In episode 72 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lauren Brownstein discuss:
Lauren Brownstein is the author of Be Well, Do Good: Self-Care and Renewal for Nonprofit Professionals and Other Do-Gooders. She has been working in philanthropy for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, educator, program manager, and administrator. She helps nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and grant makers achieve their goals through PITCH, LLC, her fundraising and philanthropy consulting practice. As a reflection of her commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism, Lauren has served on the boards of several nonprofits and has volunteered extensively in the community. She was a certified foster parent before adopting a child from the foster care system. She earned a Masters in Teaching in Museum Education from the George Washington University and a Bachelors with High Distinction from the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, DC area.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lauren Brownstein. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Lauren and I talk about why it is so important for those in the nonprofit sector to take care of themselves while they are working towards their mission, the concept of passion exploitation, and the importance of professional boundaries
Welcome Lauren. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Lauren Brownstein: Thank you. Thank you so much for the invitation. I'm excited to have this conversation.
Carol: I always start my conversations with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you describe as your why or what motivates you?
Lauren: That's such a big question and I'm laughing in part. Let's see. I started my career, started working I guess in 1992. And to be honest, I sort of fell into nonprofit work. I mean, it was like there's a recession and there's this job opportunity and fundraising, and I had a background in that work, but I always had been and continue to be Mission driven in both my personal life and my professional life. I remember when I was in college, I had to do a project about career choices. And I did something about PR, what it's like to be a PR professional, but mine was PR for a nonprofit. I couldn't even imagine not working in the nonprofit sector.
I think what's kept me in the sector is this notion of. having a work life and a personal life that align along the same values. And I certainly don't think that's exclusive to people who work in the nonprofit sector, but I think for some folks that, we live in the DC area, there's tons of lawyers, for example, and I think for some of my friends who are lawyers, Their orientation is more like, well, this is what I do to take care of my family so that I can give back to my community, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that's great if that's the way that works for you. For me, I don't wanna feel like my life is in these two different buckets. Like, this is what I do during the day just to support myself so that I can do the things I wanna do. I like having it more. Blended and, and, more of a partnership between all those areas of my life.
And there are pros and cons, look, money wise and everything else, but I, I, I would say that's what drives me. Does that make any sense?
Carol: Totally makes sense. And, and I, I think we, we've been living parallel lives cuz I started about the same time and my very first job out of college, I was working for. A small company that helped people get on talk shows and it was so , in the realm of PR and was working with lots of publicists for self-help books from New York. But that experience cuz it was a for-profit business of doing PR for all comers. When I moved back to the Washington area it sparked me to say, if I'm doing this, who do I wanna do it for?
And so that's what prompted me to move into this sector. And , I I, I appreciate that alignment. And I also as I'm coming to the other end of my career, thinking about, a lot of people may segue into the sector at the end of their career, right? Having, having done that, Job that supports their family or whatnot and wanna give back later.
But I appreciate those of us who've been in the trenches all long.
Lauren: so Exactly. And sometimes I meet people, God bless, best of intentions, will say, well, I'm retiring and now I'm gonna be a grant writing consultant. having never written a grant in their life. So I think that the sector depends on some.
It still needs to work on helping people understand that these are professions and that there are levels of expertise, just like in any other profession.
Carol: , I would invite those folks who are thinking about that transition to come in with a little humility that they might have a little bit to learn.
That it isn't just about applying everything that they knew from their corporate or, or legal or whatnot profession.
Lauren: Or realizing that even if you've been very involved in a nonprofit as a volunteer or a board member, you don't really know the dirty, dirty of the inside probably. Unless you've actually been on the staff side of things, it's not gonna be the same.
Being a lay leader and being a staff person are not gonna be the same. There's gonna be things that are better, but there are gonna be things that are different.
Carol: Definitely lots of things that are gonna be different.. So you, you've, you've been in the, in the realm of, of fundraising for a long time and in the sector and, but you recently wrote a book Be Well, do Good Self-Care and Renewal for nonprofit professionals and other do-gooders.
And since my tagline for this podcast is that it's a podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who wanna build a better world without becoming a martyr to cause Yes. When I saw it, I was like, oh my goodness, I need to talk to Lauren. So, what inspired you to write this?
Lauren: Well and remind me to talk about passion exploitation.
Oh, because please, your tagline reminds me of that. But in terms of the inspiration for the book, I mean, to be honest, I never really, although I write a ton for my consulting work's, one of the main things I do, I never really thought I had a book in me. I never do it for plenty of people. That's a dream and something they work on for years, it wasn't really on my radar.
It wasn’t. Something I had written, written off, pun intended, but it wasn't really on my radar. As the conversations around burnout were becoming even more accelerated during the pandemic, I turned more of my attention to that. And on a personal level, I've been a student far from a master, but a student of various.
Wellness practices and approaches for decades, whether that's meditation, yoga, my therapy is crafting like crocheting and, and turning everything in my home into an art project, et cetera, et cetera. So I, I. Had realized that I had been writing about this for years in my blog and in other settings and talking about it.
And I had a collection of thoughts and tactics and micro steps that I had assembled over the years. And as a consultant, maybe you can relate to this too, I've both been a full-time staff person at nonprofits and been a consultant for 19 years. What makes that, it provides a unique perspective because I've seen how so many different nonprofits treat their staff, approach their work, take care of themselves, take care of others.
