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.
Periodic updates and observations from Aurah in the Field.