I quit my job last month so that I could just be "me" for a while. In that spirit I am sharing that I'm officially available for consultation and project work. For a list of the business-ey things I offer, please visit me here. For a list of the more esoteric (and yet freakishly grounding) things I offer, please visit me here. Let's see if we're a good fit for your project or endeavor.
It's the full moon in Leo. Seems obvious to "put all this out there" today. Oh and if you haven't RSVP'd for the Full Moon Salon, get on it. I'm sending the email out to all those who RSVP this afternoon!
And so, what about the last five years? I’m not quite sure what I’m going to say about it but here goes….
After I left the science museum in 2016, I took some time off. Seriously, like a couple of months. I read a lot. I started that Salon. I went out to West Texas for a while. I took walks every morning with the dog, that type thing. At some point, a friend mentioned that she had a friend that was “looking for someone like me” and did I want to meet with her?
I don’t want to say too much about the next four months of the adventure. I may have even signed an NDA (I can’t remember) but either way, the experience doesn’t get much airtime with me. In the end it was a frustrating and dare I say “spoiled” situation riddled with paradox and contradictions. At some point I realized it was not going to work out and went ahead and applied for a cool job as Executive Director of a sweet little nonprofit. I met with the board of directors and had a contract in front of me with a decent benefits package. I asked a former coworker at the music station where I used to work for a recommendation and he literally stopped me mid-sentence and was like “Wait, you’re on the market? I need you to apply for this job we are about to post…”
And that’s how I ended up back at the public media station in a totally different job in January of 2017. And I’m not kidding when I say the job was huge. Enormous. But it paid really well and I took the gig knowing I would only last 4-7 years. I even told my boss and my staff this fact the moment I was hired. The truth is I already knew this job burned people out. Just in the time I’d been around the first time at the music station I’d seen numerous folks in this position go through a revolving door. Again, the work is enormous.
In essence, it’s raising millions of dollars and managing a decent sized team. There’s the mail program, there’s the vehicle donations, there’s the matching gifts, there’s the monthly contributors to care and feed for, there’s the digital fundraising and then there’s the on air fundraising. On three channels: the music station, the news station and the TV station which translated to ten on air fundraising campaigns a year! Not to mention the thousands of coffee mugs, tote bags and assorted thank you gifts plus the hundreds (and hundreds) of member comments and complaints. I’m not complaining though. I had my eyes open when I took the gig. And for the first few years I thrived. I fixed things that were broken, I mapped all our processes and optimized practices that were cumbersome. I got all the trains on the track and running on time. I was an enormous breath of fresh air and energy that helped everyone thrive.
Then we upgraded our database, something that almost killed me at the museum. But I worked on the team that executed that process. And then I re-mapped all the new processes because as we liked to say at the time “every keystroke is now different” when it comes to processing money and data. I got all the trains back on track and running on time again and even with all that, my department raised more money year over year while I was there.
And then the pandemic struck. I was already feeling the itch to move on after I’d “fixed” everything but when March 2020 rolled around, I knew I needed to stay. I was being asked by the universe to stay. But damn working nonstop from my dining room table was hard. Looking at little faces on screens was the new normal. I was only allowed to go to the station to be on air, whether it was radio or TV. And again, with ten on air campaigns per year across all three properties, I suppose I was actually up there a good deal.
As hard as it was, I'm so grateful for all the opportunities this job afforded me. In December of my first year back at the station (2017) I fell into a fire and burned both of my hands to a crisp. I couldn’t do anything for weeks with all the bandages, not even pee or eat without someone helping me. I was able to take all the time I needed to heal. During my tenure there it was my son’s turn to take a “coming of age trip” and he chose Myanmar. And so he and I backpacked Burma for a few weeks, all paid for no problem. I got to meet so many interesting people too. Musicians, guests on the big talk show on one of our stations, city leaders and personalities… Truly a cool place to work when we could be in the building, pre-pandemic.
