When I was in my early 20’s I worked for a naturopathic college in Seattle, Bastyr University. I worked in adminissions, an entry level job, and one of my tasks was to listen to the answering machine and transcribe into our database the messages left from people who wanted to attend school. It was a taxing tedious job one that would be much easier now with things like Google forms and online registration, but back then it was practically a full time job.
After I transcribed the messages, and they were entered into the database, I’d print labels either for a thin little prospectus or a denser college catalog that would then be mailed (after I printed the stamps on our mailer) and put the labels on the items to send.
I might get upwards of 50 messages per day, sometimes more depending on the season. It was tiring work. Mundane. The kind of work that could seem mindless and pointless (and did at times) but I found a way to hook into the work. The leader of Bastyr was a visionary leader named Joe Pizzorno and he led the college into a university, and from a small space in Seattle to a larger one in Kenmore Washington. Because he was so passionate about where he wanted the college and the field to go, I realized that I wasn’t just a cog, but a conduit. I was mailing not just a potential college career to someone-I was furthering the interest in natural medicine. In 1993, there were maybe 2–5 states that had any legality around the practice of naturopathic medicine. You couldn’t always find herbs and supplements in your grocery stories except for places like Seattle, and you rarely could find a trained and licensed ND.
At the time, I figured that for every 250 people per week that got a prospectus, 10 would actually fully apply, and of that number, 500 yearly applicants, maybe 50 would enter the program and those 50 would then launch practices and heal and help countless folks in the Pacific Northwest over a 25 year career.
The other 12,000 folks who received the materials might have decided on a different type of healing path, or perhaps they just supported the promotion of natural medicine. I worked there nearly 5 years so that’s about 60k people that I sent information to, and maybe 600 practitioners that went through the program.
Now, I know I didn’t personally inspire them to get involved in natural medicine. And I didn’t create the college, the curriculum, the training. So my impact was…minimum. But when I’d sit at big staff meetings, Pizzorno framed the work we all did in such a way that even the most tedious process felt important-like I had a role to play. Better still, while I was working their those five years, I wound up meeting most of the people who had called and left an initial message. I still know a few on FB, and they are indeed healing and helping people, still working in the field over these past 20 years.
I also wound up going to one of the schools at that University to get a masters. And part of that training was in leadership. To be the leader that inspires and creates something that lasts and can help diagnose systems to make them healthier.
Bastyr started in 1978, on a wing and a prayer, and now they have two campuses, one in Washington and one in California, and the Washington clinic has seen over 34K patients since the early 1990’s. I think back to those years where I was labeling and labeling and mailing and data entering, and think….maybe I made a difference in a world where now nearly half of the states in the us are either licensing naturapaths or pushing for licensing. Where those physicians are currently healing and helping.
One of the things I”m trying to get to here is that I’m a mission based worker. If I can see a clear path from A to Z (and an underlying reason for that path and purpose that I connect into) I can get to work. I want to see that what I did, no matter how small, played a part in the bigger picture.
One thing I’m not very good at yet is painting the big picture and then just…leading. In being the face/visionary of the product/process. I’m scared a lot of the time, and I suffer from that “I’m not good enough/smart enough/trained enough yet” to launch a…..Thing. It feels so so arrogant to be like…THIS IS A THING THAT I THINK NEEDS TO HAPPEN. Like, did Joe Pizzorno feel insecure and filled with doubt but he did it all anyway? I never experienced him like that, but then I was quite young. I just felt the truth in his beliefs, the goodness he wanted to put into the world, and I followed. He made it easy to follow him.
Most of the people that I’ve “followed” always seemed confident in their mission and in their actions. Like their Thing needed to happen so get in line and let’s make it happen. I’ve been a fan of #yogawithadrienne for example, and her leadership is so calm and collected and kind. She even gets me to do yoga, not an easy feat. Her Thing, like so many others I follow, seems so natural and confident and needed in the world.
When faced with my Thing, I usually experience an inner monologue such as…”I THINK this is a good idea? Will you join me?” Maybe it simply feels that way to me, and looks differently to others. Perhaps I look confident, too. I mean…I’ve launched a lot of things with wonderful compatriots. Ladies Are Funny Festival ran for 6 years and featured comedians such as Sara Benincasa, Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, Reformed Whores, Selena Coppock, and many others. It was a space specially for women identified people and those who love them to create and express.
And BedPost Confessions for instance- we’ve produced for over 9 years, curated at least 150 shows over that time, and in 6 cities, with over 200 artists and audiences now numbering into the thousands. We have had several one-person shows born out of work developed on our stage, we’ve had marriages and kids come out of our community and people involved politically and so many listeners to the podcast….have we helped the world and in what way? Would we ever really know? Is it important to know? I’d say yes because for mission based people it seems important to know that something is actually working…but perhaps that’s just arrogance.
I suppose that work is “leading,” but it often feels like falling down a lot, stumbling, and wondering what kind of mess we might be making. I wonder if Joe Pizzorno felt like that, or worse, with so many employees and students taking a huge risk on a type of medicine that wasn’t nationally legal to practice. I bet he did. He probably didn’t sleep much at night, I mean let’s be real! But, look how it paid off.
What is the point of this?
It was an odd year, 2016? Do we need to go over why it’s been a weird terrible, awful, horrifying year? I’m coming up on a 25 year mark from those days back at Bastyr to where I find myself today. I feel mission-less on a certain level. I’ve been lost the past year or so. Maybe longer. Yeah, probably much longer, even if it doesn’t seem so. At the same time though, I feel a sense of calling (sneaky, shy, coy) that grows stronger every month and that combination of lost and hearing a call creates a tension of ridiculous insecurity that says…you aren’t prepared enough to do…the Thing, whatever it is. Like a game of hide and seek with a friend I know inimately but not at all, with simple rules that I’m making difficult through my own fear of risking.
What comes this year, I guess is the point.
Is it applying my ability to hold space and create transformational events in my new city and region? Is it centering individuals more in a smaller and more personal way? I’ve had people tell me to run for office, I’ve had people tell me to go to seminary. I’ve had people tell me to DO more. More what? What is the Thing? To lead? To lead what and where? Don’t I need to go to school first? Maybe I should just hold space for other leaders? That feels much safer, to be honest, less risky, less arrogant certainly.
The Thing is the Thing, the compass. And with commiting to that Thing comes risk and responsibility, fear and anxiety. My god, why do people do it?
Because it’s the Mission. And if you choose to really accept it and lead, perhaps nothing, large or small, from mailing prospectus to changing the world, is impossible.