It was finally the day of my six-month review. I hadn't slept well; flurries of anticipation distracted me from sleep. To calm my nerves, I quickly got dressed, headed to my favorite coffee shop, and whipped out my notebook.
Caffeine fueled my list of retrospective reflections of the last six months at Year Up, my first job in the social sector. I scribbled down everything I could remember: The big projects, the failures, the accomplishments… A wave of astonishment and gratitude washed over me. Wow, I've learned so much in such a short amount of time. I realized at that moment how working at a non-profit had been the best professional development boot camp my career could've asked for.
Call me a Millennial to believe that I can combine my personal values with my job, but I call it my life purpose. I can't imagine leading a career where my energy, talents, and creativity aren't contributing to the greater good.
Before heading into the world of non-profits, armed with optimism and an expensive undergraduate degree in public relations, I tried the corporate route. In 2012, I kickstarted my career at a Boston-based PR/marketing agency where I developed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies for Fortune 500 companies. I filled my days designing cause marketing campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness and funds for a variety of social issues from childhood cancer to upcycling used clothing.
Despite doing socially good work, I felt a void. I felt far removed from the social impact initiatives I was developing from soup-to-nuts then handing off to the client. Fortunately, just as I was starting to feel unfulfilled, I discovered the ProInspire Fellowship.
ProInspire is a mission-driven organization that believes high-quality talent and professional development can accelerate social impact in the social sector. Fellows work full-time for a ProInspire hiring partner while receiving professional development through workshops, coaching, and career support. Curious about the social sector, I applied for the one-year fellowship program, and in 2014, I became one of ProInspire's Bay Area fellows.
Through ProInspire, I became the marketing manager for Year Up, a non-profit that empowers young adults from low-income communities to kickstart their professional careers through education, training, and mentorship. What I learned in 365 days at Year Up will forever influence my career path.
CAREER GROWTH RESIDES OUTSIDE OF YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION
At Year Up, I operated as a one-person marketing machine in the ultimate test of time management and prioritization. I managed Year Up's social media, media relations, and thought leadership. I collaborated with the organization's four major departments, providing marketing support on everything from planning and executing events to experimenting with email marketing strategy and crafting compelling content. I was doing the jobs of at least two to three people.
Working at Year Up pushed me to be resourceful. There were no excuses for not get things done. Instead, I had to quickly adapt and learn to succeed with less. For example, because our graphic designer was a contractor, who had other clients and projects, I had to teach myself techniques and tricks in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop through free online videos to keep up with the design demands of the organization.
Outside of my role, I also found myself mentoring young adults, facilitating inclusion workshops, and exercising leadership in big and small ways. Cross-functional stretch opportunities make room to explore and deepen skillsets and passions. Learning to pivot and juggle strengthened my capacity to take the reins of my own professional development, an empowering skill to have while working in any sector.
RELATIONSHIPS MATTER MORE THAN YOUR WORK
The anxiety before my review brewed doubts and fleeting thoughts. Did I do enough? Was I good enough? From working in the corporate world, I was ready to be judged and compensated by my deliverables; they're what earn you promotions, recognition, and opportunities. So imagine my surprise when at my six-month review I was told I was too deliverables-driven. The feedback triggered immediate cognitive dissonance—it went against everything I'd learned in my career, but I eventually recognized its value. I was in a work environment where I was being requested to slow down, and learn to cultivate and smell the relationship roses.
It wasn't too long before I understood the importance of intentionally carving out time outside the office for coffee or lunch with a colleague. How creating don't-talk-to-me vibes with headphones is alienating to others. How small talk can go beyond mundane conversations about the weather, and become a way to connect with colleagues through asking about their hobbies, children, and documentary recommendations.
By putting people first and building a bridge of communication and credibility, working together is much more meaningful and productive. A key learning on Leaderosity puts it simply but aptly: Relationships are best fostered over food and drinks where communion is shared over similar goals, interests, and fun.
BEING MISSION-DRIVEN IS A COMMITMENT
At a non-profit, there's no such thing as leaving your mission-driven work at the office. Your commitment to the organization will follow you wherever you go. As a mentor at Year Up, I was invested in my advisees' progress and development as young professionals. It wasn't work that I could necessarily "turn off" on nights and weekends. I always found opportunities at parties, get-togethers, and inside Lyfts to talk about my job and about the organization's incredible impact.
One impressive observation about working at a non-profit is the level of commitment visible in every staff member. Everyone, whether working in finance, HR, or in direct service, is taught and believes in the organization's mission, values, and priorities. Everyone is invested—and that feeling of shared passion and interest is exhilarating and creates instant bonding.
Another six months passed and it was the end of my fellowship. I was torn about whether I should stay at Year Up or return to the private sector. A close mentor of mine opened my eyes and gave me solace with this advice: There are many ways to change the world. It's going to take each and every single one of us to tackle the world's biggest challenges from all different angles. Whether you're in the private, public or social sector, you can find a way to leverage your skills and talents to contribute to social good.