But the pandemic really rustled up something about the industry that was already there. And that is the truly “ungrounded” nature of the work. Everything is “on the air” or “over the air” and when we had a building that ungrounded nature was stabilized because we had physical access to one another. We could read body language. We could have lunch. And when we all moved to work remotely, the ungroundedness was exacerbated. Now we had reduced each other to little boxes on screens. No more popping by someone’s office for a quick answer for a quick question. We lost ourselves somehow….
Not the station’s fault. Not anyone’s fault. But it highlighted (for me anyway) the ungrounded nature of the industry. I realized it’s one of the reasons why donors want the tote bags and coffee mugs. It makes the work we did real to them. And for the record, I LOVED the work we did. To provide the highest quality (music, educational, news) content available for free regardless of willingness or ability to pay for it? All the yes! Public media is a public service and I truly believe that. It’s what made me such an excellent fundraiser for the mission. (And it’s why I’ll continue to be a donor.)
But the job itself had waned. No longer was I “fixing” anything, making a difference in terms of streamlining and making things flow. No, now it was a whole new world of maintaining something that I didn’t want to maintain anymore. Other people are “maintainers” and do that quite well. I like to fix things. I like project work. I like things to have beginning, middle and end. I like creating order out of chaos. And then when it’s all “ordered” I like to pass the baton. Let someone else come in and “take it to the next level” or whatever. (Which I can do too by the way, if that’s the project in front of me.)
Anyway, the realization I had in the end, after months of soul searching, is that I need more creative work. I crave creative projects. I also need ample time to myself between projects to restore my energy to do more projects that serve. I also need to get my Voice back. When you accept a gig like this with public media, you are also accepting that they have bought your Voice. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone saying something about how they saw me on TV or heard me on the radio. It feels a bit off to be a very well known “public figure” with one message and one message only: to support public media. The fact is, it got old and I felt like my hands and creativity were tied. I didn’t really get to have an opinion about anything because I was the Voice and Face of the fundraising. That’s tricky as fuck when you feel like you might want to have an opinion about something. I abandoned all my social media accounts with hundreds of followers (thousands on one of the platforms) in 2017 and never looked back. I started new ones sharing personal content only using my pen name (Aurah) and have allowed myself this little corner of the internet, using my creative-muse name, to express myself.
And so do I miss the gig? Eh, not really. I miss some of my friends there for sure. I miss talking on the radio and TV to some extent. But the work itself? No, not one bit. I knew when I took this job that it would eat me up and spit me out like it had all the others who came before me. And it did. And I’m at peace with that. I learned a ton. I am an excellent and more refined communicator because of this job. I have no stage fright or issues with public speaking. Like, none at all. “Put a microphone in front of me and I’ll talk” I used to say. I can manage millions of dollars in terms of both revenue and expenses. I have so many positive things to say about what I learned. But when I say that job almost cost me my sanity, I mean it. That said, I left on extremely good terms and have no regrets.
And so here I am. It’s a new year (Water Tiger, baby!) and I’m ready to reinvent myself by doing something else. I have a few ideas of what that could be but we’ll see. I’ve done this many times over the years and reminding myself of my own resilience has been the exercise of this writing assignment.
During the pandemic I became a Certified Organizational Specialist and so basically I’m now trained formally in something I’m already really good at: getting shit tidy, cleaned up and stable. I might try to do something along those lines. I might even just “put myself out there” with all my skill sets and see what happens. I’m good at lots of things but I work best when I’m executing someone else’s dream. I remember having that realization a long time ago: I don’t really have dreams of what I want to do. I want to serve others with their great ideas.
Anyway, it’s been fun. Thanks for reading. Who knows what’s next but I’m sure I'll be listening!
May it be so.