So to make a long and rambling story short, I realized that I had the makings of a book that had evolved naturally and organically. So then I sat down to create something that looked and felt like me, and Reflected my unique perspective. I used a bunch of things I'd written over the years, but also added some additional content, particularly in the area of there's a section of the book called, whose Job is It Anyway, where I talk about how staying well and strong and resilient as a nonprofit professional should not just be on the shoulders of the individual professionals, but.
Nonprofits themselves, the leadership of these organizations have a responsibility to create a culture that honors wellness. So I added some new content about that. I also added some worksheets and checklists and things like that. I do a lot of training as well in my consulting practice and my training based on I have a masters in teaching in museum education, which is very interactive.
So my training is very interactive. People are talking, they're writing, they're working. So I knew I didn't wanna have a book that was just Words on a page. I wanted to create something that could be that everyone could customize for themselves, as their own personalized guidebook towards wellness.
So I think that answers your question. Those are the things that moved me to do this and, and in short, realizing that. At the same time, there was this conversation bubbling up in the zeitgeist, in the nonprofit world. It was also so much a part of who I am and what I'd been talking about and thinking about for years.
Carol: I mean the, the, the challenge of burnout of unhealthy cultures within organizations have, have, have been there for years. And then I think we're just amplified and. . I guess amplified by, by the pandemic and all the changes and the, multi, multiple stressors that were going on. I, I say that in the past tense as, as if it's over, but that, that hap , that have been happening.
And so, and, and at the same time there's been so much conversation about that and, the, the many, many. it's in, in the news all the time around wellness and, and self care. And I feel like especially in the nonprofit sector, there's a lot of skepticism about it. How do we have time for it?
And, and what, what are some of the approaches that you've found possible to really integrate into your routine or found particularly
Lauren: helpful? you mean on a personal level? Just keeping myself the
Carol: We start at the personal level and then we can, move from there.
Lauren: I have always been good at professional boundaries.
So , when I worked in organizations, for example, I left the office at. five 30 ish every day, which is pretty unusual in the DC area. But I also, when I work, work very intensively, so I'm not somebody who spends half their day hanging out at the water cooler. When I work, I really have my head down to work.
On some level, there's a price to pay for that in organizations, in terms of personal relationships or whatever. Not that any of my personal relationships were bad, but it's sort of the same thing as , when women don't go out and play golf on the golf course with the CEO, there's missed opportunities.
But for me it was worth it. I was just telling someone the story of when I used to work in this office . I like to, before I leave every day, clean off my desk, sort of put my papers and files and make my desk look neat cuz I didn't like coming into a messy office. And one of my colleagues said to me, you really shouldn't do that because people aren't gonna think you're busy.
So I would purposefully leave a mess. And then you have to sort of step back and. What is wrong with us, is that this is the culture that we've created. So back to your original question: yes, I have always been good at boundaries. I also observe the Jewish Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday, the sundown Saturday, and I don't work then.
So, That has always been a boundary that's been really helpful for me to, like, I, I know there's gonna be 24 hours when I don't work, and people who work with me know that. I just had a client the other day who asked me to do something very last minute, and I literally sent it to her at like 4 45 on Friday, something I was writing, and then she was gonna work on it over the weekend and she wrote back and said, oh, so were you available to work on this on the weekend or not until Monday? And I said not until Monday, and I didn't need to give her a big speech about why the answer was not until Monday.
So I think part of it is setting some clear boundaries and knowing that if I don't do that, my work is going to suffer. I also sort of do as I say, not as I do, or that whole, like the cobbler has no shoes.
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed about two weeks ago. A lot of professional and personal stuff going on, and then I said to myself, wait a minute, when's the last time I did my gratitude writing? When's the last time I sat down to work on a crocheting project? When's the last time I went for a walk in the middle of the day?
And I realized that even after just one day of doing a couple of those things, not all of them, that I did feel better. Sometimes I worry that all of these practices become a big to-do list, right? And then they become a burden and a stressor. So I have to give myself permission to pick and choose. So I have figured out things over the years.
Center me, calm me, make me feel good, and help give me the mental clarity that I need to do my work. And it's okay not to do all of them. Like it's okay if I just go for a walk today. It's okay for me, and not everybody has this freedom, but it's okay for me to take a 30 minute work break. and crochet because it really calms me and relaxes me and slows down my central nervous system.
And if that means I work a little later in the evening, so be it. So those are a few of the, a few of the things that I do. And I also think I, I wonder if you find this too, at this point in my career, it's different from what I was earlier in my life. If I have a difficult conversation with a client or if someone critiques my work or just does something that annoys me, I'm able to separate that from who I am.
What am I saying? So I think there was a time where, if I wrote a proposal for someone and then they sent it back to me and said, oh, I don't really like this. I don't really like that. Let's scratch this, let's scratch that. I would get really bent out of shape about it. Not to them, but like, the cartoon bubble over my head
And, and now I just, oh, well that's my work. That's not. But that I think is, some people maybe are naturally like that, but I think that comes with time. What about you? What are your, do you have strategies around this?
Carol: , I mean, one you mentioned was the, the gratitude practice, and a couple years ago I started using a, a daily planner that's, I think, I don't know, the company's like best self or something.
And I've since adapted it and, and just use a blank one to, to to do the same thing. But I do always find that my days are better if I start with that. It takes. 10 minutes. . One step is just taking a look at the schedule. What have you got on setting your goals? Like what are the top three things you're gonna try to get done today, but then also what are three things that you're grateful for?
