Next month we hit an important milestone for Awaken, the anti sex trafficking organization I co-founded. It was in May of 2011 when we first received word that we were now a legitimate 501c3 organization recognized by the IRS. I think back over those past years to all that I have learned, the struggles and heartache I have felt, and the amazing accomplishments that we have celebrated. As an organization, hitting the five-year anniversary mark is monumental and often unheard of in the nonprofit world. The Census Bureau has found that after five years, only 45% of all new establishments were still around. As I consider this statistic and how Awaken could have just as easily been apart of the 55% to fail, I think of what has been most influential for me.
The best advice I could give to a new start up would be to never lose focus of your vision and mission. Write down now what it is you hope to accomplish and why it not only makes a difference in your life, but also in the lives of others. Make sure you note any internal and outside confirmation you received before you started. When times get hard and life’s circumstances seem overwhelming, you will need to remember why it is you do what you do. Awaken was started on a foundation of prayer, where God laid out what His plans were not only for us, but for His city. This is something I often need to go back to. It instills a renewed sense of focus in my mind and can sustain me through the seasons where it seems like everything is going wrong.
I have also learned to stay humble and be faithful. Two of the harder characteristics for me to uphold, yet so necessary for a good leader. I am the first to apologize and admit when I am wrong. I have found that there is much grace to be given for those who say “I’m sorry”. There are occasionally consequences for my actions and I try to do everything I can to ensure I will not make the same mistake twice. I am transparent with my staff about things I have done well and things I wish I had done differently.
Awaken has also become far more than a job, it is a passion, a calling and something that has grown to become an extension of my life. The girls and women we work with are not only friends but have also grown to become my family. We laugh together, cry together and learn together. As I think of everyone involved in Awaken, the mentors, case managers, counselors, community members, etc., if it wasn’t for the hearts of everyone involved, we would not still exist. The biggest difference for me is heart.
And finally, we celebrate! Every accomplishment, however big or small, deserves to be celebrated! We celebrate everything from birthdays, sobriety anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and babies. If there is a reason to celebrate, we take advantage of it. Celebrating the small and large achievements help give us hope and encouragement for the future. In these moments I have found, I gain more clarity and are able to relax and have my heart renewed.
This week, journal and share with a friend what makes you come alive. If you don’t yet know, start by writing down all of the things you enjoy doing and see if any one sticks out more than the others. And after, celebrate!
PC: Keep Calm