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Conscious choice and discipline

In his book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins compares companies within the same industry, during the same time period, facing the same challenges. The great companies excelled and maintained their excellence over 15 years. The comparison companies faltered. He sums up the difference in a phrase:

Conscious choice and discipline.

Since I first learned this phrase, I’ve stumbled upon it on many occasions and in a variety of settings. I don’t hear the phrase spoken or see it written; rather, the phrase pops into mind as I observe what’s before me. Be it a child with schoolwork, challenged parents, determined youth, engaged employee, recent retiree, etc., excellence stems from sincere commitment and unwavering discipline.

Not that any one person exercises this winning combination in all aspects of life. Instead, I observe that almost everyone exercises sincere commitment and unwavering discipline in some aspect of life. That is, most of us have access to this experience, its impact, its benefits. And that is an experience we can draw upon.

So, where do you invest sincere commitment and unwavering discipline? 

It may be as simple as how you organize the clothes in your closet or care for a single, potted plant. Whatever it is, examine how this experience serves you, how it makes you feel, how it makes you whole.

Let the “small wins” teach and motivate you to take on the next thing. You know can do it. Indeed, you’ve already done it.



No thanks

As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to pause, be grateful, and affirm all the times I’ve said, “No.”

I realize that “no” is not often considered an affirmative statement. As kind and generous folks, we usually want to say “yes” when asked to help or assist in any way. Indeed, “yes” seems to leap from our mouths before we fully consider the request. It’s our default response. It feels like we’re being helpful.

Yet, every time we say “yes” to something new – a new project, new program, new responsibility of any sort – we risk diluting all the previous commitments we’ve made. To find the time and energy for even one more activity, we often embezzle energy from our standing commitments, other short-term commitments, and ourselves.

So, like a thoughtful “yes,” a well considered “no” is a strong affirmation. It affirms our family, our friends, our work, our health and everything else that fills our minds and calendars.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Serving Up Gratitude

While I was busy balancing two professional roles and preparing for a third November snuck up on me. It feels bittersweet that just as quickly as it came, fall is gone (weather notwithstanding), but I’m also excited. November might just be my favorite month, and not just because it’s my birthday month. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and this year, it’s right on time. In no uncertain terms, I am exhausted. Working fourteen hour days, as I have been, is simply unsustainable. As I noted in my last post, I have been meditating to manage my stress, but it doesn’t replace hours of sleep lost.

 Gratitude Card

Even though my long hours aren’t over, seeing Thanksgiving on my calendar when I turned the page to November reminded me of an important emotion: gratitude. When I think of what has gotten me through these past two months, it has been the small moments where I felt thankful. Every time I took a second to acknowledge something good, no matter how small, it buoyed me through the next task. Gratitude is not a panacea; it won’t fix achy knees or puffy eyes, but it offers perspective that could allow you to fulfill your commitments and reach larger goals.

Of all the things I’m grateful for, my loved ones might be the best. I have received so much positive support from the people in my life who know how hard I’m pushing myself. Everything from cards to funny memes have kept me smiling, and remind me that it’s okay to share successes and challenges.

So, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been in a new state of mind. And even though my added workload is not over, I feel lucky and proud of how far I’ve come.

Inspiring and encouraging

At ONEplace we glimpse into a variety of organizations – new, established, small, large, struggling, thriving. Regardless of the size or situation, our area’s nonprofit staff and volunteers demonstrate a depth of commitment and perseverance to address their particular cause. What’s most impressive, however, is the intricacy and impact characterizing each organization.

It’s a gift to listen to someone explain how their organization’s services improve people’s lives. I often find myself pleasantly surprised as I learn how organizations come along side their constituents, navigating systems, removing barriers, and equipping them to move on.

This is why I so enjoy our KICtalks programs. Kalamazoo Innovative Community talks provide organizations an opportunity to spotlight their particular innovation, show how it builds community, and invite others to play a part. I learn a lot about each organization and leave inspired, encouraged, and interested to learn about other organizations.

The next KICtalks is Thursday, November 12, 5:30 – 7 pm at the downtown library. We’ll hear from Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, Kalamazoo Literacy Council, and Restore Ministries. I hope you’ll attend.




