Sunshine and Butterflies

I had an interesting conversation recently, with young people who felt disillusioned with the non-profit world after having the opportunity to work…in the non-profit world.

They were stuck by the scrambling for money, the disorder, the politics, and the in-fighting between seemingly like minded groups.

“I thought non-profit work would be all nice and fuzzy,” one person reflected, “But it’s not all sunshine and butterflies.”

A few adults in the group – who had experience working in non-profit and other sectors – reassured them.

“Before you get too disillusioned with non-profit work,” they said. “Remember that it’s basically the same no matter what sector you work in. It’s the same in corporations and the same in academia. It’s just human nature.”

I found that oddly…not reassuring.

If I was feeling more satirical today, I’d argue that we should emotionally scar all our young people – so they grow up healthy cynics prepared to take on whatever terrible things life throws their way. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and we do, after all, have a responsibility to ensure the strength and vitality of the generations that follow.

But I guess I’m feeling more practical today, because what I really want to know is how we can support people through these first forays into the real world. Prepare them for the “realities of office life,” as one person said, without brushing off all the ills of the world as inevitable.

More deeply, how can we all collectively – now and in the future – move towards systems and institutions which aren’t as corrupt, bureaucratic, or disorderly as they seem when you first encounter them? I can’t help but wonder if my years in the “real world” have dulled my senses to this behavior. Has some of this become so every day that I don’t think to question it any more?

No, it is not all sunshine and butterflies – not in the non-profit world, and not in life. Frankly, I am okay with that – I sunburn easily and “there is no sun without shadow,” as Albert Camus says.

But that doesn’t mean shouldn’t strive towards sunshine and butterflies. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Even if we never get there? Even if we don’t really want to be there?

So today, I leave you with the absurd – shall we purposefully prepare ourselves and our children to strive for the unobtainable? And can we avoid burning out from certain defeat?


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