I spend hours most days toiling at a job I didn’t apply for. I generate revenue, attend meetings, mentor others, lobby influencers, and organize events. I pretty much do whatever I’m asked (without complaining to HR) and then ask everyone I know, have known, or think I may know at some point, to support my efforts. I do this without pay, paid vacation or sick leave. I do this because my kid gets no time off, either. My kid has Type One Diabetes.
My son was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, T1D, when he was 14, almost 12 years ago. It’s a complicated, stinky disease. His pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, a hormone necessary for survival. Until March 2015, when he started using inhalable insulin, he had to inject himself with insulin every time he ate just to stay alive and avoid Type One’s not so pretty “complications” like kidney, heart, circulatory, and eye disease.
Recently I asked myself why I work so hard at this job I never applied for. What drives me to give up my time, ego, and bank account? What motivates me to spend less time doing my real job, the one where clients actually pay me?
The same can be asked of most people who make inevitable sacrifices to work or volunteer at a not-for-profit organization. What drives them to serve and motivates them to remain?
I’d like to believe that the primary reason is love or passion, and I’m sure that’s a big part of my motivation because I love my kid a lot.
But there’s more than that at play.
When something beyond our control happens, like an unexpected, terrible diagnosis, our minds seize up and we go numb. We walk, we talk but we don’t really say anything or go anywhere. At some point that changes. We arrive at the “I got this” stage, when our feverish search for answers and information turns us into diseasapedias, armed and dangerous with more knowledge than we'll ever need. What saved me was when I finally landed at the "do something" era… I call it V day (for Volunteerism) because doing something you can control gives you some.
Organizations should reflect on this motivation in the way they recruit and retain board members and employees. Help them get to the “I got this” stage by:
Tying job responsibilities to meaningful vehicles of change
Empowering them to have a direct impact on your mission
Helping them feel they control their roles and contributions
I've learned that, while giving my time and resources helps JDRF, the organization I “work” for, invest in life-improving research, I do this job I didn't apply for because being in control of some aspect of my son’s disease makes me happier. And more productive. And maybe better at my real job?