Once again, a challenge arrives that stops you in your tracks. What do you do? Where do you turn

Help! I need somebody

You’re the only one in your organization who does this work – a lone ranger. Be it fundraising, communications, executive leadership, program manager – you need to talk through this challenge with someone who gets it.

Help! Not just anybody

After combing the internet, you find information. Some of it may be helpful…you’re just not sure. The more info you find, the more you time you spend, generates as many questions as it does possible answers. So frustrating!

Help! You know I need someone

Do not hesitate to contact ONEplace. We were created by area foundations and nonprofit leaders to offer direct assistance to nonprofit staff and volunteers. You face a challenge and you need to talk it through, to make sense of it, and to set a reasonable course of action. Don’t remain stuck – call (269-553-7899) or email (



P.S. Enjoy this video of the Beatles singing “Help” on British TV.

ONE Leader Development

ONEplace believes that a strong nonprofit sector is critical to the success of any community. We encourage everyone to be a leader (i.e., take full ownership of their role) within his or her own span of control and sphere of influence.

We envision a day when a critical mass of Resolute-Humble Leaders (i.e., Level 5 Leaders) is spread throughout our area, collaborating to successfully address deeply entrenched community problems. Success is not understood as solving a problem once and for all. Rather, success is a state of continual improvement in which a community admits and addresses their problems in a spirit of hope and unity.

As a catalyst for community success, ONEplace focuses on Leader Development that 


  • addresses the whole person, because we bring all of who we are to every situation
  • encourages personal integrity, because aligning values and actions energizes one’s voice and agency
  • builds collaborative connections, because only together do we bring sufficient capacity to the table


ONEplace offers leader development programs for emerging leaders at all levels of your organization. Thanks to the generosity of local foundations, all ONEplace programs are free of charge.

Highly Capable Individual – Available 24/7, ONEpages web-based resources address single topic concerns affecting most nonprofits. Our Video Series also provides convenient, focused instruction on fundraising, communications, governance, and more. For those new concerns or challenges, contact our staff for Direct Assistance with your issue.

Competent ManagerManagement Track series address knowledge and skills critical for management success, including: Supervision, Fundraising, Operational Processes, Team Building, Marketing and more. Our Peer Learning Groups bring motivated managers together to learn and grow in a collaborative environment, while deepening their own sense of passion and commitment. For emerging leaders with their sights set on executive leadership, our ONEplace Nonprofit Leader Academy offers a ten-month, intensive course in leading an organization.

Effective LeaderPeer Learning Groups provide a needed space for executive leaders to reconnect and renew themselves in a supportive and collaborative environment. In addition, new CEO’s are offered six months of free coaching to help them navigate their personal and organizational transition.

ONEplace also offers LIFEwork Renewal, a self-guided, personal development program open to all that encourages and equips healthier, happier, more productive living. Daily attention to quiet, exercise, diet, and learning, coupled with quarterly day retreat opportunities provide the framework to bring greater focus and energy to one’s work and life.

Many of the above elements are in place and a few will continue to roll out this winter. As always, please contact us with any questions.

Just ONEthing - Nov 2015

How would you like to work less, feel better, and be more productive? Over this past month, several presentations and discussions pointed to an almost magical idea that would do all three:

Devote time to self-care.

The standard excuse of “I’m too busy” is characterized by one presenter as another way of saying, “I’m too lazy.” Busy becomes lazy, when we take on too many things outside our core priorities, don’t draw healthy boundaries, and do-it-yourself rather than delegate. We put ourselves and our organizations at risk by burning up and burning out to better our organizations and services.

Beth Kanter (The Networked Nonprofit) is working on a new book focusing on “impact without burnout.” Faced with dire warnings from her doctor, she changed her habits and not only feels better but is much more productive than when she worked longer hours.

A driven workaholic, Kanter framed self-care as “part of her work” to make spending time on self-care more palatable. As a result, she feels better, “works” fewer hours, is more productive, and produces higher quality work.

Bottom line: If you’re healthy and rested, the quantity and quality of your work will improve.

Latte With Jonathan Romero

A conversation with Jonathan Romero, Program Coordinator for Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, is hard to forget. Not only because he is engaging and warm, but because he speaks from a place that is both earnest and honest. I enjoyed our conversation held at Water Street Coffee, where he explained how growing up in South Central LA shaped him, and what he gets out of living in Kalamazoo.


