Two years and twenty-eight days
It is two years and twenty-eight days since I left the relative security of a full-time permanent job to be a free range human.
It is only now when I look back, reflect and take stock, that I realise how much I have learned in this time. More importantly it has made me realise that no matter how old we are, what job we do or our personal circumstances we should never stop learning. Each of us has a choice about what we do and how we learn, it is our responsibility to look out for and then seize the opportunities that we are presented with.
There are three key things that I have learned over the last two years and twenty-eight days that I thought might be useful to share. I have a suspicion that you might have learned them already, but sometimes in our busy lives being reminded of how far we have come, and the knowledge and expertise we have gathered along the way, is no bad thing.
1. The importance of your networks
Human beings are social animals and in my experience, the best ideas and our richest work is when we work in collaboration with other people. If new ideas are a combination of old ideas put together or connected in new ways, involving others brings different perspectives and many more new idea connections. It also makes things more fun. The first day that I sat down to work at my desk at home on my own was the moment I truly realised that my team, my peers and my networks were absolutely key to any success. Since then I have worked hard to nurture and add as much value as I can to my networks. I have learned how other people inspire creative thinking, help to develop fresh ideas, act as a sounding board and are your most critical friends and the voices of caution. They also nudge you to challenge yourself, push you out of you comfort zone and stay around to pick you up when you fall. The time spent making and nurturing diverse networks is critical to your development, the development of others and the quality of work for everyone involved.
2. Focus on areas where you can make the most impact
It’s very easy to try to be all things to all people but you can very easily end up spreading yourself too thin and being average at lots of things. Who wants that? When I first left the security of an organisation, I tried to be everywhere: online, at conferences, in meetings and social gatherings for fear of missing something. I found myself exhausted and struggling to concentrate on any one task for a significant period of time. The moment that I took a step back (with the help of some critical friends in my network) and regrouped, I was able to focus on the areas that I enjoyed most, areas where I had an opportunity to excel and areas where I could make the most impact. With focus it made it easier to say no to activities that before I had felt that I ought to do and spend dedicated time developing my core innovation work.
3. You have to look after you
I help individuals and organisations to think differently in order that they can achieve better results. I often work with teams to develop their culture and physical environment to deliver better creativity and innovation. Key to this is having room to gather insight, time to think and ponder and space for creative thinking and exploration of ideas.
For a while I was helping other people do this, for example insisting they take a lunch break and step out of the office to think, yet I wasn’t doing it myself. I don’t think you should expect others to do something that you are not prepared to do yourself, so I have learned to take my own advice. When you love what you do, as the majority of the fundraisers I work with do, it’s easy to want to work at it all the time. But the reality is that you can’t even hope to be top of your game unless you look after you and take some time out to think, relax and recuperate.
Like I said, I suspect that you are reading this and nodding in agreement. But sometimes when you are busy balancing work and life and hopes and dreams it’s easy to forget the basics. So every now and then its good to take stock and make sure you are on track.
This blog is about my experiences and learning from making the switch from working for one organisation to freelancing with many, but I think you could also apply the same principles to your fundraising work with great effect.