Monday, September 27, 2010

Being Public

I'm not a public figure in any big sense, but in a small sense, as the head of a small nonprofit that has to raise a bunch of money to survive, I'm public. People know what's up with me from reading this blog or Facebook -- people whom I don't know are following me do read. It happens all the time that I go to tell someone a story and they've read it already. Kind of weird.

But most of all, what I find a challenge is that I can't really have a bad day or a bad few days and write about it. When I post anything even remotely negative on Facebook, I feel like I have to delete it because nobody should think the head of this organization is human enough to make a mistake or have a bad day or anything like that. I post about my weight journey as a way to share something that has a direct impact on health with other people in the hope that it will do some good. Exploring the ways in which my inner demons affect my weight seems like a positive use of my inner demons. But talking about anything else negative -- am I allowed?

But I am not perfect, and I have failed to get Advocacy for Patients to a point at which we can move into real offices and hire Nicole, my cracker-jack part-time law student, full-time when she graduates in December. It's been causing me tremendous angst. I had a plan for all this, but it failed because I was working with a partner organization that decided to bag it -- and didn't even have the good graces to tell me about it. My bad judgment for teaming up with them, I suppose. Surely, it's my fault, and I take that responsibility.

Is it terrible to expose the fact that Advocacy for Patients isn't immune to the economy, or even to a bad decision on my part? Or will I be offered help only if I expose the truth, that I need the help? Is it my job to seem strong, impervious to being stressed or down, for the sake of this organization? Can the organization survive with a frail human at the helm? Is writing this now a mistake?

I don't know the answer. I know that some of you will have answers -- those who support me and Advocacy for Patients will tell me it's fine to be human. Those who only want to give money to an organization with a perfect veneer may not give as a result. Am I taking a risk by writing this?

Nobody's perfect, and you don't get to be more perfect simply because you run a nonprofit. There are good times and bad, happy times and sad, and loads of imperfections that are inevitable because I'm human. Will Advocacy for Patients survive? Certainly in the short-term, of course. Have I done anything that should make people NOT want to support us? I don't think so -- I did trust another organization and partner up with them, but I wasn't alone in thinking that was a good idea. Indeed, the alliance was formed by our largest funder. Should I have trusted less, given less?

My basic theory is that I should be who I am, warts and all, because people need to see that I'm human. I don't want people to feel that I'm so perfect that I'm intimidating, and I'm told all the time that I am intimidating, although why escapes me.

I don't know. This whole thing about being public or quasi-public is strange to me. I never said I was perfect. I have bad days like everybody else. And not just about my weight. And I've never run a nonprofit before, so sure, there are things I am going to try to do that I can't pull off. Maybe someone else could, but I'm not perfect. Does that mean you shouldn't donate to Advocacy for Patients? In my opinion, it means that you should trust me more because I'm willing to tell you about my imperfections. Anybody who claims to be perfect is lying.

But there are appearances. I can hear it in my head, someone telling me that it's about LOOKING strong. I shouldn't air dirty laundry. Is it dirty laundry to admit that I'm less than perfect all the time?

I honestly don't know. When I started Advocacy for Patients it wasn't about making myself a public person. It wasn't about me at all. It was about the people in need. The fact that I'm the face of the organization -- I sort of wish we had a celebrity spokesperson so I wouldn't have to be that face. I never asked for this part of the job, and I wasn't really expecting it.

I'm tired -- bone tired. And I do feel like I failed to get us to where we need to be in order to grow consistent with the demand for our services. I also know that there's not one more thing I can do that I haven't done. There are no more hours in the day, no more breath in my lungs, no more tears to shed, no more support to give -- I'm doing everything I am capable of doing.

And maybe that's the point. If my shortcomings are Advocacy for Patients' shortcomings, then making my shortcomings public reflects badly on Advocacy for Patients. But then isn't the opposite true, that my strengths reflect well on Advocacy for Patients?

I hope that people don't give less or do less for Advocacy for Patients simply because I am human. Because whether I let you see how human I am or not, the fact is that I am human and flawed and so is everybody. The fact that I let you see it once in awhile should help you to trust me because you know I'm not hiding or faking or anything like that. What you see is what you get.

Frankly, for me, I don't care. But I care for Advocacy for Patients. For Advocacy for Patients, I would like to be perfect. Unfortunately, even for Advocacy for Patients, perfect is not human, and I am human. I hope that doesn't make you think less of what is more and more a truly great organization that's about so much more than just me. Jennifer

1 comment:

  1. really a nice post. thanks for sharing. keep it up.