Five?!! Can you believe it?! Five years ago, I accepted a friend’s challenge to “do something” with my owl doodles. That “something” ended up being a 365-day challenge that resulted in 385 illustrations and over 400 owls (several posts had an extra or two as part of the story). I used that challenge to help me beat burnout and escape what had become a soul-crushing day job and to move on to my next big career adventure—what I thought was my dream job: working full-time for the nonprofit I had helped to found.
Short Story: I left graphic design for 4.5 years to run a nonprofit out of my home, only to be fired at a Panera without warning or cause, replaced by a friend of a board member, and left with no chance of a full-time job (thank you “confidential conversations” among friends) and no unemployment (small nonprofits are not liable in Ohio). While I’m hurt by how this was handled, I’m not angry or looking to place blame. It’s simply time for me to learn and to move on.
It’s up to me to label this a “fail” or the start of a “bounce”. I choose bounce. I will always choose bounce. What I have to work with: loads of creative ideas, hundreds of owls, inspiring friends and family that I will always make time for FIRST, life lessons that I’ll never forget, and a few plans.
And so to celebrate the 5th anniversary of my escape from burnout and the start of my next experiment in creative freedom—a “bird-day”, if you will—I will be releasing my owls to you in the form of…
- Art prints, pins, and magnets at my Etsy store (Coupon Code 5YEAROLDOWLS will save you 13% now through June 30th.)
- More art prints, home decor, & cell phone cases through Society 6
- T-shirts in my Threadless Artist Shop
- Cell phone cases, posters, and paper products through Zazzle
- Graphics available on the HungryJPEG (Everything is 20% off)
I’ll be posting new items to each store everyday throughout this month to celebrate this bird-day. I’ll share the new items here, along with any discount codes.
If there’s a specific owl you can’t wait to have released, leave a comment below, and I’ll add her (or him) to the next round of releases.
Don’t get me wrong—at first it was a true dream job! I had a supportive board and eager volunteers, and I met100s of young, appreciative girls who were learning & growing through the nonprofit’s programming. The good definitely outweighed the frustration that comes with running a small nonprofit out of my own home (Long hours, administrative reports & paperwork, budgets, putting out fires, tracking inventory, unending hours of nonprofit & business training, etc.). But, for every bit of frustration I worked my way through, there were hundreds of girls who would gain self-confidence, begin to understand their unlimited potential, and help end mean girl syndrome, which made every minute of frustration completely worth it.
And, here comes the ironic twist…On March 20, 2017, I met with the Board Chairperson and another board member who curtly informed me that the board had made a decision. They were letting me go. LETTING ME GO! The reason: I was told they were choosing to go in a new direction. I should have seen it coming (a joke that the board wasn’t trying to push me out at a board meeting, a sudden interest in creating a succession plan, board members reaching out to former employees, etc.), but I didn’t. It was based out of MY HOME (Were they going to take that, too?), and they all knew I was completely committed to the mission and core values, and that I was working on a transition plan that would allow time to train my replacement. Instead, they announced my replacement (a friend of a board member, no less) within a week. The board had decided that she could do my job in half the time, but at my full pay. It seemed quite clear that the mean girl syndrome was playing a part in this disaster.
I was furious and devastated. All that I had done and sacrificed for the nonprofit was absolutely worthless to them. I missed most of my son’s senior year, worked through numerous holidays, added my belongings to inventory when the budget was tight, given up my running, worked through two concussions (one in November 2016 and then a second one in January 2017, during a run with a new running group that I had just spoken to about expanding the nonprofit), worked until my heart decided to create its own beat (yep, that can happen)…the list goes on and on and on…
I had focused so much of my attention on this nonprofit that it had become my identity. I was lost, to say the least. Who was I without it? Could I do anything right? Was there something wrong with me? How was I supposed to support my family? Why was this happening to me? Did I somehow deserve it? How could I ever trust anyone ever again? Why did I sacrifice so much for nothing? The Girl Box was swallowing me whole and its negativity was drowning me.
I had to completely distance myself from the nonprofit. It was incredibly overwhelming to see anything related to it. I quickly purged my house of all of their belongings—I couldn’t risk being responsible for any of their stuff or the possibility with being accused of stealing. And, I really needed to focus on getting a job or relaunching my freelance design business so I could support my family.
I was failing my family—all those years of sacrificing lead to me being unemployed with NO chance of receiving any unemployment (the nonprofit was not liable) and very little chance of actually landing a full-time job. Of the hundreds of applications I sent out, only 3 potential employers interviewed me. At least two of them turned me down because of “confidential” conversations with “insiders” at the nonprofit.
I couldn’t go anywhere in public. I have gone to local stores only a handful of times since I was fired. (Let’s just call it like it is.) I have had coaches lecture me for leaving them mid-season and parents tell their daughters that I gave up on them, right in front of me. These mortifying moments were all courtesy of an announcement that went out to volunteers the day after I was fired that stated: “This week [we] announced a leadership change, as our council director, Amy Shock, has left the organization.” A previous discussion made it clear that the word choice was very intentional. In that discussion, I had insisted that the board own their choice. I had done nothing wrong and believed that they should own their decision and its consequences fully and leave no room for making me a scapegoat. I was told it would be stated as “is no longer with the organization”.
Yes, I realize that in publishing this, I could be risking future employment. Here’s the thing: While I am hurt by how I was treated, I’m not angry. This wasn’t written out of spite or to place blame. (Notice that I didn’t name names.) This was a monster teachable moment that has taught me some things I had forgotten:
Friends and family should always come first. I let relationships fade away for the sake of this nonprofit. I spent a significant amount of time proofreading and rewriting several successful grants during the most overwhelming time of the nonprofit’s year, instead of spending time with my family.
I believe that transparency and trust go hand-in-hand. “Secret” meetings are breeding grounds for gossip and distrust. If there is trust the focus remains on a common goal, issues (yes, even personality issues) can be addressed openly and honestly.
I should always remain true to who I am. The new board was focused on funding as the #1 priority, where the founding board was focused on providing the best experience to the participants and volunteers. I started to fall victim to the pressures of funding-first—it had started to silence my ability to inspire others to be a part of the cause.
I need to be sure that I trust only people who earn my trust—Not just trusting those I am supposed to trust.
I need to be a little more selfish. I need to run, spend time with friends and family, and create work that I’m truly passionate about. When I am too selfless, everything suffers.
I need to say “no” like I mean it. I can’t count the number of projects I was given that were distractions from my main job.
When I see or I am the target of disrespectful behavior, I need to speak out against it. I was snapped at, cut off mid-sentence, and forced to give only single-word answers at the last board meeting. I wasn’t the only one to receive this treatment. I should have said something when it started.
Nonprofit boards need to establish ethics policies early on. As members of these nonprofits, whether as donors, sponsors, or volunteers, it’s up to us to hold nonprofit boards accountable. We should require transparency and ethical behavior that aligns with the mission, vision, and values that inspired us to be a part of the cause by requesting and reviewing board meeting minutes and monthly financial reports. The government will only step in when something illegal has happened, not for unethical behavior. This is something I should have insisted on, but did not.
I have decided that it’s time to learn what I can from this very unhappy ending and return to graphic design as a freelance illustrator and designer. To celebrate my freedom I am releasing my owls on their 5th bird-day in the form of art prints, pins, and magnets (Etsy); more art prints, home decor, & cell phone cases (Society 6); t-shirts (Threadless); cell phone cases, posters, and paper products (Zazzle); or graphics (HungryJPEG).