When To Stay, When To Go (Part 2)

The original post by this title, which I wrote back in September, offered tips for deciding when it’s time to leave a town or city and move somewhere else. Aside from things like “Do I expect this place to remain physically and economically inhabitable?”, most of it comes down to a balance between, “Am I able to make a difference in this place?” and “Do I mesh well enough with the prevailing culture to not burn myself out or end up isolated and lonely?”

Recently I’ve been facing the “When To Stay, When To Go” thing with some organizations I belong to, so I thought I would write a Part 2 post for that.

Some observations, in no particular order:

– Even an organization that takes a strong stance on something (for example, a church that has care of the environment as one of its tenets) can have members that either don’t really care about that thing, or else their way of caring looks very different from mine.

– A person who does more work for an organization generally has a better chance of exerting a strong influence. For example, the person willing to shop and cook for the neighborhood-watch dinner will likely get to have more of a say in the menu, and also in the setup and cleanup process, including (for example) whether the group uses single-use plastic or stainless utensils, than a person who does little or no work. So, if I’m dead-set against the use of disposable utensils and napkins, I’ll have a better chance of making a difference if I’m contributing labor or money (not just voicing my opinion).

– If I silently quit a position and/or an organization without talking to anyone about what’s bothering me, I might well be losing out on an opportunity to make things better. I might be abandoning a non-vocal faction of people within the organization who share my concerns and priorities. For example, maybe there are other people in my neighborhood group besides me who would love to spend less time looking to government to solve our problems (harping on code enforcement; griping about our city leaders; etc.), and more time coming up with grassroots actions such as setting up a land trust to buy vacant, absentee-owned homes and free them up for occupancy by local residents.

– Longevity counts for something. If an organization has been around for 30 years, and my stepping down would become the last straw, leading to its demise, I as a caring citizen would want to resist the temptation to resign in a huff.

– One person’s opinion can sometimes seem to color the whole tone of the organization. This can make it feel hopeless to try to make a difference. But the opinion of one person, no matter how strong or high-up he or she might be, is not the whole organization. I have often been pleasantly surprised when I took time to ask various people how they felt. The compost thing at my church is one example. I thought for sure everyone was dead-set against it, but it turned out many are in favor and we just need to tweak the system to appease the folks who are concerned about bugs and germs, and the ones who just think the compost barrel is ugly. (Maybe we can paint some flowers on the barrel or something.)

– Sometimes your goals and values change, and you’re no longer a fit for an organization even if it’s a fundamentally sound organization with a worthy mission.

– Organizations made up of people who genuinely like and respect each other, and convey this in their interactions with one another, are far more effective than the other kind. One, they operate more smoothly. Two, more people are likely to be attracted to join them.

– Breakups (be they with organizations or with people) often seem to happen unnecessarily, or at least prematurely. And the usual cause seems to be that someone chose to walk away rather than take the opportunity to try and work things out.

– That said, life is short. There are only so many hours in the day, and we have only so much energy and patience. If you find yourself woefully identifying with phrases like “tilting at windmills” and “spinning your wheels,” it might just be time to leave.

I’ll keep adding to this list as things occur to me. If you think of anything I should add, send it my way. And I hope you find Part 1 (linked above) useful.

And, I dug up some additional reading on this subject for us:

When you know it is the right time to leave an organization (medium.com)

How to Leave an Organization when You Are the Leader (chron.com)

Can This Dysfunctional Organization Be Saved? (AskAManager.org)

True Tales of Dysfunctional Boards (Joan Garry blog); and from the same blog, I Will Never Join Another Board. Never.