Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Workin’

Second chances

Lately, I’ve been taking some time to consider what I’ve learned from the pieces of my life that I’m leaving behind.  Both from the successes and from the failures.  It really is the failures that teach the most.   I try really hard to learn from situations that I could have handled better, and I’m grateful when I’m given challenges that afforded me the opportunity to test what I’ve learned.    This week I had a couple of those challenges – and and I found that I chose different ways  to handle them this time.  Yay for me!

Today, I started scheduling out my last week of work.  I sent out an email to the office letting folks know that, if they had anything they would like me to do before I leave, they should schedule with me asap, as it will really be difficult for me to address requests on-the-fly next week, and I am determined to leave my position with as little clean-up left as possible.  I set boundaries for the new work I could take on and communicated it.  That prompted my boss to question what, exactly, I would be doing with my time next week.

This was the first challenge – the first opportunity to see what I’ve learned.

There was a time, not long before I left my last office job, when my then boss asked for a similar accounting, wondering why I wasn’t making as many phone calls as he wanted, and asking if, at the end of the campaign, I would be able to say that I did everything possible to advance the cause.  Now, given that I had left my job as a lawyer, thereby giving up my health insurance and retirement benefits, and incurred significant consumer debt in order to advance the cause, I didn’t appreciate the question.  I believe I started shaking so violently that Leigh came from across the room to try to settle me down.  Over the phone, I responded with something to the effect of “who the hell do you think you are.  Don’t you EVER question my commitment or loyalty to this issue.”  That only led to a very strict accounting of my time at the end of every day.  That didn’t so much make me happy.

When my boss today asked me what I was doing with my time instead of (incidentally) making phone calls, I flashed back to that moment at my kitchen table five years ago when I wanted to destroy the person questioning me.  Then, I took a step back, took a deep breath, and calmly responded with my schedule for the week.  True, I’m leaving soon, but it was nice to recognize that I can respond to a question that I don’t like without seeing it as a personal attack.  It might sound easy, but it hasn’t always been.

The other thing that came up was a little broader in scope.  The issue of volunteer leadership is a big one for a community organizer.  That’s what I’ve been, in different capacities for the last 5 years – an organizer.  When you’re relying on volunteers for the work that you do, it’s hugely important to have a core of dependable, loyal, committed volunteers.  What I learned is that the who and what they are loyal to really speaks to whether or not I’ve done a good job.

When I worked as a GLBT organizer in Salem, I depended on a crew of about 100 volunteers to do some incredibly difficult things.  I asked people to knock on doors in conservative neighborhoods, come out to whomever was at the door and then talk with them about how they felt about gay people.   And my volunteers did that – for almost a year.  A group of us sat outside the capitol building every morning for a month, talking with legislators as they drove into the parking garage.  I asked people to make thousands of phone calls to people who called them names and told them they didn’t believe in my volunteers’ rights.

And they did it.

I was a good organizer because I believed deeply in the cause – and also because I believed deeply in my volunteers.  I paid attention to why each of them was there, and I made sure they got what they needed in order for them to keep showing up, whether that was a meal, something to believe in, or someone to talk to.  I was loyal to them and I knew they were loyal to me.  That’s a pretty excellent feeling, to know that people are showing up to do really hard work, in part because you are the one asking them to do it.   It’s a great feeling, but it’s not leadership.

When I left that position, I knew I had failed.  My volunteers had done some really amazing work and had come together as a true community.  But it wasn’t sustainable.  Despite expressing my concerns to my bosses, trying to identify potential volunteer leaders, encouraging volunteers to continue the work, and even handing the torch publicly to a successor, I knew many of the volunteers wouldn’t continue, because of their loyalty to me. They had done everything I had asked of them, and yet the momentum we had gained would be lost.  And that was my great failure.

But now, this time, as I’m handing over my files and my contacts, I know that I have succeeded as an organizer.  I know that my volunteers are intact. No matter how much they like me, no matter how much they wish I was staying, or how much they couldn’t stand me, they will return.  Their loyalty is to the cause.  And, because their loyalty lies with a cause and not with a person, the work that I did, and that we did, is sustainable.   It will carry on.

That’s pretty cool.

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September 19, 2009   1 Comment

That’s it!

Things are starting to wind down for me at work.  Not that they’re getting any easier or that there’s any slowing of the work.  It’s just that the end is in sight, and now I’m starting to reflect a little.

I remember the final day of my last office job.  When I left , it wasn’t under the most smiley of circumstances.  In fact, I’m still not sure, almost five years later, what happened.  Still, my last day had one especially humorous moment.  It was someone else’s birthday, and I think someone must have realized, part way through the afternoon, that it was my last day, too.    When we gathered to celebrate, it became an impromptu going away as well, complete with cake.

When I first saw the cake, I laughed out loud.  Someone had scrambled to find some frosting and converted the birthday cake into a going away cake.  Because it was freehand and last-minute, I thought (as did other staffers) that the wobbly writing read “That’s it Kristin!”  I read it out loud and laughed.  It was deliciously apropriate.  Once the cake was on the table, we realized that it said “Thanks Kristin!”  But  the damage was already done.  We still refer to it as the “That’s it! cake”.