And in reading your book, I appreciated that you went too much. You get much more in depth of your gratitude. Sometimes I'm just like sunshine, a really good cup of coffee and good sleep. And that's all I write.
Lauren: I think you just hit my top three actually. Oh, add chocolate. Then we'd hit there.
Carol: I think it's been easier to integrate some of these things since I've been outside of organizations.
But even when I was working inside organizations and even early in my career, like the first 15 years of my career when I was a single mom, I mean, one of the things I would do was I was a very early bike commuter because it was a cheap form of transportation. Mm-hmm. It provided me with exercise.
and it provided me with some, a little bit of alone time and like a transition from work, right? Mm-hmm. And luckily I've never had an accident since. There was no bike infrastructure at that time. Back in the nineties
Lauren: I hope you were wearing a helmet at least.
Carol: Oh, of course I was. Yes, I was doing that.
But even then, just, just prioritizing. So for me, some form of exercise, some form of mindfulness, doing some meditation, even if it's just I take a, after my shower laying down for five minutes and just breathing. Mm-hmm. And then with a little more flexibility of being able to manage my own schedule I've just become much more mindful about different things. About what energy level I need for different activity levels, different activities, right. And trying to structure my time around that. I think there's a little bit of an illusion that when you work for yourself, you have complete control, but you don't,
Lauren: no. It's like you have 10 bosses.
Right, right, right.
Carol: You're working with lots of people and their expectations and, and all of that. But, those are some of the things that work for me.
Lauren: , what you're reminding me of also, and I wonder if you found this to be true. I don't like to talk about pandemic silver linings because the pandemic is tragic.
But one change in my work life that I appreciate is I feel like per, maybe particularly in fundraising it's become a little less performative. In other words, when you talked about energy, how much energy to devote to things, you were reminding me of this. I don't feel like I have to be on as much.
And I think the pandemic did that because everyone was at home on Zoom and you would hear things, like, oh, sorry, my baby's crying. My cat just jumped on me. My, there's a, someone at the door, my internet's not working. Well, whatever the case may be. I. I think that people have given each other a little more grace and don't feel like they have to put on quite as much of a show, but I, I don't know, maybe that's just my experience.
Carol: I think that's definitely the case. It's just the, a little more acknowledgement that as you said at the very beginning, that you wanted your personal life and your work life to align that, that everybody has. and that they aren't as quite as neat and separate as we might have tried to pretend before.
Lauren: . I was listening to a podcast yesterday. It was an interview with Natasha Leon, who's an actress, and she was saying that as she gets older, she realizes we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus. you get, you don't get as mad anymore when other people don't do things perfectly because we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus.
We're all just trying to figure it out, for goodness sake.
Carol: Absolutely. I remember when I was managing younger staff and, and I think coming out of the education system has become more and more and more structured and there's more and more support, scaffolding and rubrics and all these things.
There was an expectation of like, well, the work world should be like that too, and I know we're, or, or what are the best practices? And , sure, you wanna learn those. You wanna learn from others and at the same time, Honestly, we're all making this up every day. We get up and, and live
Lauren: get some stuff done. Oh,
Carol: That's what's happening. That's all, it's a constant improv, right? I mean, that's essentially what life is. Oh
Lauren: my gosh, that's such a good quote. It's constant improv. It really is. It
Carol: really is. So one of the things you talked about that I'd love to go back to is the idea of passion exploitation.
Lauren: Oof. I just heard this term for the first time I don't know, maybe a month ago or six weeks ago. And again, it feels like all these conversations are just in the zeitgeist right now. So, I don't know. Maybe I have good timing for the first time in my life, but it's this idea. Oh, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're not paid well, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're, overworked and you don't have enough staff people to do this job that you've been told to do, and the expectations are really unfair, and you haven't taken a day off in a month.
You are getting to live your passion, so you shouldn't mind about these things. The broken
Carol: chair, the computer, that doesn't work
Lauren: a hundred percent and it is so exploitative and manipulative and I think people are pushing back. But I do, as much as I, as a Gen Xer, have issues with millennials, and, and younger, I think they are the ones who are standing up and saying, Uhuh, that's, this is not okay.
Carol: I'd have to give it to my, my daughter's generation and, and my nieces and nephew's, generation Millennials and, and gen Z . Gen Z of . We're not, we're not gonna take this anymore
Lauren: and appreciate, and the words of Quiet was that Quiet Riot or Twisted Sister. We're not gonna take this anymore.
And there's just. Patience for this stuff. And I think that as people become more aware of systemic inequities, particularly over the last couple of years with the Black Lives Matters movement, even #MeToo, to a degree, there's also a recognition of. How much of that nonsense is tied up in systemic inequities and people who have always had to fight these battles of, of, of exploit.
We understand more about what exploitation is and the forms, the insidious sort of gaslighting forms that it can take.
Carol: I feel like I'm seeing that across many, many helping professions. there's so many pieces of systemic inequity that are built into how all of those systems work.
Mm-hmm. Whether it's teachers or nurses, social workers, folks in the nonprofit sector the expectation that because you're helping people and because there's that inherent What is the word I'm looking for? Not validation, but gratification. She'll feel good about it. . .
That, that, that you also then don't actually need to be paid. We only need to pay the people whose life, whose work is. Sucking the life outta them.
