Is It Really All About Me?
Ah, September, my favorite month of the year. My birthday is September 22nd and it’s a special day. It falls on either the first day of autumn or the last day of summer, depending on the year. I share my birthday with Scott Baio (whom I loved in Charles in Charge!) and — as my husband will never let me forget — Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, among other celebrities. Still, September 22nd has always been my day, in fact, I always considered September my month, though at least 15 of my friends and family also have birthdays in September. I’ve always felt special on my birthday.
Enter September 22, 2006. I was 9 months pregnant, due to pop in just 7 days — I was huge. My husband was graduating with his second bachelor's degree. I spent the day shopping with my mom for a gift and card for him. We attended his final portfolio presentation and then headed off to meet my in-laws for a celebratory lunch before his ceremony. Most of our friends’ and families’ comments to me that day were, “Wow, you look like you’re not going to make it to your due date!” Or, “Are you getting excited/nervous/ready to get it over with, etc.?” I’m sure a few of them wished me happy birthday and even gave me a gift, though that’s not how I remember it.
As I sat wedged into an auditorium seat watching my husband graduate, my feet ached, and I had to go to the bathroom for the umpteenth time that day. I slipped off my shoes to rest my feet. By the time the ceremony finished, my feet had swelled so much that I couldn't get my shoes back on, and I had to walk around barefoot before I could squeeze my feet back into them. I was miserable. We then went to dinner to celebrate my husband’s graduation with friends. No cake, no ice cream, no over-enthusiastic servers singing happy birthday. As I ended my day and waddled to my bed, I thought to myself, “I didn’t even feel like today was my birthday.” I wondered if my days of celebrating my birthday had come to an end, and I felt sad.
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The next year didn’t seem like it would be any better. My church held their annual carnival on the weekend of my birthday. I was in charge of the Indian Fry Bread Booth, one of the busiest booths. Not only that, I was preparing for my daughter’s 1st birthday party on September 30th. Needless to say I was busy; I didn’t even care to celebrate my birthday. I had decided that it was no longer about me; my birthday was not as big of a deal as it once was — and I was ok with that. I was even ready to relinquish my hold on the whole month of September, and I felt happy.
I began to realize everything else that was going on around me. I was upset with myself for not enjoying my husband’s graduation, for resenting the whole event, and for not expressing more to him how proud I was (though I’ll always blame that one on hormones). I admitted that, yes, the coming birth of my first child was more significant than my turning one year older. I now enjoy serving at my church’s annual carnival and feel good about contributing to its success, rather than being upset that it always falls on the weekend that I want to celebrate my birthday. Most of all, I cherish my daughter’s birthday. My birthday serves as a reminder that hers is getting close, and I’m more excited about that than I ever was for my own celebration. I used to think 2006 was my worst birthday ever, now I realize that it was the best birthday I could’ve ever had.
What does this have to do with nonprofit work? Well, I’m getting to that! I learned it’s not about me — when I make it about me, I can often times be let down, seemingly by others, but really by myself. When I focus on myself, I lose sight of what’s important and the quality of my experience, and the experiences of those around me, begins to diminish. This lesson translated into other parts of my life as well. When I volunteer, donate, or help someone in the nonprofit sector utilize the NMI classes the Center offers, I can step back and realize how I am benefiting others, and I’m overjoyed.
Opening my eyes to the people around me and realizing that my work is helping an organization fulfill their mission is so much more rewarding than having my name mentioned in a monthly newsletter or receiving a thank you card in the mail. I suppose it’s a simple lesson of selflessness, though sometimes the simplest lessons are the easiest ones to overlook. The difference that I can make, or the success that I can help create, is no less significant if I’m not recognized for it, and that’s what’s important. That is what it’s all about.
Sarah Hipolito is Program Coordinator, Sr. of the Nonprofit Management Institute at the ASU Lodestar Center. Prior to her work with the Center, Sarah coordinated youth programs within the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix for six years. She remains an active volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul Church, serving as a high school religious education instructor and is also a choir member at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Glendale.