How to Fall in Love Again with Your Job as an Executive Director

September 18, 2019
5 minutes

Real talk for a sec, ED. Are you still feeling the love with your job? We want to let you in on a secret. It’s totally okay if you’re not! Everyone goes through phases in their career when they feel like they’re in a funk with their job. Sometimes they stay in that job hoping and wishing that the funk will pass. And other times, they venture off to greener pastures. But there's another way—taking proactive measures to fall back in love with the role.

If you’re still feeling the love for your organization but not so much your specific job, we want to help you change that. You can fall in love again with your job as an Executive Director. Today, we’ve got five strategies to help you reignite that spark and put the pep back in your ED step.

Make time for the real work

We know you’re a busy boss. You’ve got a million meetings this week, an overflowing inbox, and your own projects to work on. It can be a lot for anyone to manage. But if all of the busy work and meetings got you feeling down about your job, make it a priority to protect your calendar. Block off times that are meeting free and for the real, interesting work you love doing.

And if you feel anxious about focusing on your own work for a few hours, we want to offer you this little test. Try logging out of your email and turning off phone notifications during that time, knowing that you’ll get back to everyone later in the day. When you do check your email again after that block of time, ask yourself if there were any real consequences for not returning emails ASAP. Spoiler alert: there’s probably not. Need a little help focusing? Apps like Freedom and browser extensions like Self Control can you help block out distractions so you can make the most of your "me time".

Learn something new

The tenure of EDs tends to be higher than other types of nonprofit staff, meaning you might be in your role for many years. Just like anything you do 5 days a week for years, things can start to feel a bit stale. But there was a time when the role was new and exciting to you. You had to learn the ropes and figure out a few things. You can apply this same principle to add some zest back into your job by challenging yourself to learn something new.

Even if you’re a veteran ED, there are undoubtedly new industry trends and skills that you could add to your knowledge base. Do a little research and pick one thing to dedicate some time to. You can also try something non-work-related that'll give you a boost, like learn the new flower arranging style called Freakebana, or try out acrylic paint pouring.

Ask for what you want

Look, we all have a list in the back of our minds of what our super ideal job would look like. Maybe your current ED role feels like a far cry from that. And yet, there are probably a few small changes that could make a difference and help you feel the love again. Give yourself some time to work on a list of what you want in your job. Maybe it’s an extra week of vacation, $50 to buy some new office decor, the ability to work a flex Friday every other week, or extra money for professional development. Get creative and think about what would make you happier, then ask for it.

Set up a time to meet with your board chair and talk to them about one or two things from your list. If this doesn’t coincide with your annual review, build a case as to why you are deserving of what you’re asking for. We’re not saying you’re not, but your board chair will probably want some justification.

Make a “stop doing” list

If there are certain aspects of your job as an ED that are getting you down, we’ve got just the exercise for you. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, offers this thought experiment. “Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you've inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease and you've got no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?”

The last question in this experiment is so fascinating to consider and you can bring it into your work life. You could reframe it in the following ways:

  • If you knew you were only going to be ED for one more year, what would you do differently and what would you stop doing?
  • What’s holding you (your team or your organization) back from making massive progress? What do you need to stop doing?
  • On a weekly or even daily basis, what tasks or projects do you see on your schedule and wish you could just stop doing?

Now we know this is a bit of an aspirational list. You may not be able to stop doing everything, but we’d be willing to bet there are at least 1 or 2 things you could stop doing today that'll help you love your job.

Become a mentor

When you got the call with the offer for your first ED job, you were probably feeling over the moon excited. You probably also had moments during those first few months that felt overwhelming. Times when you could've used a mentor in the trenches. Mentors are a great industry resource for people at any career stage. One of the benefits of being a mentor is getting to tap into that excitement you once felt about your work and share it with someone else.

Local associations or regional groups may have a formal mentorship program set up. You can also set up your own mentorship opportunity by reaching out to your network with the offer to be a mentor. Let your contacts know what skills and strengths you have, how frequently you’d like to meet with a mentee, and what kind of mentee you think you could help.

Executive Director, we know your work is hard. You’re at the top of the leadership food chain at your nonprofit, leading the charge for an awesome mission. We’re cheering for you and we want you to know that you deserve to be in a job you absolutely love! These five strategies are a starting point to reignite your passion and love your job again.

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