Lauren:. Right. And I think that's really backwards. Yes. I write about this in the book too, that, yes, when you decide to work in nonprofits, I mean there's an understanding you're gonna make less money than some other people, but there's, there should not be an implicit understanding that you can't pay your kids' tuition, you can't go on a vacation, you can't buy a cute pair of shoes or get a massage.
You should be able, you certainly should be able to do the basics and you should be able to do a little more than the basics, particularly if you've been in this, in your career path for a while. I think where people get a little annoyed maybe with some younger generations is when they ex, when they expect this stuff without putting in the time.
I once read something about sort of millennials versus Gen X, which is me and maybe you that there is this assumption around. More vacation time, job titles, things like that. The Gen Xers in this study had more expectation around having to earn that over, bec through work result time, whatever the case may be.
Whereas millennials maybe came in with more of that expectation. But in any event, You shouldn't have to give up a good life to work for a good cause. Right. And I also, something else I write about in the book is that I think the donors should care about this because if donors are supporting a nonprofit, and that nonprofit is churning through workers.
The workers are overwhelmed, stressed out, quitting, quiet, quitting. Another term I heard recently was, I think it was minimum effort Monday or something like that. If this is what's going on at the nonprofits you're supporting, you should be concerned about that. And I think as organizations, I think organizations can't really say that they're being the most responsible steward.
of donors' funds if they're not taking care of their staff, because by taking STA care of the staff, they are maximizing those donations.
Carol: . It really goes to that overhead myth. An organization is more effective if. almost all of its funds are going directly into program, not recognizing what it actually takes to create the and support those programs
Lauren:.I've seen that turnaround somewhat in among foundations over the last decade or so. I don't know about that turnaround, I don't know if it's happening among individuals. I was having a conversation with a foundation officer just yesterday. And they were telling me about an organization.
I don't know anything about them. I'm not endorsing them. I've never spoken to them, but I think it's called Fund the People. And it's about spreading this message of making sure you're investing in the staff because the staff are the ones who are making it happen.
Carol: . We talked about our individual approaches to self-care and, and prioritizing that. But as you mentioned at the beginning, it's not just the job of the individual, even though in. Us individualistic culture, we often have the solutions trickle down to the poor individual to take care of it all. But , I, I've heard it framed as organizations need to, there's personal boundaries that you need to set, but then organizations need to set what this personnel find their, their name called guardrails that That support those personal boundaries so that it is the norm that you're not working over the weekend or that, There's not an expectation that you're answering emails after hours or, those kinds of things, or that, the organization is investing in people's skill building, professional development taking time together to do learning and, and reflection.
Lauren: . To be honest with you, I haven't seen a lot of nonprofits that do that. Well, I'd love to hear about more of them that do that. Well, one thing I think I say in the book is, Fri, it's not just Friday yoga. Like it's not enough to just slap Friday Yoga into the schedule and say, well, we're done with wellness.
Not that Friday. Yoga isn't great. I love Friday Yoga, and I'm just picking on Friday yoga at the moment. But the idea is it has to be, Part of the culture. I think that the leadership, the C-suite, however your organization is organized, has to lead the way on that, as does the board. So the C-Suite has to be committed to not.
Working on the weekends also. And that's not easy for a lot of people at that level. And sometimes it's not realistic. It's sort of a chicken of the egg. Like I don't have enough people on staff to not work on the weekends, but I wanna not work on the weekends, so my staff doesn't feel like they have to do that.
So I understand that it's easier said than done. One thing I also talk about in the book is, and I guess it's related to the passion exploitation piece too. When you're working at a nonprofit, sometimes you can feel pretty far removed from the actual work depending on what your job is. And you need to stay connected to the cause, the work, the clients, the people.
So for example, when I worked at the Holocaust Museum, People the US Holocaust Memorial Museum here in DC people used to say to me, oh gosh, isn't it a hard place to work? It must be so hard. And I would say, it's an office. We talk about recipes and share about our weekends. I'm not, my desk is not in the middle of the permanent exhibition.
And, and so we worked in a separate office building than the museum, and sometimes it did feel disconnected, so I started volunteering as a tour guide at the museum. There are certain groups, like school groups and, and police groups that would get tours and it, I didn't have to take time. I didn't have to make up the time with my job.
I did it. I wanna say I gave tours maybe twice a month or something, but it was during my workday and there was no problem with that. I think that was a good example. So for example, I think if, let's say a nonprofit is some sort of environmental group, I don't think it's enough for the executive director to say, To staff.
Oh . You should make the time, like once a month to go and see this watershed that we're working on. It's really inspiring. No, the director and the COO or whatever should be doing that on the regular. They should be making time in the regular workday for the staff to go do that. They should be facilitating it.
Carol: There's so many benefits of that. It's not only, if you do it together it's not only reconnecting or connecting people really directly to the mission, but , it can also serve as, as team building it. it gets people.
Interacting in a different way. maybe bringing some cross-functional groups together to do something like that. But I think that modeling is so important. So, I mean, I think Friday, Friday yoga or Wednesday Lunch yoga is a great place to start. . As long as when , there was one organization where I was working where they did have that and they collaborated with a couple different organizations in the same building to sponsor it.
So staff from all sorts of different groups were coming down, and doing it. But every once in a while you'd, you'd come back and, Have to go to the bathroom to change out of your yoga clothes. And then Right. The, senior leader would look at you like, where have few been?
