I am trying to be more laid back, and it’s making me anxious!

My daughter is the type of person who gets overwhelmed when there is too much to do, even when the to do list has fun stuff on it. In a summer jam-packed with overnight camp, day camps, out of town travel, play dates, pool time, summer reading and math work, figuring out activities for the fall, and more… she has told me (quite clearly, to her credit) that it’s too much. She just wants to CHILL.

I, however, am not the chill type. I like to DO. I love my to do lists. I love scratching things off of my lists. I’ve often said that there are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who let things happen, and the ones who make things happen. I’m firmly in the latter category.

Being a make things happen type of person does not always serve me well in my personal life, but it has served me well in my professional life. Fundraising (and entrepreneurship, as I manage my consulting practice) requires goals, systems, and lots and lots of plans. When it comes to fundraising campaigns, there are steps to take, relationships to track and build, products to create and deliver, budgets to analyze. It’s a do-er’s dream!

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if all of my doing, both personally and professionally, could be keeping me from really breaking through and realizing the best possible results.

In fundraising, for example, it’s scary to think about doing less in order to raise more money. For the organizations with which I consult, there are clients to be served, projects to complete, and payroll numbers to achieve. These nonprofits cannot simply decide to chill out, and then hope for the best!

It’s not really about doing less, or being laid back. It’s about being more carefully and mindfully focused, more mission aligned, and working smarter.

Less frantic, grasping energy. More calm and confident effort going into the things the organization does really well, and the people (staff, donors, volunteers) who have buoyed that work.

For example, instead of that frenzied energy that many nonprofits put in to finding more donors, launching more programs, grasping at any grant opportunity that comes along (no matter how remote or how far afield from the organization’s core work), what if they paused to consider the core work of the organization and then built plans, goals, budgets, donor relationships, and more around that core work?

I was recently inspired by a video I watched on Gabby Bernstein’s blog. She discusses how the concept of “hope” can be scary, because it implies giving up control. She also talks about goals… which should not simply be replaced by hope. I would never advise a nonprofit client to just give up their goals and hope for the best! Her take is that a hyper-focus on goals can get in the way of guidance – whatever guidance your environment is sending you. Goals can be “intertwined with neediness and control and a sense of pushing.” The idea is to develop goals that are aligned with mission and not steeped in fear and neediness. How do we begin do this at nonprofit organizations?

  • Ask yourself if this work, or this new project, is really the business of the organization.
  • As yourself if “more” (more donors, more products, more programs) is really better, or if you can achieve more by deeply investing in what you already have.
  • Ask yourself how you want your clients, your donors, your employees, or your community to feel, what you want them to experience or be able to achieve, and if doing more is the only way to get you there.

(I’m reminded of Jerry Maguire’s infamous manifesto, when he told a business that had gotten too big and impersonal: “Fewer clients and less money.” A work of fiction. But, you may recall, everything – including the money – worked out for Jerry and his client, Rod Tidwell, in the end. Rod got infinitely more money than he would have gotten had he remained on the path that he and Jerry were on. And Rod never lost sight of his goal. “Show me the money!” was about the cash but was also a proxy for personal pride, being his best, and taking care of his family.)

As for the rest of my summer with my daughter, all I can say is that I’m giving this “more laid back” thing a shot. Some moments are better than others! Sometimes I run around our home just doing stuff (laundry, dishes, meal planning, etc.) because it makes me feel better to do things. Sometimes I go with the flow, and those moments end up being better than all of the other moments that I’ve so carefully planned. I do know that when my daughter feels better, I feel better, and our home feels better. And ultimately, that’s the real goal.