Disrupt This

Disrupt. Leverage. Pivot.

How about we start saying what we mean?

As a fundraising consultant and teacher, I used to beat my head on my desk reviewing funding proposals loaded with every. effing. buzzword. some nonprofit thought would make them seem relevant. Commitments of sustainability and leverage. Promises to be impactful and transformational. Big words, meant to convey big ideas, but not necessarily translating to big results.

One problem is that overusing overused words tends to make one disappear into the crowd rather than stand out from it.

Standing out matters.

Charitable fundraising is a competitive blood sport. Actually, mere survival in the nonprofit sector is an endeavor not for the faint of heart. (Check out Vu Le’s analogy to The Hunger Games in his terribly named but wonderfully witty blog, Nonprofit With Balls).

Saying what you really mean, what you actually intend to do, toward what end, is so much more persuasive than squeezing in a term du jour. Your organization’s survival depends on it.

Entrepreneurs, it turns out, are just as guilty of lazy word choice.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “disrupt” and “pivot” just in the last 30 days, I’d be able to invest in you all. Generously. If I had to give back a dollar for every time I used one of these words in the last 30 days, I’d be right back to wishing you well.

I think we use these words to build our street cred. To prove we’re reading the most important blogs and watching the right TED talks. That’s all fine and great. We’re human. We need validation now and then.

But I’m hungry to dig deeper. I am more interested in your vision and what you’re doing to advance it in the marketplace of ideas. I am intrigued by outsiders. Rule breakers. Feather rufflers. What distinguishes you from the flock?

Let’s bollix the worst of 2016 business jargon and start saying what we mean. In our own words. We have so many to choose from.

What words will you banish in 2017?

What makes us brave?

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? The next bravest thing you’ll do?

I am a sucker for resolutions, Mondays, New Years, the first of the month, the first of anything. I believe strongly in new beginnings, second chances, even a Mulligan or two.

With the clock winding down on 2016 and a spanking clean slate ahead of me for 2017, I’m in a highly excited state of What-if and Why-not!? I feel a dose of gumption coming on.

Of course, there can be a fine line between bravery and hubris. Like when you ignore every instinct in your body and all outward signs that you’re about to do something really, really dangerous, and plunge forward obliviously because you simply don’t believe harm can befall you.

Having survived hitchhiking alone throughout the North American west, a few endurance races for which I was criminally unprepared, and some recreational activities we need not discuss, it’s safe to say I’m older, wiser, and decidedly more boring. Well, at least I’m older and more boring.

Bravery has a different meaning for me now. It requires comprehension of the risk, and a conscious decision to forge ahead.

I’m not too proud to claim these recent acts of bravery:

Six years ago I started law school at age 40, at night, while working a full time executive job. Now I’ve walked away from a comfortable career because I had this burning vision and desire to grow in new directions, and signed a lease on an office to make that vision of a femme-powered, badass business law firm a reality.

Last year I accepted an invitation to speak on a panel in front a room full of strangers about my experience as a birth mother. I knew that it would be different than standing on a stage and sharing something from my professional experience. It cracked me open to a state of raw vulnerability I had not imagined. I made an ass of myself ugly crying and hurling snot at the poor, horrified adoptive parents in the front row. I would say yes again to the opportunity but I don’t expect to be asked.

This fall I accepted an invitation to be the alumni speaker at my law school’s graduation, to be among the first to address newly minted attorneys entering the profession at this historic time of defiance against the rule of law. I’ll know soon whether anyone throws rotten eggs at me.

Will I be brave in 2017? I hope so.

I’m looking forward to keeping my commitments, surrounding myself with doyennes of all kind, preparing for races, and lots and lots of learning. And one last thing: staying vulnerable. Got a question? Looking for encouragement to take a leap? Ask me anything. I’ll do my best to share candidly, even painfully. Except maybe about some of those unnamed recreational activities. Those will stay in the vault.

How about you? What acts of bravery will you conquer next year?