And I'm like, okay, that's not healthy
Lauren:. Oh, I thought you were gonna talk about how you don't want your colleagues to see you in yoga pants, which I also completely understand. Well, there is that , not you particular, I mean, anybody, I. Gym is in the office. I don't want anyone to see me showering, after I go to the gym with colleagues.
And you remind me of another point that makes this I think, I hate to say it makes it tricky cuz I don't wanna make it sound harder than it is. But it's something to keep in mind. For some people the last thing they wanna do is yoga with a colleague, the last thing they wanna do is participate in a brown bag.
Lunch. Lunch is their sacred time. They want to eat quietly at their desk and read their book and that's okay. So there has to be some flexibility. and understanding that what fills up one person drains another person. And, either it needs to be okay for people to participate, not participate, or participate in a way that makes sense for them, and that feels good for them.
Carol: , for sure. And, and, but as, as you said, it's also important to . I think that the the place where people get frustrated when they see these, top 10 lists of the things to do for self-care and, and, the eye roll start is one more thing to do, one more thing to do, or, or the creating the impression that that, that this is easy and it isn't.
But I think the investment and the intention around it can really pay off in a. really important ways. . For the overall effectiveness and mission of the organization.
Lauren: . I mean, my hope is with the book and just in general, that even if it doesn't feel easy to figure out how to start doing these things or to get in the habit of making time for it, it can still be done with ease.
, that it doesn't feel like a burden and something else you have to do. It doesn't feel like a struggle. And what you are doing to feel. If it doesn't feel like you can do it with ease, I would suggest that maybe you could find something else.
Carol: , and I think that's an important one because it's not something that is much valued in our culture.
I feel like the first time I've even. interacted with the notion of having ease in, in, in anything was was in doing. And I'm not, like, people would not look at me and say, oh, I, I'll bet she does yoga. No, yoga or, or meditation where that sense of just giving yourself grace and, and, and not pushing, not you.
Jane Fonda approach to . . Exercise . . . But approaching things with ease.
Lauren: , . Ease. What's that? I mean, we're not, we're not conditioned to believe that that's okay. And also it gets back to nonprofit culture. ? I think there's this notion of, it's, it's really like the passion exploitation conversation.
Like it shouldn't be easy. I mean, you are working on really difficult things. I'm not. That you don't work hard at whatever you're doing, but can you find a sense of ease in what you're doing, whether it's a wellness practice or just work in general? Like it, it doesn't have to be, and it shouldn't have to be torturous, and we shouldn't have a culture where we're saying, if you're not running yourself into the ground, you're not doing it right.
If your desk doesn't look messy, you're not doing it right. I mean, that's the culture we need to have.
Carol: , absolutely. Well, at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question from a box of icebreaker questions that I have. So you literally have a box right there.
I literally have a box. Yep. I love it. So what important truth do very people very few people agree with you on what, what would be an important truth that few people agree with
Lauren: you? Orange juice is gross. I don't like pulp . Nobody agrees with me on that. I know it's very un-American to not like orange juice. But what can I tell you? I don't. What is something more important or valuable that other people don't agree with me on? Oh my gosh. It's hard for me to think of something cuz I unfortunately surround myself with a lot of people who tend to agree with my general outlook on life.
what? I love crappy tv. I love reality tv. I love watching The Real Housewives and seeing those dingbats argue with each other about stupid. Makes me feel better about my problems, and I think some people say, oh, just rot your brain. It's the worst. You should throw your TV out the window. God, I, I just, I love it.
I really do. I love it. And that is okay, and I should not have to feel ashamed about that. And I, it's also, I can love the Real Housewives and all that other junk, and I can still read really great books and go to museums and do beautiful things. In fact, my daughter and I are bringing this new show.
It's not new, new to us right now called Married At First Sight. Like on some level after I watch it, I feel like I have to take a shower. Like it's unbelievable that we're watching this show, but there is something about just looking at it and, and it prompts conversations between me and my daughter. And so much of it is silly and cringey.
And if that releases me from my day-to-day worries, then so be it.
Carol: , it gives you a, gives you a little sense of ease, I would say. . And, and that idea that, I mean, especially in DC we can take ourselves way too seriously. So, no, no. The idea that highbrow and lowbrow culture can, can coexist in one person.
I love that
Lauren:. Oh, I love me some lowbrow. Love it.
Carol: So what's coming up in your work? What's emerging?
Lauren: Good stuff actually. I've been asked to do a bunch of training virtually with some, virtually some in person. But, the pandemic really opened a lot of virtual opportunities for me, so that's good.
And talking about the book, doing some interviews around that and just lots of writing, which I love. I love doing the writing, whether it's grant writing or case statement writing or just, general. Organizational writing needs. I love all of that. So that's the latest, really.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Lauren: Thank you. I loved our conversation. I'm so grateful that you invited me and included me among all your great guests. So thanks so much.
Carol: I appreciated Lauren’s point around self care and wellness not just being the responsibility of the individual staff person or volunteer – it is on the organization and the organization’s leadership to create a culture that values wellness. And this can be such a challenge because it is often leaders who are modeling over work and always being on. And even if they are setting up policies to support wellness and are saying to staff – take care of yourselves. If leadership does not do it themselves, all that is for naught. We explore this dynamic from multiple angles in my two part episode series on creating healthy organizational cultures – episodes 62 and 63.