Tomorrow, my office is having a going away lunch for me.  It’s very sweet.  When I walk out the door next Friday, I’ll be leaving them 3 and a half staff members short.  And they’re making me a party.  Well, I’ll let you know what they make me, exactly.  We’re having a staff meeting directly before lunch where the other staff members will find out which of my job duties they will be taking on.  I’m hoping to escape without someone throwing something at me.

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September 16, 2009   4 Comments

A very good day

Today was a good day. First of all, it was Friday. Fridays are good usually, but for my office, during the summer if we work extra during the week, we can take off at noon on Friday. This makes Fridays extra good.

This Friday, there were only three of us in the office. The summer is quickly winding down, and we’re anxious to take advantage of all possible fun, so, when I suggested heading to my place for some Rock Band, the three of us wrapped up work and headed out.

I’m not sure about you, but the last time I had an honest to goodness “play date” was a long time ago.

Armed only with hard cider and cookies, we fired up the wii and started playing. For two hours we pounded on the drums, clicked the buttons of the guitar and sang our lungs out. By the end, Celia’s eyes were watering from staring at the screen, Michele’s hands were cramping, and I had nearly lost my voice.

Rock Stars!

We rocked. Hard.

When we emerged from the back of the house, Leigh, who had actually been working (state workers don’t get “half-day Fridays”), said “you play the drums loudly.” It’s true. I do. And Celia has a wicked rock star scream on vocals.

After Celia and Michele headed back into the adult world, Leigh and I tried to figure out what to do for dinner. After a couple of half-hearted tries, Leigh suggested that it might be a nice night for ice cream. We decided to venture out in search of the Girl Scout Tagalong Blizzard at Dairy Queen. We’d tried a couple of weeks ago, but they were only carrying Thin Mint. Peanut butter being the critical element, we were determined to experience this triumph of modern flavor engineering. Tonight’s adventure featured a couple of different DQs (the first one was out of peanut sauce), Friday commuter traffic (as we foolishly thought we could pop into Vancouver to visit the closest DQ there), and a walk around a park (Mt. Tabor is a beautiful park, but the people running there make someone with a Dairy Queen cup feel a little slothful).

Given the lack of refined sugar in our lives, Leigh and I ended up a little jacked up. Here is a photo montage to help illustrate:

Leigh pondering the beauty of the Blizzard

Leigh pondering the beauty of the Blizzard

Kristin pre-sugar

Kristin pre-sugar

Kristin mid-sugar

Kristin mid-sugar

Kristin post-sugar

Kristin post-sugar

It was a good adventure.

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August 28, 2009   2 Comments

Masters in Humility

I thought that my strangest day of work as a fundraiser would be last year when I was bit by Zeus, the parrot.  I may have been wrong.  That was the strangest day of last year’s event season.  This year’s strangest day of work was probably today when, dressed in spandex and a trash bag, I was stabbed repeatedly, in the neck, with a foam sword – by a grown man.

prematurity villain

That was around the same time that a volunteer asked me if she needed a degree to apply for my job.

The funny thing is that, officially, you do need a degree to apply for my job.  I happen to have a law degree.  I think, however, I missed the day where they taught superhero attire, and how to get the shit beat out of you by a volunteer with a foam sword, while keeping a smile on your face.  That, it seems, isn’t something you can teach.


When I took this job, I wanted to learn how to fundraise.  I wanted to develop the skills that would allow me to make major gift asks, and the skills that would allow me to train others to raise money.  I wanted to conquer my paralyzing fear of cold calls.  I wanted to plan events.

Three years later, I’ve done all of those things.  I’ve gotten everything from the experience that I wanted when I started – and I picked up a little something else along the way.

Through the ups and downs, I’ve realized how useful a sense of humor and humility can be.

This isn’t just the case in strange, themed events.  It holds true with co-workers, when driving, while on the phone with telemarketers, on conference calls, in elevators, and pretty much anytime I have to interact with other people.

About the time I was getting to my knees for an adorable 5-year-old to beat me about the neck and head, my volunteer said “you have a Masters in Humility.”  I hope she was right.  If I take anything with me, I hope it is that.  I also hope that I never get bit by a parrot again – that really sucked.

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August 13, 2009   1 Comment

The Work to Play Correlation

Super Smile

This week, as I was dressing up as a superhero to pose for a facebook picture, something clicked. This is why people often say to me things like “you’ve got a great job” or “I’d love a job like that.”

Yes, it does seem like it would be fun to dress like a superhero, or ride up and down the freight elevator with inmates.

Sure, it’s enjoyable to spend a day at the golf course.

Here’s the thing I discovered this week right around the time I was crafting my wrist bands from old beer cups and pink duct tape:

There is a direct correlation between the stress level in my job and the amount of illicit fun I engage in at that job.

That means that, when I post a picture of me riding around on a hand truck,


there was probably a crazy stressful 12 hour day immediately preceding it.

For example:

This is a picture of me dressed as a pirate for an event.

Pirate Kristin

Sure, that looks like fun, and it was. That event, however also included my being bit by a parrot named Zeus – hard – and repeatedly – until I was bleeding.

So, when you say “I’d like a job like that!” make sure you know what you’re in for.  And make sure you get a tetanus shot.

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July 21, 2009   3 Comments