Welcome back to work, you sexy Jedi unicorn

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write-593333_960_720My friends in the nonprofit sector—most of you are probably returning to work this week after a well-deserved break and are feeling “blegh.” Our field can be unrelenting, and even during the break, I know many of you were still answering emails and sending out year-end appeals. As you look at your calendar and the innumerable items on your to-do list, you may feel the urge to crawl under your desk and hold your knees while rocking and weeping. No one would think less of you for admitting today—and many other days—that you desperately wish to be back on your couch binge-watching Jessica Jones or Narcos on Netflix while eating an entire bag of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos. It is OK. Most of us are feeling crappy today, and some of us look crappy to match our moods. You are not alone.

But take heart, for you are a sexy unicorn who uses its horn of equity to stab injustice in the face and help build a beautiful and vibrant community. Take a look in the mirror. Damn, that is one good-looking nonprofit professional. How do you manage to look so stylish in that Ross “Dress for Less” shirt, you stunner, you?

Yes, this week is rough, and I too am thinking of inventing a time machine, going back in time, and preventing my parents from meeting so that I wouldn’t have to be at the office today dealing with all this backup paperwork and taking out the compost that SOMEBODY should have taken out before the office closed for the break.

But remember, the world needs you, and the work that you do matters. This work is difficult, and even the unlimited access to free hummus and pita wedges that is the hallmark of our profession feels like scant reward for the hours we put in and the increasingly deep lines carved upon our incredibly attractive visages. Sometimes the challenges we are trying to solve seem so complex and insurmountable. And often, especially on days like today, it seems the world does not understand or appreciate what we do, and that carpal tunnel we are developing, along with the one twitching eye and the graying hair and the occasional night terrors, are not worth it.

But do not underestimate the importance of your actions. We are told to be the change that we want to see. That sounds majestic and heavy with significance. It makes us think of leaders like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. But remember that behind Gandhi there were people filing paperwork and opening mail and collating meeting minutes analyzing financial statements. Behind MLK there were fundraisers calling donors and entering names into databases. Behind Nelson Mandela there were those who attended meetings and collected surveys and stapled stuff and made snack runs. These small actions, the stuff we do every day, are critical; change cannot happen without these seemingly mundane daily tasks. The meetings we attend are the fertile soil in which the seeds of change may thrive; the reports we write are life-giving water feeding the roots of justice; and the emails we send—vital kilobytes of sunlight nourishing the sprouts of equity.

So today, it is OK to feel like crap as you stare at your email inbox, at your full calendar, and at your hopeless to-do list. But do not tarry long in the depths of post-holiday-break despair. Remember that your work is essential and everything you do matters to the kind of community all of us are trying each day to build. And just as importantly, remember that you are a good-looking, smart, talented, hilarious, and charming unicorn whose work makes our community stronger. As R. Buckminster Fuller said:

Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” 

So have courage and pride. By coordinating programs, delivering services, analyzing data, setting meeting agendas and herding cats, planning budgets, updating websites, ordering supplies, emailing donors, rallying volunteers, writing grants, and the hundreds of other mainly-unappreciated things you do, you are bringing balance and harmony the world so urgently needs. And your work is more important than ever, for winter is coming, and you are a Jedi unicorn holding back the ice zombies of injustice. You are an awesome, sexy Jedi unicorn.

Now, if anyone needs me, I’m going to be in the supply closet, where I keep a mini-bar.

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  • Courtney Sorrell

    You are amazing. That’s all. 🙂

  • Flora O

    Thank you so very much for this. You know exactly what we all need to hear.

  • Traci Brewer

    This made my day! Thank you!!

  • TGAJen

    THIS^^^^ It’s like you read my brain, right down to the Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.

    • TGAJen

      Also, I found this over break and decided to make it my tiny office mascot to help me remember that I am a super awesome nonprofit unicorn.

      • You won’t believe this, but someone gave me that EXACT tiny unicorn today when we met for lunch!

  • jahphotogal

    Needed this today!

  • hivalb

    Thank you Vu! I needed this today.

  • Diana Burrell

    I needed this today! Thanks, Vu.

  • Kim Simmonds

    The world of non-profits leaders needed this today. Thank you.

  • John L.

    Thanks Vu. I’m a recent convert to your unicorn world and it was good to start the new year with just a little encouragement.

  • Lorraine Thomas

    You’re a wizard, Harry. Thank you.

  • Ann Heilman

    that was hilarious and perfect. I love the way you write.

  • Kat

    This is one of your best, I believe. Thank you for lifting me up today, my horn was feeling a little heavy.

  • Lori Coffey

    Thank you, Vu! I will come back out from under my desk, knock off the silly weeping, and get busy replying to emails and thanking donors. It helps to know I’m not alone! 🙂

  • Alaina

    I needed this; thank you! I was feeling this exact way last night, and I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

  • Whitney Morris

    How did you know this is what we needed this morning!?! Thank you!

  • Janet Hamada

    Thank you so much, Vu. As I looked in the mirror this morning and saw my haggard face and my increasingly grey hairs, I couldn’t have imagined you’d write the perfect post. Happy Gregorian New Year to you!

  • Nailed it. Thanks, Vu!