I also appreciated Lauren’s explanation of the concept of passion exploitation. That we should feel lucky to work in a sector where we get to work towards our passion – where as Lauren described – her values in her personal life and work life can align. [And that] because of that we should be willing to put up with low pay, poor working conditions, and unreasonable expectations. The broken office chair and hand me down computers. Thinking about this dynamic and the fact that 75% of nonprofit workers are women. There are so many assumptions built into the sector that start with its origins. Many helping professions started with the wives of middle class and wealthy men who wanted to contribute outside the home – yet did not need to be comparably compensated for their labor since their material needs were already taken care of. This was never fully the case as Dr. Orletta Caldwell pointed out on our last episode – episode 71 – but I do believe it informs structures and assumptions that got built into the beginnings that we are still living with today. Another precursor could also be the vow of poverty many in religious orders that served the poor made as part of their religious life. The cultural assumption that money is somehow immoral and to do go, you cannot include money colors our current struggles around paying people living wages and more, in the sector.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lauren Brownstein, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Graze of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Wellness in the Workplace with Peter Lane
In episode 13 of Mission Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Peter Lane, discussed include:
- How to bring health and wellness training to organizational consulting
- Why you should hire a health and wellness coach
- Understanding how others feelings impact your own and vice versa
- How organizations can utilize their resources to better care for their employees
- How organizational culture impacts employees’ ability to take advantage of those resources
- How leaders set the tone for an organization’s culture
- Adapting wellness policies for the COVID-19 Pandemic
Peter Lane is an organizational consultant with more than 20 years of experience. He is also a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) trained at the Mayo Clinic. Peter works with individuals and teams that are committed to ongoing learning, reflection, and making positive change for themselves and their organizations. Before becoming a wellness coach and consultant, Peter worked for 18 years as director of programs at the Institute for Conservation Leadership
After working with many nonprofit leaders over the years who were experiencing the negative physical and emotional effects of burnout, he decided that focusing on wellness in the workplace is an important strategy for how he can contribute to the success of nonprofit organizations. Peter serves on the board of directors of the Reve Kandale Foundation. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Clark University and a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Peter. Thanks for coming on Mission: Impact! Great to have you on.
Peter Lane: Thanks for having me!
Carol: So I just want to start out by asking you what drew you to the work that you do? What really motivates you and what would you describe as your ‘why’?
Peter: Oh, such a great question. It's something that many of us ask ourselves as there are shifts at different times in our lives, but for me I would say that I've always worked in the non-profit field, so that's really anchored me in community-based organizations and people coming together to solve problems in their community. And more recently, I became certified as a health and wellness coach, partly from my experience working with nonprofit leaders and partly my own interest. So for me that's been really exciting and part of my ‘why’ is how I can bring my health and wellness background to non-profit organizations and leaders. That's something I'm still working on and figuring out how to do and how to incorporate it into the consulting and coaching work that I do. Health and wellness coaching is a new field in and of itself, so it's an exciting time to be working in both spaces.
Carol: Yeah, and it's certainly something that's so needed in the field. I've had a couple of different people on and we've talked about the whole problem of burnout with nonprofit leaders and how hard it is to do things around self care, and maintaining those boundaries. But I'm curious, when this episode is going to be released, it'll be just about the time of year when lots of people are thinking about the end of the year, making resolutions for changes, I'm starting at the individual level level. What are some things that really help individuals start to shift their behavior towards wellness?
Peter: Well, in some ways, when working with the organizations, we try to help them create a shared vision organizationally about where they want to go. And in many ways it's the same for individuals. People do look for a health and wellness coach for a variety of reasons, and often it's something like, ‘oh, my doctor told me I needed to lose weight.’ So that's the presenting issue, but the challenge is to work with those individuals to get a sense of how their life will be different? How do they want life to be? Really helping them think about and craft a vision statement for their own wellness. That's really the starting point along with helping them do a little self-examination around their values. What's important to them, their strengths, what are the capacities there that are going to help them make a behavior change? Also thinking about when they have faced similar situations, and what helped them accomplish their goals around that. There's that sort of self-learning along the way, and that's where we usually start: helping people get grounded in who they are and where they want to go.
Carol: It makes a lot of sense. Stepping back and starting with that vision, which people often want to do, but without some structure or process to walk them through it, it's a thing that you might get around to doing, maybe sometime next week. And committing to a coach, you're then helping them take those steps that started helping them. It might've already been there, it's probably been there, but not necessarily clear about what that vision is. I'm guessing that it's more around all the things that you don't want.
Peter: Yeah, for some people, it really is a challenge to dig deep, to think about what they want their health and wellness to be different beyond wanting to exercise more or wanting to lose weight, or wanting to have a more balanced life, or whatever it is. That's buried deep. And helping people bring that out often relates to things around their family, or how they want to age, or sort of different things that they might be able to do in their life. And that can be a very regulatory process that really connects them to the work ahead, making the behavior changes.
Carol: You talk about those behavior changes, because I feel like we've read a million magazine articles about 10 steps to exercising more regularly or whatnot, but what does the evidence show in terms of what really helps people take positive action in terms of making those behavior changes that they want?
Peter Lane: Well, one that we've just been talking about is connecting to that deeper purpose and vision. You and I think about the same way with organizations: what are the smaller steps that they can take to get there and to build confidence around those steps? So when I work with somebody in health and wellness coaching, I always say that there's gotta be setbacks. That's actually part of the process, and actually, setbacks are good because you can learn from them and that will help you as you continue setting realistic goals and helping people think about what in their environment will support them and making those behavior changes. Those are the kinds of things that are gonna support people as they go along their journey.
