EP 22: When Willpower Isn’t Enough: Cultivating Personal Growth

May 18, 2023

Show Notes

“When we choose growth over perfection, we immediately increase our shame resilience.” – Brené Brown

As nonprofit leaders, we know that personal growth is a key ingredient to being able to serve our communities well. 

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let guilt and shame drive us away from achieving that growth.

So how can we overcome obstacles and foster personal growth in the face of adversity when willpower is just not enough?

In our latest episode of THRIVERS, Tucker and Sarah explore the next normal of personal growth and how creating the conditions for that growth is a more effective solution than just “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”.

They discuss their own experiences, sharing insights on how they have navigated difficult situations and the mindset needed to push through. Throughout the episode, they touch on key aspects of personal growth and perseverance, such as:

  • Recognizing and embracing the challenges that life presents
  • The significance of having a growth mindset and being open to learning
  • The role of self-reflection in understanding our own strengths and areas for improvement

Join us for an engaging discussion on personal growth, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles in this episode of THRIVERS.

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Sarah: Welcome to THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I am your host today, Sarah Fanslau. I am the Chief of Impact at THRIVE IMPACT, and our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we wanna connect you with impactful, mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape. So usually I am joining Tucker, and today Tucker is joining me, but it is your same old duo, Tucker and Sarah. Tucker, so good to be here with you.
Tucker: Good to be here with you. It was so fun hearing you do the intro this time. I loved it.
Sarah: So fun. Well, Tucker, today we’re gonna talk a little bit, I think, about the idea of personal growth. And before I ask you our typical first question, just curious like what comes up for you as you think about this concept of personal growth.
Tucker: Hmm. What comes up for me just right off the top of my head is, what are things in your life that give you energy? That are a resource to you versus demand on you? You know, what kind of things in your life help you learn quite literally help you go deeper into something. That you maybe didn’t have the time to historically, but you really need to, that maybe helps your work or helps you grow as a leader. You know, so things in my life I can think about, like everything from gardening, which is literally something that gives me energy. But actually, I mean, I can’t tell you how many gardening metaphors I use on a regular basis because I garden. It actually is very helpful from a literal leadership development perspective of like what that means for leadership. To courses, to retreats, to communities of practice, things like that.
So that’s a lot of what comes up for me is those types of things.
Sarah: Love it. Love it. Well, let’s jump right in. I’d love for you to share: what are the pains or issues leaders–nonprofit or otherwise–might be experiencing regarding personal growth? Like what’s coming up for folks?
Tucker: Well, you know, we were reflecting on this, Sarah, and I was thinking about, literally a recent experience and I’ll speak to my pain. Actually, that I was going through. We at THRIVE IMPACT are part of an incredible community called Xchange, full of very conscious facilitators who we’ve learned a lot from. It’s embedded deeply in our work and has helped us to create even more impact in how we facilitate. I’m saying that because in that work, I’ve been a part of for a while. There were some dear friends of mine who were in that community who created something called “Conscious Leaders Quest.” So they basically wanted to create a retreat based upon the work that we embed deeply in our work around Dr. Daniel Friedland, conscious leadership, and really the mindfulness-based practices to be able to grow in conscious leadership. Instead of being in reactivity, we’re in more creativity and consciousness in our brains.
So these guys, I’ve been a deep part of that work within Xchange and some of these people and my friends had put together this retreat. Well, a couple months ago, they reached out to me and basically said, “Hey, we wanna sponsor you to come. We want you to be here.” It’s in Costa Rica, which I’ve never been to before. This is not like a cute little… I live in Colorado so I love retreats up in the mountains, but it wasn’t like drive for an hour and go up in the mountains with my friends. This was a full week. It’s out of the country, literally. After the first time that I remember Peter Katz, my friend, pinged me. I really felt very honored, but I actually also felt really guilty, and I was trying to just unpack that and like, what’s going on here? I feel really guilty around, “Why do I have access to this and other people don’t?” I felt guilty around… and by other people, I mean nonprofit leaders that we work with. By guilty, I meant my own team. By guilty I meant, my own family. I mean, it was like the guilt just kept layering and layering and layering, and then also I felt bad in the sense of the good old fashioned regular pressures of being a CEO and of an organization and we have a lot of momentum right now at THRIVE IMPACT and we don’t wanna stop that. We wanna keep pushing on the gas. And I was like, oh, timing. I mean, I just hemmed and hawed, but I only hemmed and hawed to myself. You know, and I just like sat in this pool of