What is one of the most energizing aspects of your job?

Seeing how many different ways there are to help others.  Regardless of what position you’re in or what organization or institution you’re affiliated with, there’s always a way to get involved. Whether it’s a community member or a top elected official, the one thing they have in common is that all these people are working toward the common good, and everyone has a different approach.

Do you feel like your early life and education directed you to your current career path, or are you surprised at where you are?

It’s not surprising because I still have many more steps to take in my career. The work that I do is directly connected to my upbringing and the community where I’m from. My parents were immigrants and I grew up in predominantly Latino community, so the issue of immigration was all around me. Being raised in a family that showed me the values of respect, honesty, and perseverance led me to pursue an education, even though I didn’t know what that meant for my future. But my education, going to Kalamazoo College, only reinforced those values my parents had raised me with. So, post-graduation, I had a job that paid well, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. The opportunity to apply for this position at MIRC came up, and I told them frankly in the interview, “I have to be here,” that the only reason I had gone to off college was to help people, and I needed to be in this position, and they thought so, too.

What has been one of your most impactful professional experiences?

During the summer of 2011 I had the privilege of interning at the Center for Progressive Leadership in DC. This experience was made possible by the support of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. During my time in D.C. I was asked to speak about my public school experience at the Capitol.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned that I would be speaking alongside Nancy Pelosi. The event was a Roundtable Meeting on Priorities of Young Americans in Debt Talks organized by Campus Progress. It was a great experience because I was able to speak about the importance of federal monies for public education  and the impact education budget cuts can have on underrepresented students and communities.

[Check out Jonathan’s talk on Capitol Hill]

Are there many early career professionals in your workplace? Does that make your job more challenging/simpler?

There are a few other millennials in my workplace. And I think it’s helpful to see them and learn from their experiences. Actually, they’re all attorneys and recent law school graduates. And so, I’m able to see the steps they took and the experiences they’ve gone through, and they serve as examples of what I might do if I choose to go to law school. But also, I learn about their experiences as young professionals who live and work in Kalamazoo.

What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about millennials/early career professionals today?

That we’re incompetent when it comes to traditional methods of learning and life skills. Specifically, I’m thinking about our dependence on technology which is looked down upon by non-millennials in a way that doesn’t allow for millennials to demonstrate the impact our technology and social media skills can have on the work we do. For example, for a long time traditional methods of learning included subjects like math, English, science, and that’s it. There was never room for creative expression and the arts. I’ve come to learn that all that was looked down upon by community members has allowed me to thrive in this line of work. I’m able to think on my feet and improvise. And with regard to technology, I’m able to use that for my own personal growth but also the development and the sustainability of the organization.

What has been one of your most useful professional development experiences? (e.g. trainings, education programs, mentorship, etc.)

A pre-collegiate program I completed through the POSSE Foundation in downtown Los Angeles. The Posse Foundation offers full-tuition scholarship to high school students from with extraordinary academic and leadership potential. Ten Posse scholars are selected for each partner school and all have to go through the pre-collegiate program component so that we are prepared Posse scholars for leadership roles on campus and for the high-level academic expectations of our colleges. The reason why it was really helpful was because I met with nine other young students once a week for half a year to discuss different topics that would potentially come up in college and therefore impact our social life. It was really important to have conversations about religion, sexuality, marriage, race, ethnicity prior to our arrival at a predominantly white institution because those conversations came up, whether it was in the classroom, on our way to a social gathering. That experience was the most important to me because it allowed me to arrive at my own thoughts about things that affected my personal life, so I learned how to voice my thoughts without offending others, and also, I learned how to listen.

What do you get out of living in Kalamazoo that you would not or did not get in Los Angeles?

How big yet small the community is. So for those who want to get in involved, they can, and soon you learn that the more people you know the smaller the community gets. That can be a positive thing for those who are seeking to organize and want to have a positive impact on those who are underrepresented. Coming from Los Angeles where you have hundreds of thousands of people living there, to a county that only has 250,000 residents, puts into perspective the kind of change you can affect. Like when you can actually tell voters, “your vote literally counts.” As an organizer, I connect with people on a more personal level than I would elsewhere. So, connecting with people is what I get most out of living in Kalamazoo.

