Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Breaking up is really hard to do

Before I worked with refugees, I made my living in the corporate world. I had many job titles, but ultimately, I did one thing different ways: I was a project manager.

Project management is the perfect arrangement for people like me. I'm a little ADD. I'm easily--very easily--bored. I'm a big-picture person, the one who can truly see the vision and the outcome and then work a plan to make it all come to fruition. And then I need to move on. My passion does not thrive in long-term relationships.

Over the course of the past two months, I've been extricating myself from the nonprofit I helped to found 18 months ago. The decision breaks my heart every day, even though I feel a certain relief with each step that leads me toward the door. I am not a control freak--I'm thorough. I make lists and I love that about myself. I can convince other people to believe and to get on board. My enthusiasm is highly contagious.

I didn't think it would be so hard for me to walk away from this project. I can't even begin to think about how I will feel when I see the project going along quite well without me. It's going to be like breaking up with the love of my life and knowing that not only has he moved on, but that someone else is cooking for him now and she's using the dishes and kitchen items that I picked out.

This is a matter of health. In the long run, I risk doing permanent damage if I continue to work 80 hours a week. My body can't take it,no matter how much I try to will it to be otherwise. Letting go, on the other hand, is taking my mental health by the back of the head and repeatedly bashing it into the wall. It hurts. The loss hurts in a way I cannot articulate very well. I started the project out of love at a time when I was on very shaky ground immediately following The Big Melt. My stability was still in question, but with something tangible to grab onto, my mental health began to collect itself like spilled drops of mercury that always pull back together as long as they haven't been allowed to get too far away from the most intact piece.

My brain rerouted the scrambled neurotransmitter traffic and created something profound. It has changed lives and made a difference. It has brought communities together. I certainly didn't see that coming, but once it started happening, I did my part to keep the momentum going in its own organic way. But it's been killing me.

I understand what I need to do; that's intellectual. What I feel, though, is a loss that leaves me vacillating between sadness and resentment.

Because so much of the day-to-day management happens inside my head, and because the other members of our team have been so reluctant to take a leadership role, I hired a consultant to facilitate the transition. She's competent. She's amazing. We've worked together before, so she understands how I think, what the refugees need, the challenges of working with both, and how to structure a nascent nonprofit.

Today I participated in the second of four scheduled transition meetings. Throughout the meeting, I watched Kat work through the agenda and slowly guide the team members into articulating their vision, their worries, and the level of responsibility they are willing to accept. Kat is skilled in calming people while also helping them see what strengths and skills, exactly, they bring to the endeavor. I was there only to dump my brain and explain what I've been doing for the last year and a half.

Near the end of the meeting, the director of our partner agency poked his head in the door. He spoke with Kat directly and brought her a contract, articles of incorporation, and a request for proposal for a huge national-level grant that is coming specifically to fund this project for the next three to five years. The proposal was based almost entirely on the work I've done for the past 18 months. Still, the work goes on without me and I was not part of the grant conversation. Although it was appropriate, it was a lonely, lonely moment. Is this how parents feel when their kids move out?

Jamie and Kat have already been meeting without me--something I didn't know until today. It felt strange to learn that. Kat and I discussed weeks ago that the only way the group would move on would be if I just stopped working on the project. It's a concept that makes sense but feels more than a little uncomfortable in practice.

As I was leaving the agency's offices, I saw Kat, Jamie, and the director at the end of the hall. They were deep in conversation about future plans, potential funding streams, and a contract. Nobody noticed I was headed out the door, both physically and metaphorically.

For now, I need to get well, catch my breath, pay attention to my husband, and learn to meditate. Yeah, that's a totally thrilling replacement.

The project is in good hands, but I'm not sure I am. Once my role is over, where shall I go? What shall I do? Sigh. I'll worry about it tomorrow.

No comments: