What If...

By Lakimja Mattocks

What if... When I think about going after an opportunity and taking a leap of faith, I think back to the day of the proposal. The proposal was a career transition that asked me to build something new at reduced hours and less resources. It was the day I was asked to think about a shift. One I was not in my right mind to consider at that moment. Just six very long days after the passing of a loved one. Two or three days after taking bereavement. What if there was the gift of time in that moment?  

I was at a junction with a decision to make. Choose the option of less hours and less pay with the same benefits or choose the opportunity of rest, healing and time to regroup. It might seem like an easy decision but the reality of my circumstances was very present- planning a funeral, caring for family, the possibility of not having health insurance and other life responsibilities like paying student loans. What if these damn loans were already forgiven for my 15+ years working in the public sector and more importantly, what if I didn't feel the need to have multiple degrees as a way to validate my advancement in the sector? And I don't even want to go into health care as a barrier to taking the leap, though it was a big part of my decision. Now back to the proposal. Reduced support from those who made a commitment to fund the work was a cause for the proposal, but not the only one. There was a real and present fear of tapping into the declining endowment. This made me think back to a piece written in the last edition by David McGoy. I giggle thinking about a zinger, “fuck grants”. But for real, what if we worked in fully resourced organizations that were seen as partners with those providing the funding. What if there was a greater level of mindfulness when it came to the impact of a decision not to stick to the commitment? Oh and let's not forget the accountability to those the letter of commitment was made to.    

I’m sure by now you’re thinking this is a piece about how fear was in the way of choosing rest and there being a barrier preventing me from seeking an opportunity different from the one shared, but it’s the opposite. The proposal created an opportunity that became more clear after the funeral and after tapping into my professional networks. Connecting with community, specifically my personal board of directors, helped me on the path to becoming a consultant and coach, a path I did not envision for myself.  A conversation with a few trusted colleagues opened the door to a world that I did not think nor believed I was a part of as a player, only as a manager.    

I’ve been consulting and coaching for about ten months now and I see how serving as a partner has impacted leaders and supported organizational change. Through this opportunity I am also able to see my strengths, or in coaching I like to refer to them as superpowers. They are the gifts that not everyone has that are used for the greater good of the program/team/organization. What if everyone was able to use their superpowers/special gifts in the workplace? What if those strengths were tapped into and leveraged in a way that not only makes one feel valued, but helps the organization to thrive?    

Though we did not create the system in the way in which it exists, I am passionate about working with dope colleagues to dismantle what's no longer working. One organization at a time. I am even more committed to creating nonprofit work cultures where staff feel they belong, are valued and don’t have to work twice as hard for the same pay. I am working towards a nonprofit sector where those who are receiving services from nonprofits have the power and authority to create the change they want to see in their community as a stakeholder and leader of that nonprofit.  Power to the People!   

When I think about not going back to the way things were done prior to the multiple pandemics, I think about ways to make shared leadership a norm throughout the sector. The co-executive model is one way but there are others. Imagine a sector where power does not live within one title or at the top alone. Where those closest to the mission work have the space to provide input in decisions.  It may slow things down a bit, but is that a bad thing? Just think, what if we could slow down the burnout rate for most, if not all by shifting to this framework. And let's not forget about having the capacity to fully use our superpowers.   

The proposal created an opportunity to slow down, decide how I use my time while still having my basic needs met and identify ways to use my strengths in a way that aligns with my personal mission and values. It wasn’t a full leap of faith, but it was definitely a jump in a positive direction.Through this experience I learned to utilize my community and trust my genius, it has taken me far…literally! 

Lakimja Mattocks has been a loyal nonprofiteer since 2004. Her work has focused on government contracts management, program development and management, cohort-building and leadership development in partnership with nonprofit leaders, staff and board members. She has served as a trainer, facilitator, and coach for organizations such as Cause Effective, Queens Community House, Support Center, Financial Clinic, and the Alliance for Nonprofit Management.

Lakimja earned a Master’s in Public Administration with a focus in Nonprofit Management from Baruch College, loves to volunteer in the area of College Access, serves as a member of the Executive Leadership Team of the New York Urban League Young Professionals and holds Alumni Board roles with her beloved alma mater, Temple University. She is a native Brooklynite who loves to travel abroad.