"Life happens" to nonprofit leaders, often in unfair ways. I grieve for the leaders who are ill-prepared to face what comes their way. I know so many who started sweet, so eager to serve but have ended up bitter.
In my own life, for so many years, I stumbled around my potential. So many bad things had happened to me, and for a large part of my life, instead of being better, I was bitter.
When painful and stressful things happened to me, I shut down and refused to process what I had endured or how it affected me. In my struggle to overcome, I learned that my strategy had a name: Learned helplessness.
Overcoming "Learned helplessness" required me to make the conscious decision to learn and grow from my painful experiences. A conscious decision had to be made in the middle of the pain: I WILL GROW AND BE LARGER THROUGH THIS. I was bitter; now I had to become better. A Jewish story helped me.
Jewish storytellers tell the story about one of their prophets who, in a time of famine, is directed by God to go to a particular brook and wait for some birds to come and feed him. Following his divine orders, he proceeds to the stream, and miraculously, every morning and evening, the birds bring him pot roast and potatoes (OK, I embellished a little, the story just says they brought him food!). (READ THE STORY HERE)
To the modern reader, the story is merely a magical tale of mystical provision in a time of scarcity.
But, Jewish listeners heard something totally different. To them, the story was unimaginably outrageous! This story is shocking, offensive, and just plain wrong! Why? The answer has to do with the type of bird that the prophet took his food from: Ravens!
In that culture, Ravens were considered detestable (READ HERE V15). I like to imagine it is because they eat what we call here in South Georgia "roadkill." Ravens LOVE to feast on dead, stinking carcasses! When a dead corpse is decayed, putrified, and nauseous, ravens smell it and hear an internal dinner bell that says "come and eat!"
And now, you might be catching on to what I call the "storal to the mory!"
IT IS POSSIBLE FOR DIRTY BIRDS TO FEED US.
The "nasty birds" story is an allegory for the power of adverse events that have the potential to destroy us but instead make us bigger, better, and stronger. The idea has been expressed by philosophers like Nietzche and rappers like Kanye West: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!
I have learned that what doesn't kill me has the potential to make me stronger. THE POTENTIAL...
WHAT DOESN'T KILL ME HAS THE POTENTIAL TO MAKE ME BETTER OR BITTER.
These "dirty birds" speak of:
The untimely loss of a loved one
Career setbacks because of the decisions of others
Chronic illness or major injury
These stressful events have the potential to feed us, to make us stronger and larger nonprofit leaders. Warning, they also have the potential to make us bitter.
Do you have to work with un-lovely people? Un-lovely people have the potential to make you un-lovely OR amazingly loving!
Living in the middle of chaos has the potential to make you more chaotic or push you to find real peace.
Interruptions, inconveniences, and irritations have the potential to make us disoriented OR press us into having great patience.
Working on a team that is flattering, never truthful, and even lies can potentially teach us to do the same OR help us learn that just being honest can often be the kindest thing.
At the risk of sounding simplistic, personal growth begins when we make the choice to grow in the middle of our painful situations.
My encouragement to you today is to speak to others who are further down your road than you are. Talk. Share. Open up. Network.
A little saying that gives me some power to act: THOUGHTS DISENTANGLE THEMSELVES WHEN THEY PASS THROUGH THE LIPS AND THE FINGERTIPS (Trotman).
Find a trusted friend or counselor AND START TALKING!
Start writing your thoughts down, JOURNALING
Just get started. A really dirty bird may have some powerful insights to give you! One more quote to leave you with, from C.S. Lewis:
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world"