Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
1 Corinthians 9:9
Nonprofits seem to operate in their own strange sphere in the world, some alternate reality that for-profit and governmental agencies remain almost entirely unaware of. It has taken me quite a while to figure out how to live in this parallel world; maybe the air is more rarefied, or the water a little bit purer, or the nutrients a bit more nutritious. Whatever the reason, I found myself slowly adapting to my new environment. Now, after 6 months with the Bicycle Alliance, I think I can quantify what I’ve come to appreciate about working there.
- Diversity. “What?” You may ask. “How can you say ‘diversity’ in an organization run almost entirely by white, middle-class baby-boomer women?” It’s true that if you take a superficial look at the Bicycle Alliance’s staff, it does seem to lack a certain breadth or depth. Yet each of the staff brings her (or his) own experiences to the organization and those contributions run the gamut. Name it and one of our staff people has probably done it. Plus, the diversity of people who walk in the door astounds me on a daily basis. I’ve started saying “You never know who’ll walk in,” and it’s true — working in Pioneer Square means interacting with everybody from homeless men to hot-shot tech people to everything in between. The vibrancy, the life, the variety of perspectives continually astound me.
- Passion. It’s quite true that people don’t work at nonprofits for the money. You have to truly care about the nonprofit’s mission in order to stay and succeed. At my old corporate job, we had no common bond, aside from “It pays the bills.” At the Bicycle Alliance, when we sit down for lunch together, we all have the shared love of bicycling drawing us together. Regardless of our differences, we all firmly believe in the importance and value of bicycles as a transportation option in the future, and we believe in making that a reality.
- Cool. I mean cool in the relaxed sense, the hakuna matata sense, the sense that although we’re all working hard to achieve important goals, we aren’t killing ourselves along the way. It means we’re taking time to go for a bike ride on a sunny day. It means that timing vacations just right isn’t really that important, but that having a relaxing time and coming back rejuvenated is. It means that I know if I wake up one morning and cannot drag myself in for love or money, that’s OK. Nobody’s going to flip a lid because I didn’t show up. It means that we’re having a favorite cinnamon roll contest and everybody will bring in a delicious offering. It means we can take time for personal concerns and not worry about an angry boss looking over our shoulders. It’s working to live, not living to work.
Those are just a few of the reasons I love the Bicycle Alliance. I’m not sure how I’ll go back to working a boring, cubicle-bound corporate job after my AmeriCorps tenure ends. Fortunately, I’ve learned another beautiful thing about nonprofits, which is summed up neatly in this exchange from Shakespeare in Love:
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre [my note: read “nonprofit” here] business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.