Of brooms and bats and swinging alone.

Last night, late, as I was minding my own business on the living room sofa, a bat began swooping through the room. A BIG bat. 

I grabbed the white throw on the sofa and covered my head (what a weird, instantaneous instinct). The bat veered into the dining room and then into the kitchen and I, covered in a white blanket, chased it with a broom. 

He just kept swooping. (Yes, I’m giving the bat a masculine identity. Read into it what you will.)

Now, I’ve had bats in the house before. This is the fourth time since I bought this old house six years ago. But the other three times they were tiny little bats that I found laying quietly on the floor. I was freaked out – oh, yes I was – but kept my wits about me and captured them with sundry household items and gently relocated them to the great outdoors.

This was not that.

And I really, really wanted someone to come help me.

I have wonderful neighbors on both sides and even though it was late, I knew that I could absolutely call or go knock on one of those doors and they would come without a second thought and, I don’t know, do something.

But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even really seriously consider it, because it seemed like such an imposition.

I should be able to handle this.

And I did. I stopped swinging and started thinking with at least a smidgen of clarity.

I opened the super wide patio doors in the kitchen that lead to the deck. (Both cats made a run for it. They were really not happy with the white blanket and broom get-up.) I dropped the blanket, grabbed a raincoat and sat in a deck chair with the hood up. (Yes, I know a bat in the hair is largely myth. I don’t care. I was keeping my head covered. Also, I may have run outside while I still had the blanket over my head, which I sure would have freaked out anyone scoping out my backyard.)

I never took my eyes off that patio door. And violá!  The bat flew out.  I’m pretty sure.  It was really dark and I was pretty sure.

After waiting a bit longer, I scooped up the cats and went inside, looked around everywhere I could think of to look and then went to bed.

But I didn’t sleep. At all. Not until about 3am.

No sign of the bat this morning, but I feel wiped out.

So, why am I posting such a ridiculous story on my work web site?

Because when I crawled into bed, with my heartbeat still just a little accelerated and my stomach churning a little, and my hands unconsciously clenched, I had to think that sometimes, work has made me feel exactly this way.  Not quite so much now, when I have more choice, more freedom to do work I’m most comfortable with, but for all those years in an organizational position – leadership or otherwise.

Fundraising jobs, perhaps most nonprofit jobs, can feel a little bit like wearing a blanket over your head while swinging a broom at the bat making kamikaze dives at you. Moving target. Awkward set up. Tools that aren’t really meant for the job. High expectations. Afraid to show lack of confidence or weakness.

Reluctant to knock on the neighbor’s door and ask for help.

And in the end, the persistent ones of us do usually figure something out. But we can be left with clenched fists and churning stomachs, trying to make certain our head (or other body parts) are covered.

We need stronger circles of professional neighbors, inside our own organizations and outside. We need people that we can be honest with, that we can call on for help, people that will swing the broom or open the patio doors or just give moral support while we swing. We build those circles by being vulnerable, by supporting others when they are under siege, by making time for professional friendship and genuinely getting to know others who understand how stressful it all is.

We also need to be more honest with our bosses, our boards, our supervisors, and maybe with ourselves, when things just aren't working. We need to have take-off-the-mask conversations when our job description and expectations are more than any one person can possibly handle and we feel like we're swatting at a million things rather than focusing on real solutions. And we need to 'fess up when we know, in our gut, we genuinely aren't the right person for the job, or at least not at this moment in time, rather than hanging on. No shame, really.

If the swinging and swatting are leaving us clenched and churning, sometimes we just need to get out of that house.

I’m going to tell my good neighbors about the bat and I have no doubt the first thing they will say is, “You should have called.”

And I should have.

Joan Brown