Carol: I think setbacks are inevitable in a process like that. So what are some things that you've seen people learn from those setbacks?
Peter Lane: I think the biggest one is — I guess it's self-love, being kind to oneself. People beat themselves up. We’re our own harshest critics, and so one of the biggest lessons is: it's okay. Don’t go down the guilt path or the beat yourself up path. I see that as the big lesson. People begin to understand how the people around them — most often a partner or spouse — how their interactions and their behavior together impacts their ability to make those behavior changes. So it's occurred to me — and I haven't done this yet — but I've thought about doing couples’ health and wellness coaching, because it really is a family system. It really does have an impact on what your relationship is with the others around you.
Carol: That's so key because I think that too often in our culture, we think about the individual and we don't think about the whole context that the individuals are living in. Just that first round of who's in their immediate family, who they’re living with, how is that going to impact what they're going to be able to do? Even as we're coming into winter, my husband’s gotten into biking regularly and that’s the thing that he's been able to do most consistently in terms of exercise. I'm not going to be inviting anyone from Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner so we decided — or I suggested — that we should just make the table small. We'll get rid of the extra leaves that are in the table and take half the dining room and set up your bike with a trainer that enables you to do it inside, just knowing that he had suggested that he’d do it in the basement. I knew he would never go into a dreary basement in the morning when it's cold, it's gotta be somewhere inviting. There has to be that context around it to make it possible to want to get up.
Peter Lane: Yeah, that's a great example. You start thinking about how you can make changes or shift things in my environment that will actually help me make those behavior changes.
Carol: Yeah, because the last thing you want to do is buy yet another piece of equipment that becomes a very expensive clothing drying rack.
Peter Lane: Absolutely, yes.
Carol: So it's easy for people to see how health and wellness impacts, or relates to the individual. You say you talked about it in connection with organizations and with nonprofits. Why would you say that wellness is really important for organizations to think about as well?
Peter Lane: For a while, I was involved in co-leading a leadership development program that involved coaching for the participants. So over the years, I was talking to a lot of people and I would say — it's sort of anecdotal — but often the coaching got around to things like really wanting to spend more time with my family or my kids. I don't have enough time to exercise, that’s why I'm so stressed out. So it was all of these issues that were not related to managing staff or leading staff or boards or fundraising or all of those other issues. It was their personal wellbeing and, at the time, I didn't realize there was such a thing as health and wellness coaching, but what people talked about were things that interested me and I could see how their personal wellbeing was impacting their leadership and their ability to do their job. That really stuck with me. And when I struck out on my own as a consultant, before I hung out the shingle, I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to do. What were things that interested me, what were parts of my work previously that I really enjoyed and gave me satisfaction, and worked with a coach. So I really, I really saw this connection between work and personal life, and taking care of yourself, and how, if you take care of yourself, that gets embedded in the organization. And in my mind, anyway, if we have healthy individuals taking care of themselves, our organizations will be healthier as well. So that led me to the field of health and wellness coaching, and that's my interest.
Carol: My tagline for this podcast is, “how to be a nonprofit leader without being a martyr to the cause.” And I think what you're talking about is all of that, because it's so easy. In the western world, in the United States particularly, the glorification of overwork is so much there. And then when you add in a cause that you really believe in oftentimes there's always more work than there's capacity to deal with it. It's very easy to get pulled in and not set those boundaries. Not be able to really. And then what you talked about is how that shows up and in terms of that impact, on the individual leader and then how that ripples out through the organization. So when you were coaching those folks, it was around their leadership, and yet it was these ‘personal’ issues that were coming up. How did you see that impacting how they were showing up at work?
Peter Lane: It was in a variety of ways. For example, in leadership there's such a great degree of how you manage yourself and how you use yourself in different situations and the extent to which a leader can be intentional about how they're acting. They can access more information, more of their own personal resources, and act in a more strategic and intentional way. When people are stressed, their ability to do that decreases. So there's that part of it, how they're interacting with others. And I also think — Carol probably in your work too — you see individual leaders and organizations, they really set the tone. Regardless of who's there, they really do set the tone. So leaders who are modeling healthy behaviors that promote wellness for him or herself, that’s also gonna shift the organization. I think we've probably all seen leaders who are running a hundred miles a minute, or over-scheduled and that just creates tension around for others who feel like they have to be running at the same pace because so-and-so is. Those kinds of unhealthy behaviors for individuals can really seep into the organization.
Carol: Have you experienced that at all in your, in your work? All the negative consequences?
Peter: Yes. Which is fine. I mean too often, but I think most of the time it's very well intentioned. Like the person is really dedicated to the cause and they want to see that work done and there's just, there's always more work than could possibly be done. So, in their role as an executive director or someone higher up in the organization, there's a tendency to take on responsibility as well and get isolated from the rest of the organization. For a little bit, I worked at an organization where they still operated under the myth that summers were quiet. Well, we did like half of our leadership programs during the summer. So there was never a break. We went from getting to the annual conference and then it'll be quiet, and we'll get past this thing, and then it'll be good. And it just never stops.
Carol: There's always the next thing. So yeah, I’m wondering if, with organizations that are like, “okay, we're tired of this, we know we're burning people out, we know that we're losing people because of it.” What are some things that an organization can start to do to incorporate more of a wellness perspective into their work?