Ways I've Made Money : School Years : Venture Capitalist Philanthropy, Music and Science
My Masters degree school years, all six of them, are a bit blurry. I was done with all the arting, officially, especially after I’d applied for that City art job that I didn’t get. I spread my degree out over six years because the classes are much more difficult and the expectations higher. Oh, and also the price. I paid cash for this degree and the only way I could afford it was to take one class at a time.
The same year I started my program, Eva decided she wanted to go to public middle school. We heard her reasoning, let her make the case and then agreed to let her try it out. Turns out she loved it and wanted to continue attending the neighborhood school. Jiri would follow her lead a year or so later in a Montessori school and with that, both our kids were in school!
First up during those years, I worked for a nonprofit that enlisted wealthy donors to donate money but also business expertise to small nonprofits that needed to scale in order to serve more people. I was hired to strategize and execute a conference that wealthy philanthropists and people who staffed foundations would attend to explore ways their money can make an even more powerful difference.
And wow, this gig was fun. I worked my own hours from home but with meetings all over the city with various people involved in the conference’s planning. I fundraised alongside very high profile people. I worked with a local college that had turned its football field into a garden to custom grow the food for our conference. In fact, I picked out seeds with the chef who planned the menu five months in advance! I worked with various presenters on how they would “pitch” their nonprofit business or social enterprise to a “room full of money” (like Shark Tank). I helped the presenters with their one page business plans. I managed a million moving parts and we culminated with a feast for the senses in terms of great ideas, amazing food and the profound satisfaction that the work I was doing was truly making a difference through this conference.
During the second year of the conference, I even had to move our event by one day because of a parade. What happens when an actual parade rains on your parade?
After two years of producing this amazing event, it was time for me to move on. I’d only been contracted for 30 hours a week and was eager to do something full time. A friend had told me about a very cool job at the nonprofit rock music station in town. It was strictly marketing and fundraising. I had zero radio experience and thought for sure that I wouldn’t get the gig. There had to be a million people applying for this job - seriously, it was a cool posting for a cool job that doesn’t come around often.
Soon enough I had my first interview, which went really well. And then while I was off-grid at my very first Burning Man, the station was contacting me for second and third interviews. When I got back “on-grid” I realized this. Whoops! I quickly called back and soon enough was ushered into the station to meet more people and by mid-September I had started the job!
And when I say that that was the coolest job I’ll ever have, I mean it. I even knew it at the time. It didn’t pay that well, but the other perks were totally worth it to me. I met allllll the famous touring musicians. I’m so serious. I still have tons of their cell numbers in my phone because I was their station contact in many cases. I attended all the live shows I possibly could and was notorious for giving away free tickets to cool concerts. I learned so many valuable things with that job: how to speak well over the radio, how to address a large crowd at a concert, how to fundraise in mail, social media and through various other digital means. And probably most important, how to be normal with super famous people.
Essentially it was two of us running the station - my friend, coworker and “work husband” Mark who was the program director and me. I did everything but pick music and DJ in terms of fundraising, marketing, social media, blog entries, contests, e-newsletter, concert series and so much more. The two of us were on a very long leash and with very little oversight we did amazing things. We launched a massive annual summer concert (now defunct) that attracted 10,000 people. We did wacky contests. We made music so much fun for our listeners and donors.
At a certain point, I realized I’d grown the donor base and had actually grown my job into many jobs. There were no plans to flesh out the team and so I knew that in order to take care of myself, I needed to move on. They would figure out soon enough that I was doing the work of three people. Maybe then they would staff up. (Spoiler alert: they did.)
A girlfriend knew I was restless and she told me about a brand new job at the big, brand new science museum: Membership Director. Hm. Could I even do that? I applied and I swear within a month I had landed the job and started it. It was insanely bittersweet to leave my music industry friends but to move into the field of science? Ok by me! I had a science degree after all. I love that kind of stuff.
With the science museum I had a few new moving parts: actual staff to manage (this is very different from managing volunteers), millions more dollars to raise and infinitely more moving parts in terms of the database and mailing lists. But I’m a quick learner and soon enough was meeting and exceeding all my fundraising goals.
