Our Dangerous Myths


Whether we are working in the nonprofit or public sector, or in a small, community-focused business, we battle every day with the American bootstrap myth — the myth that we can each succeed in “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” all by ourselves, without help.

You do the work you do because you know that is not true; everyone needs help sometimes if they are going to grow and thrive (and indeed sometimes just to survive).

You’d think, being so clear about the nonsensical nature of the bootstrap story, that we’d be free of it in our own lives and work. But we have own version of this dangerous myth.

For organizations focused on supporting health lives and communities, this myth often becomes “if we just work harder we can figure it out, make it work, get it done.”

Any of this sound familiar?

  • “If we just keep working at it, things will get better.”
  • “I wish I had training on that, but there’s no time/money; I’ll figure it out.”
  • “We need everybody to step up to the next level — it’s a stretch, but I’m sure we can do it.”
  • “We’ve already got systems in place — if people would just use them, we’d be fine.”
  • “We just need to meet more often.”
  • “Spending more meetings looking at that will just slow us down/take our focus away from the work.”
  • “We just can’t afford to bring somebody in to help us figure this out — we need to focus on resources on serving our mission.”

These are all versions of that myth.

But in reality, working harder and harder in ways that have not been getting you the results you want is a waste of precious time and money. If doing your work feels like pushing a boulder uphill, it’s time to look for new ways to do what you do, ways that ease the path to your goals rather than continually asking more and more of you.

Sometimes we need help to find the easier path. Sometimes just remembering to look for an easier path can be enough. But sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. We need an outside perspective, someone to ask new questions, reflect back patterns and connections we might be missing, suggest new perspectives, offer new tools.

But it’s hard to ask for help.

Here we are, in this position of responsibility; we are supposed to know how to take care of whatever comes up. People are counting on us. If we screw up, bad things will happen, we will be letting down the people who rely on and trust us, and then it will get even harder to get this important work done.

We are afraid to appear uncertain, or incompetent. Even if that fear is irrational (and sometimes it’s not) it is how we are feeling.

And then there is the second dangerous myth (or maybe it’s just a sub-myth) — the “we just can’t afford to bring someone in to help” myth. It is true that it can be hard to dedicate resources to paying for help when money is tight but, in many circumstances, it is more true that you cannot afford NOT to get help. If what you are doing is not working — if you are expecting things to change but not finding new and more effective approaches — you are wasting significant amounts of your organization’s resources and capacity. The right help pays for itself, quickly, by bringing you better ways to make use of the resources you have.

All successful people and organizations have had help, and lots of it.

Look around at the colleagues and organizations you admire most and think about the kinds of support they’ve had (or, if you don’t know, ask). They’ve had support from family and friends, from colleagues, from other organizations, and some professional help.

If you are like me, you are now hearing a voice in your head saying something like “But wait, even if that’s true, it’s not so easy to find the right help.” What if the help we choose turns out to be a waste of time and money? What if the people we reach out to respond by judging us instead of supporting us? The wrong “help” is much worse than no help at all.

These questions are important, but you may be asking them too early.

First, ask yourself “Is what we are doing succeeding, and, if not, do I know what to do instead to make us successful?” If you answered no, it is time to open to the possibility that help might be useful. Once you’ve acknowledged to yourself that you want help, you’ve created the space to get curious about what sort of help you need, and where you can get it.

Ok, so we need help. Now what?

If you are looking at this website at all, you are probably wrestling with challenges involving how your organization functions, maybe how decision-making works or doesn’t work, communication and coordination problems, challenges with trust or respect, breakdowns between planning and implementation, needs for more skillful leadership and administration throughout the organization, perhaps feeling stuck a lot. If you need help with other stuff — marketing, number-crunching, computer systems, etc., I’m not the best resource. Time to reach out to your friends and colleagues and see who they recommend in those arenas. But if you are needing help with the areas identified on this website, I invite you to explore here a little, and see if my approach speaks to you and what you are experiencing.

Your time and resources are precious and I don’t want you to waste them doing work that doesn’t get you closer to your goals. I want you to find the help you need. So how do you know if New Perspectives is what you need?

One good place to start is my resources page. You’ll find tools you can use, including two powerful tools for getting unstuck, and more prosaic tools on board development and strategic planning. You can also subscribe to my quarterly newsletter, which brings you new articles on organizational development challenges and tools, new trainings and other offerings.

If what you see here feels useful and you want to explore whether doing more in-depth work with me would be good for your organization, the next step is a free, 90 minute consultation where we can talk about what you need, and what I bring, and see if it feels like a good match.

Feel free to contact me whether you just have questions, want to get a better sense of some aspect of my work, or are ready to talk about a specific piece of work you need done.


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