Lessons Learned: Know When to Fold ‘Em

I was raised with the idioms, “work smarter not harder” and, “when the going gets tough the tough get going,” ringing through the air. The neighborhood where I spent my teen years was full of entreprenuers, some more legal than others, but all determined to get theirs in a difficult situation. All that is to say that the hustle comes easily to me. That’s why closing CommonAction was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Faced with the option of continuing to dig an economic grave for myself and continuing to live a dream, I had to face the reality that sometimes the smarter thing to do is not to work harder, and sometimes getting going meant getting gone.
LESSON THREE: Know When to Fold ‘Em The legacy of a lifetime of serice has left my heart in a right place, full of the pulp of social justice and the vigor of righteous indignation. These are attitudes that put some people off and turn others on; they challenge the indifference pumped out in popular pedagogy by giving us a diverse narrative, one that isn’t reliant on consumerism or classism to determine relationships to power and authority. However, they also create a stubborn emphasis on fighting against aggressive failure, which hounds many of us who come from “challenging” backgrounds. What happened to CommonAction was neither aggressive nor swift; rather, it was a death of a thousand blows.

When the foundations who’d promised to materialize failed to in the early days of the organization I should have taken heed. When the contracts cleared and checks were sent but programs failed to sustain and adults lost interest, I should have noticed. When allies and colleagues who’d sounded determined failed to support I should have reacted. Instead I let the cards tilt and the machinations rust, allowing the house to tip and the machine to fall apart.

Nonprofit leaders have to know when to call the game, either for a failed program or a dieing organization. This is a grim reality that was ironically shadowed in my life, as I was watching the DVD collection for the HBO series Six Feet Under throughout the last year of CommonAction. I don’t regret folding, and I don’t regret starting the organization; however, these are lessons learned. This is the third of four postings.

2 comments

  1. Not a lesson to which I ever learned but then I had that gift
    from my Brother of that Est Training….so here I am Adam but
    one of your six to which so follow
    you and your ongoing passion and
    insight to so give voice and empowerment to youth.

    Help is on the way….

    Keep on keeping on.

    Still hold that the future holds
    a process building on that first
    conference call of the past.

    As you know the one key value and
    my draft business plan was to never
    give up. Try on a King/Chavez Legacy Team yourself in but one city in Washington, State and if not this year then in 2010.

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