Retiring My Nonprofit – But Not Myself

Last week I made the official, public announcement that I’m closing down my nonprofit and leaving the nonprofit world. Twenty-three-plus years of often 60-70 hour weeks, struggling the last few to try to get funding, and not paying myself for four years had taken its toll. Among other things.

I had a revelation a few years ago – I can help save the world and also make money while doing it. I don’t know why I thought I had to suffer to try and save the planet. But I did. 

I put myself in abusive, gaslighting work situations – I had a direct report once tell me that I made too much money and I should take a pay cut. And I did eventually! I allowed the powers-that-were to throw me out of my office into a minuscule cupboard. I let people take my work and destroy it. I am so glad that me now exists only in the past.

None of this is “bad” because I learned so much from it – the most important lesson was that I allowed it all to happen. I had no one to blame because I didn’t stand up for myself and fight for the programs and work I created. I also learned that I could have walked away. Anyone working in a toxic environment needs to leave – I knew that, but I couldn’t move on – at least not then.

Speaking at the Change Food Fest, Times Center NYC, 2016; Photo Kyle Stein Photography

Another revelation I had is that I needed to stop working so hard. I’m not exactly sure what I was trying to prove, but I could work 80 hours a week no problem – and for what? There’s still hunger; there’s still poverty; there are still seemingly insurmountable problems with the food system. Did I really think if I worked myself to burnout that I could actually solve these problems? I guess I did. Now I know I can’t.

I can’t continue putting work ahead of everything and everyone else. I now understand that I’m of no benefit to anyone or anything unless I’m healthy and happy with myself.

I spoke with someone recently who told me I was like Sisyphus in the Greek myth – I kept rolling my saving-the-world rock up a hill only to have it fall back down. I would then pick myself up, get behind the rock again, only to have it get near the top and fall back down to the bottom. Sometimes it would fall on me. Climb, fall and repeat, over and over – for years. And each time it fell back down, it got harder to push back up.

The both absurd and amusing aspect to all this is that I kept rolling that rock up the hill for years. I did it to myself. I wish I could have gotten off the hamster wheel sooner, but I think I needed to exhaust myself before I could open my eyes. Some of us have to learn through experience.

Or maybe it was easier for me to stay in denial, rather than face the fact it was time for me to move on. I was generally miserable for the past five or so years, but I feared the unknown more. 

Fortunately, none of this matters now. I’m out. I’ve sent out the announcement, informed my fiscal sponsor, and am in the process of shutting everything down. I’ll keep the website up and email active for a while, but I won’t be updating or adding to it. 

I’m nervous about the unknown I’m dancing into, and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but, in my gut, I know it’ll all be okay. And I feel an ember of excitement starting to spark into a flame. The entire world is ahead of me.

With my cross country move ten months ago, as well as my transition into a new decade and phase of my life, this is simply the next step. I’m moving closer to the happiness, freedom, joy and abundance I was born to have. 

May you all find the spark that lights your flame of joyful abandonment.

You can read my farewell message and/or Change Food’s most recent newsletter about the closing. You can also see an outline of my work over the past couple decades – I wanted to document what I’ve done so I don’t forget.

If you like what you read, please buy me a cup of tea!