Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans

Twenty years ago, when my mother died, I read John Lennon’s famous quote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” It struck me hard enough that I put it in the signature line of my emails. It’s one of those quotes that is a very real truism: We make plans, but life often has its own plans. Sometimes the two might align, but often life has its own direction. We can either fight it or flow with it, and that’s where I find myself as I write this. 

Back in late October of 2023, I found myself spiraling deep into the depths of exhaustion and burnout. The culmination of several years of intense professional tensions, unresolved grief at the sudden death of my father in 2020, the fluctuating hormonal stew of being a woman in the throes of perimenopause, and life. I looked fine until I wasn’t, but upon deeper reflection it was clear that I had been a slow-moving train wreck for a while. It took lashing out verbally and emotionally at the one person aside from my kids and grandkids whom I was least likely to intentionally harm to realize that I was not okay at all. 

I stepped back from life for a couple of weeks and realized I was exhausted and a few days of good sleep wasn’t going to cut it. Then out of nowhere, like an answer to an unspoken prayer, I received the invitation to the Radical Sabbatical retreat for BIPOC women leaders. But, how could I go? I couldn’t afford to spend $7,000 unexpectedly on a getaway, no matter how much I needed it. A colleague jokingly suggested that I crowdfund to raise the money. Initially, that felt wrong given that so many are struggling, but I decided to give it a try. I really didn’t expect to raise the money, but life proved me wrong. 

The Black Girl in Maine community plus personal friends and associates came through, and the money was raised in a little over a week. I paid the down payment on the retreat and bought my plane ticket to San Juan, Puerto Rico, even using some travel credits I had to upgrade to first class. Relief was on the way. Then I decided I would use the retreat as a segue into taking some more time off and go visit my son and grandbabies (including my newest grandbaby born in November) in Tennessee. After all, I have eight weeks of PTO annually and I have not taken any real time off since 2020, when I took several months off when Dad was dying. It was set; it was a plan. I told my staff that I would be gone, I told our incoming new board of directors at Community Change Inc. It was really going to happen. 

Then life did what life does and threw some curves. The transition to a new board took some unexpected turns, and our year-end fundraising did not take off. Given that we are going into our third year of a deficit budget and dwindling reserves, let’s just say that these are not minor things. 

The day that I was going to make my final payment for the retreat, having received all the crowdfunding cash, it dawned on me that at the current rate of how things were going, there was a chance that I might not be able to attend this retreat—or, if I did, I would end up needing to actually work on retreat to ensure that I and my staff would continue to have jobs since a bad fundraising appeal and dwindling reserves means no longer having the ability to make payroll. Which effectively would shut down CCI after 56 years. 

I agonized on what to do but decided to reach out to the organizers of Radical Sabbatical since the catch was that the registration fee was non-refundable. (after a certain date) In other words, if I couldn’t attend because I was busy trying to keep myself and others employed, the money that this community raised for me to attend the retreat would be lost. Which personally wasn’t acceptable to me. 

The organizers were gracious and understanding. After all, this retreat is for BIPOC women leaders and stories like mine are not unfamiliar to them. That’s why they created a space like this. The organizers were concerned that given the real organizational issues that I am facing that I would not be able to fully be present. No shit; that was my concern too! They gave me a few additional days beyond the deadline to assess the financial and board situation before paying the balance of the retreat. 

I agonized over this decision because I felt this sense that I was going to be letting down the 100+ people who supported my need for rest. At the same time, I have a team to take care of as well as my own need to stay employed. Feeling the weight of being the steward of this historical organization, I prayed and meditated for an answer until it became clear to me. The timing of my plans both for the retreat and an extended visit with my son were not going to work, I needed to start working on a Plan B for an extended fundraising campaign. 

The Radical Sabbatical organizers were great—they are planning to offer this retreat again in 2024 and my name is at the top of the list of attendees for their next session and, aside from the initial deposit and airfare, the funds are still intact for being able to attend their next session. 

As for CCI, I called in the cavalry to assist with fundraising and the founder’s granddaughter is working with us. CCI meant the world to her grandfather, Horace Seldon, and it will not die on my watch. As my daughter pointed out, I have been at CCI more than half of her life. This isn’t just a job; this is my ministry. We are kicking off a more intense fundraising campaign that will be run until we hit our goal. We are at 20% of our goal, with this year’s programming nailed down—including our spring symposium which will feature some old-timers and newcomers in the anti-racism world, including Tim Wise and Debby Irving. 

Failure is not an option. As I told my staff at today’s staff meeting, our boat is in rough waters, but a captain with integrity never bails on the crew. That said, how am I managing my stress? 

Daily meditation for one—as soon as I wake up—and exercise almost every day. I am also no longer working on weekends or Fridays to ensure that I have some balance in my life as I get through this. I also am going to see my son and grandbabies, but it will be a two-week trip in the last half of February instead of a full month, during which I will work as needed. 

None of this is what I planned nor what I necessarily wanted. After all, I am sitting on almost 24 weeks of PTO, but that means nothing if we are at risk of closing. Especially because this new board is composed of people I personally asked to join me in stabilizIng CCI. To be clear, our woes are not just a CCI thing—other similar organizations are facing similar funding challenges. The shifting-away of interest in anti-racism work combined with the economy, geopolitical climate, and overall fatigue are factors. 

Writing this has been hard. I really feel like I am letting down my friends but ultimately, once the decision was made, it’s what felt right in my soul. I am at peace with it, knowing that once we get through the next few months, then I can relax. Knowing that I still have the opportunity to experience Radical Sabbatical at a time when I can be fully present with it. Instead of working in my room and being half-present.  Thank you to everyone who answered my call for help to relax. Your kindness and generosity mean the world to me. Please know that I do not take your kindness or support for granted, especially in these hard times. At the same time, balancing the needs of a small and struggling grassroots organization with my personal needs isn’t easy. In a larger organization, I might have had the staffing to take the time off and really enjoy it, but that is currently not my reality. But just knowing that I will be able to do so—albeit a bit later than originally planned—means something to look forward to. Knowing that when I finally get there, I can truly relax.

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