Hi Folks! I’m on vacation this week and then heading back into a bunch of work when I return so my posting might be a bit sparser than I’d prefer in August. Below is a piece I wrote for SheLoves Magazine – a women’s issues/justice issues magazine that I’ve been submitting to. They decided not to pick it up this month so I figured I would post it here! Much love to all.
When I left a coveted job in Baltimore to join my husband in Houston for graduate school I remember thinking two things. “What an awesome opportunity I’ve had to work here,” followed by “I would never want to lead an organization like this.”
To be clear, I absolutely love everything about Habitat for Humanity. I began working for them right out of college and to this day it is one of my favorite charities on the planet. Families in need obtain affordable housing by working with volunteers to build their own home. Once the home is completed the family takes on a 20 to 30 year interest free mortgage and those mortgage payments help to fund other houses for other families in similar situations. After a decade of working with the organization in some form or fashion I’m not so sure I ever met a Democrat or Republican or anyone in between who couldn’t stand in support of what we were trying to accomplish.
My concerns about leadership revolved around both my personality type and my personal fear of failure. The Executive Director that hired me out of college was as extroverted and energetic as it gets. Mike had an enormous heart for justice and an unusual amount of energy and was constantly running into staff meetings or various offices throwing out ideas for building more houses. He always had another proposal forming in the back of his mind and since he so clearly wasn’t afraid to fail I felt encouraged to push boundaries too. His enthusiasm was inspiring and I always enjoyed bouncing ideas around with him and my coworkers, trying to figure out how to make some of them stick.
I knew Mike believed in me. He gave me complicated projects early on and when I succeeded over time, he promoted me. While I had innate leadership capabilities, I always knew I was different than Mike and I felt that somehow disqualified me from the top position. I’ve never been one to bound out of bed in the morning, eager to start the day. While I genuinely enjoy being with people I often find after a couple of meetings that I need to be by myself for a while to get some energy back. I wrongly assumed that to be successful I had to be a high energy extrovert.
Four years into Andy’s graduate work I found myself by an act of sheer grace back at Habitat at a suburban Texas affiliate in the same coveted position I had left four years earlier. The department head position that I had loved four years earlier opened up and with my past experience I was hired practically on the spot. Little did I know that the woman who hired me realized at some point along the way that her life was heading in a different direction and was actually looking to hire her replacement.
It took a couple of months to admit to myself that I needed to stop playing it safe. On the eve of my 30th birthday I took the interim director role and convinced the Board President to complete a search for someone else. Finally one day, Rudy took me to lunch and we caught up on all the things I thought someone else should do to move the organization forward. My previous experience had taught me so much about how to take an organization to the next phase and I intuitively knew the next steps for so much of what we needed to do next.
“Courtney,” Rudy said. “There was a time in my career when I was asked to move into a position that I didn’t want to take. I was comfortable where I was and didn’t want that to change. I went to mass one Sunday though and the priest told us that sometimes in life we’re called to ‘bloom where we’re planted.’ I took that to heart and it was one of the best decisions for my career.”
I often look back upon my 20s and consider them my “awkward teenage years.” Highschool had its frustrating moments but it wasn’t until I hit college that I started to understand what it felt like to be uncomfortable in my own skin. At 29, at a lunch table with my future boss, I know now that I was offered a rare opportunity to stick my feet on the ground where I was standing and let the wind of a new opportunity blow me around a bit. As I accepted the position I knew it was entirely possible for a hard wind or a driving rain to overwhelm me and snuff me out. It would be dishonest not to admit that truth. Yet I was also gradually aware of the fact that sometimes a hard wind or driving rain that doesn’t overwhelm us can lead to a blossoming that only a master gardener could have imagined.
On the morning of my interview I picked up my Bible and found myself in Luke chapter 9: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” As much as I hate admitting it I know more and more that hiding from life is just as much a choice to die as accepting life’s opportunities is a choice to live.
I’m so glad I took that job. I made mistakes. I was nervous more days than I wasn’t and stumbled forward to the finish line. Yet we accomplished a lot in those years in partnership with families in need of a home. I know to the bottom of me that I honored the opportunity I was given by giving it all that I could. I bloomed where I was planted. And I believe the master gardener was pleased.
Courage, dear heart.
Bloom where you’re planted.
The wind and the rain will come,
yes they will.
They just might overwhelm you,
yes they might.
But what if by some miracle
Maybe this time,
is just the right time,
to stick both feet in warm dirt.
Maybe this time,
Is just the right time,
to come alive.