Monday, September 13, 2010

Keeping my feet on the ground

("...and I don't go to sleep to dream")

Thinking about money again.

In my non-abortioneer job, we've been working hard to finish a proposal for a bunch of money that would enable organizations in low-resource settings to prevent death and disabilities due to unsafe abortion. (If you're curious about this, the immediate strategies are [a] averting unwanted pregnancies, [b] improving the quality of abortion care, and [c] training health providers in how to treat women presenting with complications from unsafe abortions.)

So yeah, big grant proposal means late hours in the office trying to figure out what the donors want to hear and how we can use their money for the things we specialize in, writing the perfect proposal that will win their hearts, and trying to negotiate the budget section and which partner organizations will get what-size chunk for how much work. Sometimes in the midst of all the math, I wonder how all that hypothetical money went so fast.

I also marvel at the higher rungs of the wider not-for-profit world -- from CARE to the American Cancer Society -- where salaries seem comparatively luxurious and the projects move comparatively slowly and the schedules seem like they're mostly meetings and luncheons or something. Sometimes it seems like the institutions all around me are wordlessly shuttling me in that direction, too.

It's what I was afraid of the first time I left my job in a clinic and thought I might try policy or advocacy -- that there'd be less interacting with the people I'm trying to be there for, more isolation at a desk hoping that my abstractions might do something useful like increase contraceptive access a little or reduce wait times for post-abortion care a little.

At the same time as your goals are getting more abstracted, you're also trying to "advance your career" so you can have more responsibility, help formulate goals, or make a unique contribution... And to be very honest, sometimes it's too easy to think of earning power as shorthand for getting somewhere, and that can make you accept others' values as your own, forget what you came here to accomplish, or in some other way lose perspective.

I'm not saying I'm sure my own perspective is perfect, only that on the other hand it's quite simple to keep on track when I am working with clients directly. It reminds me what matters right now, keeps me humble about all that I still need to learn, and gives me a healthy outsider's view of the weird process of trying to find a place for myself in the inevitable hierarchy.

In my imagination the thing I really fear looks like me sitting at a desk pushing paper -- stressing about donor-pleasing language, navigating five different colors of "track changes" in a document, going to an endless string of meetings to plan work that will always be postponed for more meetings -- not seeing any concrete results that make people's lives easier, and managing to make money off it. And that's another reason I love being an abortioneer and don't want to trade for an "easier," "better," or "more important" job: to me those other jobs seem like none of the above. will I pay off my grad school loans? (The question that makes the world go round, right?)


  1. Speaking of Fiona Apple.. Here's a wonderful, accidentally pro-choice quote by her

    "Nothing that you do will ever feel good if you let people convince you that you have no choice." — Fiona Apple

  2. Thank you, thank you. Just know there's many of us out there feeling the exact same way!

  3. On the other hand, we need people working in these "paper-pushing" jobs who really *get it* and see the impact of efforts on the ground, and (dare I say) start to challenge some of the ways the money is spent to make better use of what we have.


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