guilt for a while. Because I feel really connected to our mission. I think some of the pains that nonprofit leaders deal with around this there’s… and this isn’t quite the level that we are at in terms of what some real deep human services organizations are like, where if they literally take time off, there’s a feeling that somebody could die. But it’s still, that starts to translate though, in terms of, if I take off, what does that even mean? What does that mean for the support that I personally and our team provide for nonprofit leaders? I think to me, the pain primarily is the word guilt, like straight up. That’s what I was experiencing. I’m just sharing from my own lived experience of guilt on so many layers and so many levels that really actually ended up being isolating to me for a while, that I let it be isolating to me, frankly. Because I almost even felt guilty to reach out and ask you, Julie, and our team about it. You know, it’s like, oh, I don’t even wanna. So, that was what I really experienced, around this particular opportunity of going to Costa Rica on this conscious leadership retreat basically. For an entire week in the middle of all the things we have going on, plus I have, I have four kids too. That puts a strain on our family. Means so many things. So…
Sarah: Yeah. So it sounds like some of those pains, and then for you specifically is around you have an opportunity to go grow. It’s the question, “At what cost?” It’s hard to answer that question by yourself. A little bit, it sounds like. You think of all the costs instead of sometimes, the rewards, or for you personally, it feels like the costs felt greater than the rewards until you could talk about it with other folks.
Tucker: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s like the… I don’t know if they were real costs or they were just like, perceived costs or they were… At the end of the day, if I end up going on this, is a nonprofit leader gonna say, “Oh, look at you. You get to go to this fancy….” I mean, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a potential cost. Perceived cost. But definitely.
Sarah: Well, so you know, as we think about, we often ask about what the next normal looks like of things. I’m curious, we all live in a world where resources are scarce, especially in the nonprofit sector. As we have people whose life literally may rely on us doing our work. What is the next normal of personal growth in this context when there’s more to do than there are resources to do it? Like how do we do this thing?
Tucker: Well, we’re big Brené Brown fans over here. I mean, we use a lot of her research and her quotes. I was listening at one of her Dare to Lead podcasts that she did a little while ago with… I’m forgetting the name of the lady that she interviewed, but it was about the immunity to change and it was some really deep research around what really helps people to change and the thing that emerged from me around this in particular, was… Renee even had a kind of an “aha” moment and there was a two-part podcast. She even had an “aha” moment around that. Really the only frame that we have mostly for change, especially personal change is, good old fashioned, New Year’s resolutions, pull up your bootstraps, willpower basically. I was thinking. Especially as I was listening to that podcast and as I was reflecting on this particular situation that I have literally right in front of me is that, frankly, willpower is just not enough. In fact, we count on it way too much and they talk a lot about this in the podcast too, and being able to go through some of the process that allows you to have an immunity to change. I’m not gonna go into that because I won’t give it justice, but go look it up. Brene Brown and Immunity to Change is a fantastic two-part podcast series.f I mean, this has been generally speaking, not just around personal growth, but in general for me, around my own form of leadership is I’ve got to continue to let things off. I put things on my back, I just hunker down. Part of that’s my old survival mechanism as being a scrappy, entrepreneurial type of person. That served me at one point, but it’s not gonna keep serving me. And arguably, I would say that that’s a short amount of time that that may serve people. Really the next normal of this particular piece is not relying on willpower, but actually creating the conditions. If I go back to my gardening analogy, creating the conditions that allow for who I am to actually be that plant that grows effectively. By conditions… to me it’s the moment that I reached out to you and Julie as well. Which are essentially my two right-hand people on, our team along with Allen. Then we have you know, a bigger team, but was like, instead of me, hemming and hawing and sitting in my own cycles in my head and feeling guilty that I even had this opportunity. I didn’t even say yes, and I still felt guilty. Like, I just had this guilt, and realizing that I don’t know what to do here. Even if I did know what to do, I probably should still co-create with you all anyway. When I brought that forward to you and to Julie, both of your responses to me individually were basically like, “Wait, why is this a question?” I was like, “I don’t know why this is a question.” It was just such a helpful response. Even if that wasn’t your response, even if you were like, “Let’s really think through the specifics of this.” Which you ultimately were, right? I mean you and Julie both did that but the first response was, “No, by the way, this is our mission, to solve non-profit leader burnout.” It was like a helpful reminder back to me that I need even, even a CEO of an organization that literally our mission is to solve non-profit leader burnout. I need conditions