During my time there we upgraded the museum’s database from an old, rusty one that’s no longer supported to a new, shiny, fancy system that would meet all our needs. I continued to take classes for my Masters program all the while but I’ll tell ya, that database upgrade almost killed me. I got a wicked case of face shingles and was sick for a month during that software implementation. I’m grateful for that illness though, it totally transformed my relationship with pain, my own mortality and vanity associated with the facial disfiguration I experienced.
I was finally working a job that paid fairly well and as such, I could follow through on a promise I’d made to my children years earlier: to take them anywhere in the world they desired for their “coming of age” trip but with one catch: it had to be a developing country. Eva, my eldest, chose India and we traveled for about a month together all over the northern states - from Jailsamer to Varanasi. We both fell in love with India and I knew it was important that my daughter was seeing and experiencing something different than her upbringing. India can be a challenging place!
I continued to attend Burning Man during these years, being extremely vague about it saying that I was “camping in the desert with a few friends.” The culture at the science museum was startlingly conservative and I didn’t think my staff or coworkers needed to have a mental image of me at Burning Man. I was open about all my Masters degree classes though, and plowed through my degree program during my time at the museum.
The culmination of my degree was an enormous project that would count as my final graduation requirement. I would read all fourteen Oz books, in order from beginning to end to untangle and explore all the esoteric and mystical themes within the books. This project was in total alignment with my degree plan - I’d taken classes that explored plant medicine, magic, shamanism, yoga philosophy, mysticism, meditation, silk road trading routes and so much more. I’m eternally grateful for this degree program because I could study exactly what I wanted to! I just let my own intuition and interests guide my class choices. My final project also involved going back to India, this time to Sikkim and Bengal. I wrote a massive paper about it called Unified Field Theory of Oz. I even audaciously rebirthed myself as "Aurah" during this experience.
After I got back from India this second time, I graduated (with honors!) and it was super freaking clear I didn’t want to continue to work at the museum. I’d done what they hired me to do: establish a membership program (there wasn’t a membership department prior to me), upgrade the database and generally ensure that we could raise at least $3 million per year with the plans and strategies I put into place.
I began to mentally crumble in what I fondly call my “first mid-life crisis”. To deal with how uncomfortable the whole thing was, I started a Full Moon Salon with a group of fabulous women in my living room and then finally gathered the nerve to put in my resignation. I quit that job with no safety net and no plan except to at some point perhaps go bartend. I just knew I couldn’t do the stuffy museum job anymore. I felt complete and it was time for someone else to pick up where I’d left off.
The year was 2016.
There’s one area that I haven’t gotten into much because this serial writing project is mostly about jobs and the ways I’ve made money. It's worth noting that the whole time that I’m moving through all these work experiences, I’m also making radical and profound spiritual shifts within myself. Paul and I both have “done the work” in terms of self development, self inquiry and spiritual exploration. It gets a bit into so-called “spiritual materialism” to list all the things but these things are important as they relate to how I’ve made money in the world.
In essence, I’ve gotten fussy and only want to make a difference with my work. Period. I don’t do things that aren’t actually helpful to the world or the people I’m with or “just for the money.” I’m super clear that I’m not motivated by money and am truly guided by service, a real karma yogi, it turns out. From Landmark Programs in the early 2000’s to Vipassana Meditation Retreats (several!) to Burning Man (six in total) to the Hoffman Process (which saved my life) to our own involvement with a local church during all our years together, we have made our spiritual development one of the most important priorities of our lives. In fact, it’s the key to staying married, I’ve found. To this day we meditate morning and night in our house. We both do yoga fairly religiously (I’ve been seriously studying since 2001, Paul since 2007). When I stumble onto a spiritual technology that works, I stick with it. Spiritual growth has been profoundly important in tandem with how I make a living.
Anyway, one more entry in this series left and then I'll blather on about something else, promise.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.
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