What is the best piece of advice you've received to date, and who gave it to you?

Someone once told me “hang by the letters, not the numbers.” And this person told me this when I was 12 years old. The context is: I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. The person who told me this had been in jail for several years, and now is in jail again. I had a lot of respect for this individual and his family because they had gone through so many hardships. So, I interpreted this advice to be “you’re a young man growing up in this community; don’t be so concerned about your age or the money you make. Be concerned about the things you do and what you aspire to.” And since that day, I took that personally and haven’t allowed numbers or statistics to hold me back from doing the things I want to do.

Which natural talent do you get to use most often in your work?

Interpersonal skills and a lot of improvisation. It’s critical for you to be able to think on your feet and read people and engage them in the conversation that you want to have, especially if you want them to listen to you and your ideas.

What's your favorite way to spend your free time?


Photo Credit:  

In an ideal world, I’d love to play soccer. I like playing forward, but as I’ve grown and matured, defense is a key position on the soccer team. And so, over time, I’ve played more mid, more defensively. Besides that, I like listening to rap music, like Nas and underground artists like Immortal Technique. I listen to a lot of instrumental rap beats by West Coast producers like Dr. Dre because the music has funk, and nowadays pop culture rap doesn’t say many meaningful things. So, soccer and music are my pastimes. Oh, and Instagram: I love taking pictures of nature, wildlife, and travel.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee?



Executing leadership

Halloween fast approaches! Pumpkin spice saturates everything consumable and Trunk-or-Treat signs compete with election signs for front lawn real estate. So I bow to the gruesome and gory and offer a gallowed twist to basic leadership practices.

Hang’em High – Put your clean & dirty laundry high on the line for all to see. Transparency is a must and leaders should be the first to admit mistakes and offer second chances.

Stake in the Heart – Plant your stake (i.e., take a stand) aligned with your passion. A misplaced stake will burn you out, and unplanted stakes mean you and your organization stand for nothing.

Firing Squad – Keep the right people on the bus in the right seats and improve or remove those who shouldn’t be on the bus. Make the difficult decision and do it compassionately and appropriately – but do it. Not taking action frustrates the people you want to keep and it holds back the operation.

Off with their Heads – Big-headed egos must go! And, the bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall. It’s not about you (the leader), and it’s not even about your organization. It’s about your cause and the collective impact you can make aligned with others who share your vision.

Leaders who execute well not only know what to do, they have the fortitude to do it.

How to Spring into Fall

Picture this: you're carrying a bag over your shoulder, and you're walking to wait for the bus. Along the way, you bump into a neighbor who asks if you would like this box of goodies because they know you'll like what's inside. You take the bulky package and continue walking to the bus stop. You turn to look over your shoulder and see the bus coming. Now you need to pick up the pace to catch that bus!

 "eastern wahoo leaves" from thingsorganizedneatly on tumblr is licensed under CC 2.0

Happy Fall! For whatever reason, fall tends to be a busy time for most of us, as new projects and opportunities emerge. The true challenge for me seems to be finding time and energy time to do what I must do, while carrying a heavier load than usual. And by "must" I am including the self-care activities that keep me healthy and grounded.

Here is what I'm trying out:

Setting Boundaries

Since everyone is busy, you may find your colleagues and loved ones asking you for assistance with this or that. If you can help, you should, but saying no is also an option. And, don't let anyone convince you that you're not too busy. We're the best experts on our own limitations.

Replenish Your Energy

I'm learning that working well over 50 hours per week is draining -- and since I have other activities on the weekend, I can't use those days to recharge. Instead, I meditate for 15 minutes in the morning, and I've adopted a bedtime routine that includes journaling. This gives me a place to store any thoughts or worries, so I can get into bed feeling calm and relaxed.

Use an App -- Or Three

My cell phone has shot up in importance because it now keeps me organized. With so many things to think about and remember, I downloaded Google Keep, which holds reminders, notes, and to-do lists on one screen. I also downloaded Stop, Breathe & Think for my morning guided meditations. Finally, I use the Reminders app, which comes pre-loaded on Apple devices, to alert myself daily to drink water. (Hydration, for me, is the key to a clear mind!)


I am having success so far and have yet to hit any major roadblocks. Check back in November for an update on my progress!