It came as a total shock.
It’s the end of the day. I’m in sitting with the finance manager and the head of human resources calls me into the director’s office. Budget cuts in our small international organization had been looming…
I float above myself as I sit down in the chair, surveying it all. I see myself sitting across from these people who I’ve known for years. I’ve seen them every day. I know their families and their coffee preferences. I’ve shared frustrations and achievements with them, triumphs and conflicts. They are opening their mouths, handing me papers, though I do not now remember the words.
The ax fell.
So much effort, so much passion, so many hours, so much heart, so much of me—seemingly disregarded in an instant.
Vacillating between resistance and acceptance, I’ve been wading through the accompanying flood of sometimes difficult, sometimes euphoric emotions since that fated day.
I never thought it would be me. Like many people working in international relief and development, it was never just a job. It was a calling. Not just a profession, but also my craft.
And so I’ve had to define—who am I now?
I’ve been working on viewing the job loss and the pursuant free time as an opportunity to discover that ever-elusive work-life balance, to explore passions and possibilities within my career and my life.
But some days, I just want an income again. I want to be engaged with people daily in a larger, shared endeavor.
If only I were Buddhist.
However, I have to say that I’m now far enough away from the lay-off to appreciate that finding and retaining “the right people” in an organization has to do more with attracting folks with particular inherent character traits rather than those with specific skills, education, or status. I believe now more than ever that being an effective development practitioner is a conscious, intentional process that takes persistence to develop one’s skills and requires a willingness to question and examine one’s own thoughts, motives and emotions. In my career, I’ve found that those who genuinely engage in this process are the most innovative, the most effective, and the most fulfilled people in our sector.
God or Buddha or Allah or Yahweh knows that being an effective development practitioner is also about finding faithfulness in the midst of the unknown. When the time is right, I know the opportunity to join (or start!?) an organization that is intentional about the culture they’re trying to create and about including about types of people can best advance the work will come.
Until then, I await the gifts from this period of my life, some days more patiently than others.
Jennifer Lentfer has worked with over 300 grassroots organizations in east and southern Africa over the past decade, focusing on organizational development and learning. Currently, she is the creator/editor of How Matters a blog site aimed at raising the level of human dignity within development assistance and putting real resources behind local means of overcoming obstacles.