Theme: The End.
Amy Poehler is marching through my mental corridors again. She’s exhausting, triumphantly parading back and forth with her sandwich board: You Do It Because the Doing of it is the Thing! It’s my favorite quote from her book; repeated ad nauseum it’s starting to lose meaning. This quote is highly motivating, usually. But the coffee subsided and my mantra is now been subsumed by tangential wordplay. I’ve lost a quarter of an hour to invested a quarter of an hour in devising puns.
All things come to an end, I think to myself, impressed with my astute observation. I bet people will quote this completely original thought once my post is published. This appears to appease Amy, who sits finally, head in hand, sandwich board strewn across the room.
There are the things that end without much attention paid to them. They don’t warrant attention because they are regular or underrated. I finished a book last week. Lies. But I almost finished an article last week. I definitely finished watching the entire universe of Netflix. I also closed many tabs on my desktop (the neurotic person’s to-do list). I finished cleaning the house. I ate the last of that sketchy hummus. I decided against writing a post devoted to the end of hummus. (Too existential.) These things do not a 1500 word post make. However, they are ripe for an excellent BuzzFeed article. Editors, take note. You’re welcome.
Then there are the big things. I’m not good at ending the big things that need ending. I’m great at starting the new things. Recap: Good at the starting of things; bad at the ending of things. Knowing when to hold ‘em or fold ‘em is actually in my wheelhouse (my instincts are good); but actually folding during the game is not (I’m a puss at follow-through). For plentiful examples, see: most of my relationships. I’m all in until I’m the last one at the party holding an empty bottle, wondering where all the action went. This is because beneath an exterior monster cloud of snark, I am an optimist. It doesn’t always make me perky, or joyful, but the twinkle of promise in any venture tends to lure the side of me other people may assume is dead inside. A cynic might refer to me as a FOMOist.
Unsurprisingly to every rational human being, things end – despite my willful ignorance/ disobedience/ or verbal protest. It’s a very immature aspect of my personality that disregards this inevitability. Instead, I place my faith in beginnings (a faith resurrected only after hours of painstaking analysis about why the thing that ended did so): a new home, a new person to love me, a new place to explore, a new project to dive into.
All this good, new, faithful stuff came together when I met Caroline (who, I’m sure, is super excited to be referred to in a blog post!). Both of us new to Singapore, we met at a conference and figured out we had a lot in common. Fast forward to the beginning of the The Trafficking Research Project (TTRP). TTRP is an advocacy organization – our advocacy organization – that sits in the midst of anti-human trafficking stakeholders and tries to get them to talk about how to better shape anti-trafficking policy and, as policy researchers, we give our own two cents to government and academia based on our work. In only a few short months, we had established a wealth of knowledge, a network, and street cred. We shared a common perspective on how to get shit done and came up with a bloody good idea for an organization.
Our success is partially due to a lack of expectations coupled with high standards. We didn’t know each other and went in headfirst because we had nothing to lose; it was a gift of luck and time and place. A gamble. We met with the Government, service providers, other advocacy organizations in Singapore, in Asia and globally. We had the only say in how we conveyed our message and purpose. TTRP provided a sense of freedom for the work we were doing because we were able to craft our intentions from the ground up and keep each other in check. Plus, we found our niche. No one else was doing (and only a few are now doing) what we set out to do. I think we are pretty good at it. That kind of professional freedom should never be taken for granted.
Two righteous babes slaying dragons. Exactly the kind of organizational tagline Caroline might veto. She’s more practical than I am. She also provided a needed counter-balance for all of my over-enthusiastic and over-committed YES’s! She’s taught me much about “fold ‘em” strategy, and more importantly, balance. TTRP was always a labor of love; when one of us wanted to quit, the other was armed with happy hour and a pep talk. I learned more than I have at any organization. Doing the thing on your own (even with a buddy) accumulates scores of unintentional knowledge, patience, collaboration. I’m just plain smarter and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
I’m always amazed when former corporate executives discuss personal transitions to the non-profit sector in a way that implies the latter is “less than” in terms of effort, but “more than” in terms of reward. I’ve made bazillions, they say, it’s time to “give back” and run a charity. It is what it is. Corporate expertise can play a role in the non-profits (blah blah blah), but as a professional in the sector, I can attest to the fact that the reasons service providers, advocates and activists choose to leave is often ignored – or skirted until paralytic. Systemic problems exist: burn out, financial reasons (personal and organizational), lack of security. Each person has a different idea of their personal impact – on their work, to the cause, to the community at large. It’s not enough for many to simply say be motivated by the cause itself, as fine of an idea as that is. There have to be other benefits. A career of passion is unsustainable without a sense of impact. It doesn’t mean you aren’t making one; it just means you may not feel like you are. Just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done. And a labor of love can fade over time.
TTRP is in the midst of transition. We are still dragon slayers, but now living much farther apart taking on different dragons. It’s time to fold ‘em. I still think we are brilliant. We sit on a repository of expertise, contacts and resources. Our concept remains specialized. Should we have been more aggressive with our projects or with expansion? Maybe. Do I feel like I’m turning my back on an investment? Possibly. Could it continue to be great? Absolutely. Do I want to be the one to do it? Nope. Am I secretly wishing that Silicon Valley moguls would start bidding on our little project as if it were the latest social media app? Fuck Yes, Please.
I’ve delayed longer than I should. TTRP was built from the ground up by four hands. It is hard to walk away. During a rather shit personal time, it was an anchor – professionally and otherwise. There is no office though. Try as I might to ceremoniously turn off the lights, shut the door of my own apartment in a melancholy gesture of closure, I’ll soon after be faced with the nuisance of having to turn around, open the door and switch on the lights again once the hallway loses its novelty. It’s the goldfish pet death of organizational good-byes.
I may not know when to quit. I may not be graceful in the quitting, but once I have made a decision, I am pretty good at moving on. I already have the things to look forward to – the new place, the new people to love, the new projects. Plus, Caroline might visit and I’m looking forward to a pep talk-free happy hour.
So this is the thing that has to end. We can do our best to acknowledge what we did and be proud that we tried to make a difference. I will have to await my medal/ crown/ flowers/ ticker tape parade/ pile of money from Bill Gates.
For the moment, it is enough of a moment to know that it was a thing that was worth the doing.