Dear E. Jean: How do you know when it’s time to quit? I run a small nonprofit. I knew there were issues (lack of finances, lack of board engagement, etc.) that could prove to be obstacles to success, and so before I took the job, I had a frank conversation with the chairman. He assured me that my concerns were their concerns and that the problems would be addressed.
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Cut to a year later: I’m totally burned out. The support, staff, money, and vision I was told would be there are not there. I’ve lost my sense of humor, my work-life balance is abysmal, and I feel unable to properly manage up. The pressure to continue at an increasing pace with our limited capacity is unsupportable for all staff. I keep wondering, Is this just a low point in the process? Is there something I’m failing to do or could do better? Admittedly, I’ve always been attracted to “challenging” (read: sinking ship) situations and have started seeing a therapist to address the issue. One part of me wants to run screaming, and the other feels like quitting would make me a failure or ruin opportunities down the road. Right now, all I see are two possibilities: continue at the Gulag that allows me to pay my bills…or quit to feed pigeons in the park down the street from my apartment, where I will likely end up living. —Gulag Girl
Gulag, My Love: Phoo! You know it’s time to quit when you sign yourself “Gulag Girl.”
But here’s the fascinating thing about your nonprofit—or, as you call it, your “sinking ship.” I’ve looked at it, and, Gulag, honey, those pigeons—God love ’em—are gonna have to wait. Because here’s the fact: You have pulled off one of the biggest triumphs on no money I’ve ever beheld in my life! The first duty of a small nonprofit is to get away with the impossible. You have done that. Blazingly! No doubt there are evolving quagmires with which every nonprofit contends, and which I can’t see without an audit. But stop yammering to a therapist about being “attracted” to “challenging situations” and find out why you’re blind to your successes. You’ve done it. Start interviewing with other companies. Your work here is finished.