Peter: Yeah. I mean, I choose strategies based on how they can incorporate health and wellness into their organization. One is just around policies and procedures, the nuts and bolts of what they offer employees. A lot of organizations, to some extent, do that. And it might look different for different organizations. [It might be] flexibility around work schedules, or providing a meditation room, or setting aside time during the week when staff have, almost professional development, set aside time for an hour to read a book that you wouldn't normally have a chance to read, purchasing healthy snacks and water. Those kinds of things. I've been talking with other coaches and organizations — and this tends to be larger for-profit organizations where employee assistant programs, a health and wellness coach is available to the organization. You don't see that in the nonprofit world, but that's one thing that I would love to see: making that available to more non-profit organizations. Then the other area that I think about is organizational culture. The policies, procedures, the nuts and bolts of things are a little easier to implement where organizational culture and shifting that is probably more long-term. It takes a different intention. As part of that, I think about organizations that somehow build that into their strategic plan or their vision of how they are as an organization. Then once you do that, I think you can begin to think about the practices that are going to support wellness in the workplace and help you move along that path to create an organization that's going to sustain individuals in a healthy way.
Carol: Yeah, it's interesting. When you talk in terms of steps that an organization can take, there are those more nuts and bolts-y things, but even when they do that, I worked in a larger organization that had some resources and they ended up setting aside one room, what had been a small conference room, and made it a napping room, but the culture did not support anyone taking a nap during work.
Carol: I have to admit that I would sneak down, look around and try to make sure that no one would see me. Like I hadn't slept the night before, so I really was falling asleep at my desk. It wasn't like I was getting anything done or being productive anyway, but I remember just feeling like I had to make sure that no one saw me as I snuck in.
Peter: That's a question of culture, right? People don't feel comfortable doing that.
Carol: I think that the more successful thing that they did — and it was interesting because it went beyond just that one organization, there were a number of different nonprofits in the same building. Obviously that was when we were all not working from home, but all the different organizations hired a yoga teacher to come and offer a class once a week. And it had a great response, and it was great because we actually met people from other organizations, and there were probably some other ripples of meeting these other people who were in the building, who did similar work that you might not have met otherwise through the yoga class. So that went a lot better than the nap room.
Peter: Yeah, it's interesting. At the beginning of the pandemic I had requests to do what essentially were 30 minute, virtual self-care sessions which were a great way to bring people together, and for staff of one organization, it was an opportunity to come together in a way that wasn't trying to figure things out or working with all of that craziness going on. But interestingly enough, now that we're seven, eight, nine months later, people aren't doing that as much. It's like we've moved past the self care stage.
Carol: Yeah. Out of the crisis where we felt like we really needed to pay attention, but what are some other things that you're seeing organizations do, with so many people working remotely or working from home in terms of supporting employee wellness?
Peter: I think people are still trying to figure that out. What I've been hearing lately is the tiredness of being on Zoom or being in virtual meetings and people trying to figure out how to minimize these or work in some other way. That's a big one, and then [working] around people's schedules, they've got PR for many of the people that have kids at home. They're working, but they're also being parents and teachers. So organizations and individuals are trying to figure out how to create the right flexibility and support for individuals that are in these different kinds of situations.
Carol: Even thinking about when you really need a video meeting where people need to be on the computer and when you don’t. [For me,] when I'm just talking one-on-one with someone, I'm mostly making phone calls to just not have extra screen time, and then you could — depending on the situation — take that call as a walking meeting. So that's one simple way that I try to incorporate that during the day.
Peter Lane: I also like thinking about how long meetings actually have to be. If you schedule it for 30 minutes, or an hour — even if it's the same topic — if you scheduled it for 30 minutes, it will probably go for 30 minutes. If you schedule it for an hour, it'll go for an hour, most likely. Just being really conscious of why you're meeting and how much time is actually needed for that. I also love the idea of the walking meeting. I know that's not for everybody, I find it a little bit of a challenge, but I've been in meetings and talking to people that do that. And I think a great way to break up the day.
Carol: Yeah. So one thing that I always do at the end of each episode is play a little game where I ask you a random icebreaker question that comes out of my hand and a little box of icebreakers, so the question for you is: if you could go back in time, what's one thing that you would tell your teenage self?
Peter Lane: I would tell my teenage self that everything will be okay.
Carol: I think that's good advice for all of us right now.
Peter Lane: You will be okay.
Carol: Yeah. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you, what's emerging in your work?
Peter Lane: Well personally — and I didn't mention this — I'm getting married in a couple of weeks, so I'm looking forward to that. But that's obviously on the personal side, professionally next year, generally I'm just really interested to see how things progress in terms of the pandemic and what impact it's going to have on organizations. Obviously everything hasn't played out yet in terms of [whether] we go back to normal, or if there is some new normal, and how that is going to impact organizations and the work they do. So I'm interested in that. And then I've been talking with a colleague about putting together a leadership support/coaching series, a cohort that we would offer together and be able to incorporate health and wellness coaching into that. So we'll see.
Carol: That sounds awesome. How can people find out more about you and get in touch?
Peter Lane: You can check out my website, peterlanecoaching.com, and my email is email@example.com.
Carol: Well thank you so much. Well put those links into the show notes so folks will be able to get access to them.
Peter Lane: Great. Well, thank you, Carol. This has been a lot of fun and a great opportunity to talk about the work that I love. So thank you.
Carol: All right. Thank you.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.