around me that help me to remind myself that this is what it is. It’s the conditions, and the structure, and the trust with my team that allows me to do that. And so I did that. I came to you and we processed through some of those pieces. I went to Julie, and processed through some of those pieces, especially from an ops perspective. On top of it, Julie’s also my wife. So that was a twofer there for me, not only as our Director of Operations, but also my wife. It was really helpful to just get it out, first of all, and to just process through it. Then it was ultimately like this was a lighter week for us anyway. Why would you not do that? Then Sarah, you had the example, and I wanna bring your story in here too because you’ve had some personal growth lately too. I mean, you’ve had a lot of growth in general, I think, but particularly around something that came up for you that you’re like, I’m gonna do it. It was a course that you took, which took time off of all of our calendars because it was on our… It was on a Monday and a Tuesday, and Monday is a big, internal day for us. You were able to like, make those steps. And I’m curious just to hear from you. If you don’t mind, would you tell us a little bit about your journey around this story or this survey course that you took and why that was so important? Not just because of the survey course itself, but like what were the conditions in the Next Normal, if you will, of the nonprofit leadership that you had here that allowed for you and brought you forward to be able to actually just take that course?
Sarah: Yeah, well, for sure. Before I share my story… I think your story highlights, I think, attention many people have just in the day. You know, if you’re a parent with a job or even just a human with a job without kids and you have other people that you’re accountable and responsible to, taking time away from them can bring on guilt. Just straight up and dealing with that and processing through that is really important. But especially as a leader or anyone really in an organization, being able to think through that question of like, “Hey, I have an opportunity. Is it worth it? Does it a value add?” And how do I figure that out and how do I figure out that out with others is a really important thing. I think what you highlighted is that having a conversation with others really helps to bring that cost-benefit more fully out. Because for me, I just looked at the calendar and I said, “Well, we don’t have anything big on that week. Why not?” Like, that was the cost-benefit for me. Like, if we had had four workshops on that week, I would’ve been like, “Man, I don’t, this sounds awesome, but I don’t know. We already have things scheduled.” But we didn’t. Which means why not? So for me… as you know, I’m getting my second master’s degree, and as part of being back in university, one of the perks is that you have access to so many other opportunities all the time. In some ways it’s so unfair that people not in academic institutions don’t have just opportunities to learn like this. It’s crazy that we silo these to people just in higher education. But anyway, there’s an evaluation institute that happens at Claremont every three times a year actually. I had been waiting to take this particular course, last session. There had been some conflict for me, and I can’t remember what it was, but this time I looked way in advance and I saw the dates and I put a hold on my calendar like probably three months in advance, honestly. Before I even knew if I was gonna be able to get the discount I wanted to get in order to be able to pay for the things, to take the course. And so I finally… I think for me, one of the things is, I knew taking this course was gonna have a direct impact on the work that I did. With THRIVE, right? We do a ton of survey work and really knowing that deeper and better. It was just, for me, it was like this is an additional piece of knowledge that I just need to do the work effectively. And so for me if that question is just straight up, yes, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a no-brainer to invest in. And then, I was asking the organization for time, but not for money, to do it. And so we were able, I was able to say, “Okay, I’m getting this as part of my degree. I need the time here.” It’s gonna directly translate into benefit for the organization. I blocked it off early, which meant that we weren’t gonna put conflicts on the calendar. Right. That may have made it impossible. So I think for me, just knowing that this was, this investment was gonna directly benefit the organization made it feel really clear to me. I think there is a difference here. Taking a skills-based course, many people are gonna say, sure, that’s a no-brainer. Going on a trip to Costa Rica, people may be like, well, is that? I think the thing here to know is that, Based on what each person needs and where they wanna grow. Like the things look different. So often we have been raising up skill-based as the only type of professional development that folks get access to. Now that was great because that’s what I wanted at that time. But for you, it’s a different story. I think part of this is being open to looking at growth in a different way through a different lens.
