Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Matter of Compromise

Seth Godin wrote a great post this morning about compromise. In his usual style he started with the caveat, "If you sell crack to kindergarten students, no need to read this. Same thing if you donate all your belongings and income to the poorest and sickest in the slums and ghettos. The rest of us have compromised. We're not profit-maximizing sociopaths, nor are we saints. We're somewhere in between."

The trouble is that the great majority of us are somewhere in between, though we haven't thought much about where exactly our in between is, how we got there, and whether or not our in between is the right in between for us. To assess where we are and how we got there, we need to consider what our priorities are. That step will best inform our trade-off decisions, and those trade-off decisions set the stage for our optimal place in between.

My priorities:
1.) Time and energy for my friends and family
2.) Enough free time to write and have hobbies
3.) Financial independence that allows me to contribute to my savings, pay off my school loans, start a small side business, and live a good quality life in New York City

These priorities lead me to the following trade-offs:
1.) There are certain companies and careers that are all-consuming. Those are not the best places for me at this time in my life. I have to work at a place that appreciates balance.
2.) Because I have chosen to live in an expensive city and have a considerable amount of school loans, I have a certain minimum salary that I need to make. This salary requirements excludes certain careers and requires that I work full-time while I get my small side business started.

Where is my in between?
1.) When I first went to business school, I had the idea that I would immediately return to the nonprofit sector after graduation. As my school loans piled up and it became clear that I wanted to move to New York City for personal reasons, a return to the nonprofit sector grew very unlikely.
2.) Because I want to be part of a mission-based organization, I've found other ways to have a positive impact on my community: I volunteer regularly, went through a United Way training for future nonprofit board members, and donate to nonprofit organizations.

For my in between, I have certainly made trade-offs. While it might be my preference to work for a nonprofit full-time, there are a lot of benefits I've received in the for-profit sector that would not be possible at my level within a nonprofit. I have good balance between my personal and professional time. I have a generous vacation allowance, am getting good professional training, and great benefits. I'm also well-compensated which allows me to enjoy my life and help my family, two things that are very important to me.

One thing I didn't count on while in graduate school is that many people are interested in doing well by doing good. The field of social entrepreneurship that combines the best of both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors has grown by leaps and bounds. So many people have made the trade-offs I've made, and a whole industry is springing up as a direct result of our common in between.

Considering these trade-offs that I've made brought a happy, unexpected consequence: it made me appreciate the choices I've made and it made me feel more empowered. In a time when we feel like so many facets of our lives are out of our control, this exercise can bring a sense of calm and purpose. The best part is that it can be done with a holistic approach to our lives, or we can focus on one specific area like career or relationships.

If we find that we aren't happy with the result, it gives us a basis for an action plan to begin making some changes. While Seth Godin may have meant this exercise to be about compromise, it is also about happiness and accomplishment.

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