  • Rhiannon Orizaga

    Vu, not to brag, but some of us in Portland, Oregon have such icy roads that we DO get to stay on the couch with Netflix & Doritos! Actually, I was really looking forward to the first workday of the new year today, but it’s not safe to venture out!

    • Lillian Karabaic

      And some of us in Portland were fundraisers that had to work through the end of the year and are now enjoying a snow day on the first day of our scheduled break! 🙂 Hello from watching people slide around on Burnside while inside sipping coffee at Heart.

      (And okay I’m writing my campaign wrap-up blog post but that’s ALMOST like taking a break.)

    • Tarn

      Whereas on the other side of the river, we are slip-sliding back to work. Hearty stock, these Vancouver-ites! No rest for the weary! (The staff of our equivalent nonprofit over in Portland are at home happily crunching the artisan equivalent of Doritos and I gotta say I’m a little jealous!) This encouraging post was very helpful, thanks Vu!

  • Alison Alfonzo Pence

    Who had a break? Not I! This job really sucks today.

  • Dawn Veillette Diana

    “. . . that carpal tunnel we are developing, along with
    the one twitching eye and the graying hair and the occasional night terrors” –
    so true!!

    Thanks for this post.

  • Judy Gray VanEgdom

    I am currently unemployed, as our nonprofit folded. I agree with everything said, except that we NEVER had a break. We only had Christmas Eve, Day, and New Year’s day off. We celebrated at noon on NY Eve with our seniors. And too many meetings have too many people that don’t need to meet, but…..

  • Amy Lamborg

    Thanks Vu! If we are Jedi, you are our Yoda. Perhaps your last sentence should say “If need me you do, in the supply closet I’ll be…”

  • les_is_mor

    Thanks for the much needed reminder, Vu.

  • Becca

    Thank you, Vu, I needed this today. Going to try to best to make a dent in my overwhelming to-do list!!!!

  • BCoo

    Some of us run a all volunteer nonprofit without pay. We feel overwhelmed every day

  • Adam Pingot

    What is this break you people are talking about?

    • RHoban

      It’s the break I forced myself to take so that I could maintain my sanity!!!

  • Sharron Corle

    Thanks for the great post and reminder!
    “Every one of us is building a human cathedral. In our interconnected world and global economy, our work transforms the lives of countless others. Sometimes the impact is obvious: Managers and executives directly inflect their employees’ happiness and career success. But everyone, in every industry, affects the lives of co-workers, supervisors, customers, suppliers, donors or investors. How often do we spend our morning commute thinking consciously about how to make their lives better through our work? What if we made this as routine as our morning coffee?”

    Read more in the op-ed “Rising to your level of misery at work” by Arthur C Brooks (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/arthur-brooks-rising-to-your-level-of-misery-at-work.html?_r=0)

  • Falon Alo

    Just as I was about to crawl under my desk and cry I decided it was time to open this email and give myself a minute. Thanks for the much needed laughs!

  • Patricia Garza

    YEEEEEEES! Thank you, thank you!

  • Thank you.

  • Brenda Hillhouse

    Well, I just love you! Thanks for the cheerful inspiration!

  • Kantchu Reed

    High five, you!

  • Alisha Johnson

    I LOVE YOU, MAN!!!!

  • S NV Nonprofit Info Ctr

    Happy New Year Vu,
    No break for us here in the library either. I did manage to gobble down THREE entire boxes of Earth Balance Cheddar Cheese squares while watching NYE bowl games. 🙂

    Back to the endless “How do I start a nonprofit? What’s the mission going to be, you ask? I want to end war and have world peace. Can you show me how to get grants by next Tuesday?” as I silently scream like in an Edvard Munch painting while trying not to laugh out loud.

  • Kilomarie Granda

    Thank you…I so desperately needed to see this today!!

  • Jamie Strachan

    Love it. I am going to keep telling myself ‘I am a sexy Jedi Unicorn’ and don’t care if anyone can hear me 🙂

  • Kelly Damon Higgs

    Thanks Vu! You always know just what to say to lift the spirits and inspire us. Happy Tuesday!

  • Upendo

    Vu- this is just what I needed to return from a glorious seven days off- Upendo

  • Sophia Katt

    Congratulations on your Chronicle of Philanthropy 40 Under 40 win, Vu! https://philanthropy.com/article/forty_under_forty_profile/234731

  • Minna Jung

    This was a very bright spot in my return to my nonprofit communications job. Lots of crap hitting the fan, but now I have a new mantra: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I’m a sexy Jedi unicorn determined to do right…”

  • Melissa Anahory

    Love this thank you!

  • Yma Johnson

    I really needed this. Thank you so very, very much.

  • Frank Menhams

    Who are you? and how did you nail that so well?! My first peek here, thanks to my indescribably (sp- I know) resilient manager of our NP garden… Brilliance, lighting up the sometimes dark passages that we choose to traverse in order to serve, and uplift our people…Thanks again….

  • Jonas

    Great Stuff! I also use a great inspiring song like “Metallica – Nothing Else Matters” to start the to-do-list!

  • Carol Anne Wilson

    I think the world needs more random acts of kindness directed toward people who work for nonprofits. Maybe Hallmark can start a new holiday — Jedi Unicorn Appreciation Day.

  • Really needed to read this….thank you!