Tucker: Totally. Yeah. Well if there’s one area that I’m growing it is actually how do I not go up in my head and strategize all the time, but actually go down. I think about our dear friend Dr. Yvette Miller with the Red Cross, and how she said, “We’re not gonna neuroscience our way out of this.” She was basically like, we need to go downward. So to your point, this is, it is actually a skills-based type of program, just not like a course. It’s like growing deeper in the deeper ways of conscious leadership, basically. Which has a direct correlation. But to your point, they look all very different and helpful. I’m also thinking too, Sarah, around your particular story, what was it about—I know that you have values yourself around this—but what was it about our organizational values? That helped to speak into this or even our mission, like was there anything around that was helpful that you even tied back to yourself? I don’t know if I actually… I don’t know if this is true or not, and if it didn’t, that’s totally fine. I’m just kind of curious if there was anything around our organization and our values and what we say we wanna lean into and learn into that helped you to keep moving those?
Sarah: I mean, definitely the excellence value. I think that’s one of our core values and that definitely for me you know, drove me wanting to do this course for sure. Because it’s an additional skillset I think that we wanted to bring into the team and make sure that we had in our repertoire. So I would say that value definitely led to that. For this course, I didn’t feel any guilt, honestly, about taking the time off because I knew it was gonna have a direct impact on our ability to do our work better. I had planned in advance so that it wasn’t gonna impact the team and I think those two things for me, as I think about if a leader’s sitting there hemming or hawing over whether to take an opportunity, For me, those are a few of the questions I would ask. Is it gonna directly impact your organization’s ability to do better? That might be about you being a better leader. And if so, great! Go do that. And two, have you planned so that your absence isn’t gonna affect others or put more work or stress and strain on them? Now, sometimes to answer that question may be yes, and like you’re, you still need to say yes. Doing whatever you can as a leader to mitigate the stress and strain that you’re putting on others via, I think, advanced planning and just communication really helps… I think goes a long way. Well, and then the final thing for me, I will say, is bringing the learning back. I think that’s one of the most important pieces for me when people go and invest in themselves so what does that mean? And how can you share that? Yes, in a way that lifts all the boats.
Tucker: Yeah. And having explicit time. I know we do that in some of our monthly check-ins or we actually use this podcast many times for bringing the learning back too, of like, “No, this is seriously what we’re learning.” Well, and I also… I was grateful also for an opportunity like… We received donations in to help support our THRIVER Community which are small community-based nonprofits. I will say this, that part of the thing after talking with you and Julie, I also felt a lot of energy around like, we need to make sure at least one of our THRIVERS is able to come and be a part of this. We were able to work some stuff out so that Beth Roalstad was able to come. She’s an incredible nonprofit leader in Colorado Springs. Shout out to you, Beth. I’m proud of you for just, you’re doing such incredible work. I’m grateful that Beth is gonna be able to join us next week, for this particular retreat. She had a similar process. It ended up being a little bit more spontaneous for her because it ended up being somewhat last minute but in her case she… I won’t tell her story for her. Maybe we’ll have her on the podcast to explore what she even learned from this process and from this retreat afterward. I was just really proud of her for taking some of those steps to quite literally take care of ourselves. Because I think that we just don’t do that as nonprofit leaders. We live in this scarcity space we live in, like resources are too thin. We live in the, “It’s never enough, so therefore I just always have to keep grinding.” Yet when we create, and we know this based on the data of our work, that when we create the spaces for pause, some of the better parts of us start to come alive and which makes us better leaders, which actually helps us.
Similar to what you said at the very beginning, burnout is the enemy of creating positive change. Burnout is not your friend and part of not burning out is by creating the spaces for you to do this. Not using your willpower to just force yourself together.
Sarah: You can’t just keep putting one foot in front of the other all the time. So I think the last question or next last, what is made possible for a nonprofit leader and those they have influence over if they adopt this Next Normal, what’s possible? You just spoke to a little bit, but curious if there’s anything else there.
Tucker: Well, I think I just keep getting back to the power of co-creation.
I mean, I am consistently amazed at how helpful co-creating is for humans. Meaning really getting out of isolation. Meaning like, I don’t know. I hemmed and hawed for like a good solid month and then Peter kept texting me and I’m grateful that Peter did that. Then it was once I reached out to those who this affects, who are my closest people in my life and in my world, and co-creating of like, “I don’t know what to do about this. Will you help me think through it?” What’s made possible is no more burnout, quite frankly. Not that this particular retreat is an example, or your survey course as an example, was like some right silver bullet to get rid of burnout but I mean, Sarah, when you came back from that survey course, I mean, you had this like extra skip in your step. You had energy from it. It was noticeable. It was cool. It was like, oh, she is… And, I’ve seen in all of our design calls and all the things that we do around facilitating, I mean, you’re bringing this learning in and every time you do it, it’s like this extra little like, oh yeah. I love it. And by the way, a little plug for Sarah, if you haven’t listened to our podcast, which is gonna be a series now here soon about Sarah’s survey course because it’s very relevant to all of you out there, nonprofit leaders who are evaluating impact, which you should be. