Let me paint the scene for you: It had been the longest day at work. I spent hours battling to stay inspired as door-after-door—of potential funders, collaborators, and advisers—was slammed in my face. But today I planned to shake it off; I was meeting my former colleague from my former secure, well-paying job for a drink. When I got there, I realized I was one of many people invited to the table. We all sat down and traded basic information. As the group disclosed their professions—marketing, law, student—I held my breath for the eminent question, “What about you? What do you do?”
Usually in these situations I have two options. The first is to flat out lie so I can engage in light-hearted chit-chat. Or, I can begin to explain why I no longer work in the corporate world and share the big ideas I have on making an impact on the world. That evening at the bar, I opted for the latter and the entire table proceeded to single me out and tell me why my idea doesn’t work: it’s naïve to think change is possible; I’m thinking too big/too small/too idealistically; I’m not really solving a problem; I left a well-paying job for this? It was round two of being dismissed for simply daring to dream of a better world.
Has this happened to you?
On most days I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to work in a field like social entrepreneurship; where each day the actions I take have the ability to really make a difference. Even on my most challenging days, I feel like I am growing as a leader. Yet facing doubters can crush even the most committed spirits. And this goes beyond bar-time conversations: I have friends in the nonprofit sector, for example, who have had their families and friends beg them to get “real” jobs or to make more money. So what can you do when you believe in social change and others don’t?
- Surround yourself with people who DO believe in your work. Of course, there is always space for healthy criticism and questions; no idea is perfect and we all have room to grow. However, there is a difference between being pushed to clarify your ideas and your work versus being dismissed because of your ideas and your work. So find your peer group. Join a MeetUp. Email like-minded people for regular get-togethers. Participate in online discussions. Anything to stay connected to your work.
- Make a point to see the impact of your work regularly. Get on the ground, if you can. Listen to the people you serve and see how they are affected by the work your organization is doing. Depending on the nature of your organization, you can do this formally (helping the communications team with their work) or informally (sitting in on a class your organization offers). Either way, try your best to listen.
- Know the facts about the sector. Sometimes these comments are rooted in misconceptions about social enterprises and nonprofit work in general. So know your sector: talk about the revenue we generate; the lives we save; the partnerships and leaders we’ve created; and the sheer diversity of the sector itself.
- Learn to make friends with rejection. Not everyone will feel connected to your vision of change, and know that this is part of the beauty of creating something new. Strive to become okay with this because that resilience will guarantee your long-term success.
How do you stay committed to change in the face of doubters?
Natalie Alhonte Braga is the Chief Engagement Officer of IGNITEgood, a launch pad and community for Millennials who want to change the world through service. Last year, IGNITEgood together with The Huffington Post launched the Millennial Impact Challenge, which awarded over $110,00 in funding to 15 Millennial-led organizations to help them scale their impact. Natalie is a alumni of American University and originally from the coffee region of Colombia. She is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. For more information visit ignite-good.org