetings, the kind who start their speeches with, “Who hates winning? Anyone? Anyone?” And every time they tell me this, I picture myself shooting my hand up, yelling out, “ME! ME! I hate winning!” Just for the fun of it. See what I mean?)

Anyway, this is all to say that: there is no turning back with this writing business. There is a perfect storm of factors—my age, Trump, #MeToo—that is making it literally impossible for me to do anything other than up the honesty of my writing. If I am working on an assignment for a client, that, of course, is different—I will write whatever they want, to spec, to the best of my ability, and I will take any and all confidences to my grave. (I won’t even whisper them into my dog’s ear.) But when I am writing as me, for me—well, I can’t help it. I am fundamentally and incurably honest.

There is one other person I know of who is like me, who started writing a blog long before I started this one, formerly under the name Nonprofit With Balls, now re-named Nonprofit AF. (Both names are funny as heck.) The author of the blog is Vu Le, who is the executive director of a social justice nonprofit organization in Seattle, and he was the first person to fearlessly (and very funnily) take on some of the third-rail topics in the social sector, like: telling funders to stop beating up their grantees with buzzword requests, or commenting on the dysfunctional relationships between foundations and nonprofit organizations. Truly, he is awesome, and his latest post reaches new heights of awesomeness. In it, he outlines a model of behavior in nonprofits (although I suspect it happens in the private sector, too) called “The Wheel of Disillusionment,” based on anecdotes he hears from his executive director and senior leader peers and from many others, too.

You must read this post. You absolutely must. A friend of mine alerted me to it this morning and reading it, it was as if someone had walked right into past job experiences of mine and recorded many of the dynamics going on. And I have many, many friends who have gone through this, too. Especially women.

I decided, after reading that post, that it was time to become a supporter of Vu’s blog. He does take contributions, for his blog and for the organization he leads, and he is giving out tons and tons of much-needed advice. Moreover, he is doing it straightforwardly, unvarnished, with spoonfuls of humor to make the much-needed medicine go down. Most of all, I am donating because I am just so damn grateful to know that there is another person out there who is committed to being honest, especially for the sector that is working to solve the biggest, hairiest challenges facing our society and our planet .