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong. Anyway, just a little plug for that podcast. You want to go check that out about surveys and Sarah’s learning from that survey course. I think what’s made possible is we have more energy, we’re able to actually be more clear-headed. Then again, the power of co-creation is just getting out of isolation. We’re not meant to be isolated. This is just one more example of ways that I created isolation for myself, not realizing it. Until I was like, “Wait a second, what am I doing here?” So I think what’s made possible is frankly, no burnout. We’re able to create impact from the inside out quite a lot.
Sarah: Well, and what the other thing I think is true here, especially for some folks maybe not as much for you because you’re more of an extrovert, but I think the other thing that happens with nonprofit leaders around leadership development or just going to access growth opportunities is that feeling. I definitely felt it before my survey course of, “I gotta go meet new people. I have to be in an environment I don’t know. I have to take a risk. I have to write…” And that’s the other thing about learning is that it can be scary sometimes. So I think the other thing that happens is we get comfortable in our little bubble. In the bubble of our organizations and in the bubble of the people that we know. The other thing that learning does regardless of what it’s about is that it forces you to open up to new people, new ideas, new ways of thinking and doing things in a way that for some folks feel, like maybe for you, feels totally comfortable and for some other folks feels less comfortable. Just like identifying that tension of I’m gonna go learn something and that feels scary to me is I think an important thing to notice in oneself. Because that may be holding what’s holding you back. You know, is that fear?
Tucker: Yeah, that’s really good. To be honest with you, I have… I know the people who are facilitating this whole thing, but I mostly know what I’m getting into-ish. But it’s definitely… Again, I’ve never been to Costa Rica. I’ve never even done a retreat like this. I’ve never gone out of the country for something like this. I mean, there’s a lot of new for me, even in this. So there’s a little getting out of my comfort zone too with that, which again helps me to get, totally get where I need to go.
Sarah: Totally. Okay. What are some practical steps a non-profit leader can take around personal growth? What do they do?
Tucker: Well, I think part of it is, to find things that you want to learn into and to grow into. I mean is—I loved your story, Sarah—is get ’em on the calendar as quick as you can and then co-create with your team around them. I also think too, this is a way of you setting if, especially if you’re an ED or lead a team this is a way of you setting an example of why this is so important. That you don’t have to be the one that’s sacrificing the altar of the mission while everybody else goes and takes their vacation or their personal growth opportunity. I think one of them is lead by example. Quite literally. Get stuff, find stuff that you love. Be a part of communities that have opportunities like this—this came to me because I’m a part of a community—and just do it. Get it on the calendar. If it’s not on the calendar it doesn’t exist. So get it on the calendar and co-create that with your team and make sure that your team is doing it too. Also think in your budgeting process, in your impact forecasting and budgeting process, like absolutely put money in your budget for professional development. It is a… we know this from all the work that we do. It is absolutely a worthwhile investment. To let people explore and define and it helps them in their journeys too. So put money in your budgets around professional development. Don’t skimp there. Because it’s very quickly and easily the place that gets skimped. He goes, “We’re just gonna sacrifice ourselves.” When actually logically doesn’t make any sense. We know, but from the data it really doesn’t make any sense. It’s actually burnout is the enemy of creating positive change. So don’t, don’t let your team burn out.
Sarah: Yeah, I love that. In addition to putting dollars in, I mean especially for small nonprofits, if you can’t put dollars in, at least let people know they can take some time, I think, is the other thing to do. Because there are plenty of free webinars and learnings and things that folks can take advantage of. So if you’re a nonprofit who has $0 to spend, you can let folks know they have a number of days over the course of a year or a quarter to take the time to go learn and to ask them to put it on the calendar and really make it part of folks’ performance plan. What do you wanna learn this year and how do you wanna grow? Because we should all be accountable to that with each other, I think for the organization.
Tucker: Yep. Love it. So good.
Sarah: Great.
Tucker: Well, Sarah, thanks for the interview today. This was fun.
Sarah: It was so fun, Tucker. Thanks.
Tucker: I like you being the host, you’re a way better host.
Sarah: Thanks for joining us, folks. We’ll put some links to some things, including the podcast that Tucker referenced in the show notes, and then invite you to identify your next opportunity for professional growth and learning and hey, tell us about it. We’d love to hear about it once you do. Thanks so much.
Tucker: Thanks, everyone.