As a nonprofit leader, here’s why I practice the ‘Joy at Missing Out’

Pulling back from the public eye allows new colleagues to come in – and for their life experiences, ideas, and visions to come to the fore.

Illustration by Maria Mottola.

I used to love being “on the scene.” I wanted to go to every New York City nonprofit professional meeting, conference, gala – both to see and be seen. I was curious about what my colleagues were doing and their latest program innovations, and I was interested in the politics of individual organizations and of the New York City nonprofit sector writ large. I wanted to know who was looking for a new job, who was retiring, and who was starting a new organization. I used to say that my main professional skill was expert gossiping – my move was to learn who was working on what – and then to tell other people what they were doing so they could collaborate or learn from each other. It was meant for good – working towards the promotion of ideas and relationships in and across the sector –  and it was a lot.

Post(ish)-COVID, and as I have gotten older, a lot of this feeling and a lot of this activity has faded for me. I now experience something much more akin to JAMO (Joy At Missing Out), than my old sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). If there is someone else other than me who can take a meeting, represent our organization, go to a gala, or lead a a presentation at a conference – I am usually thrilled. I don’t even feel the need to know how it went, or who was there – unless there is a practical reason I need to follow up.

Acting on JAMO within an organizational context requires a different set of motivations, skills, and behaviors than acting based on FOMO. I have to trust my colleagues, I have to let go of control over messages or narrative, and I have to release the power that comes with being in the proverbial ‘room where it happens’. It also comes with a different set of rewards – I have more time and energy for other work – as acting on JAMO frees up both the time it takes to prepare for and go to an event or meeting, and the psychic energy it takes to be ‘on.’ I also don’t have to recycle my talking points – after all of these years, I am a little bored of myself and my ideas are kind of stale. More importantly, it allows other people to share their thoughts, vision, and impressions. It allows them to represent. And that helps to create more democratic organizations and a field that is shaped by all of us, not just a few positional leaders like myself. I give some things up, of course. I give up some name recognition, social capital, and maybe most difficult for me, some sense of self-importance. 

I hope that the JAMO concept – with its attendant gains and losses for seasoned organizational leaders – can be a win-win. Pulling back from the public eye allows new colleagues to come in – and for their life experiences, ideas, and visions to come to the fore. This shift is often both generational and racial. If I pull back from making a speech, there is one fewer mid-fifties, white, upper middle class woman speaking – and mine is a demographic and perspective that is quite well represented in New York City nonprofit leadership. And to the benefit of all – there will be speakers who are likely younger than me, not white, smarter, and of a different, less well-represented life experience. As a result we will have a field that shifts and grows, and gets stronger. I don’t mean to suggest that the only reason for me to give someone else a chance is because I am tired – but rather that there are benefits for everyone in me stepping back.

I still have plenty of chances to share my perspective (duh, you are reading about my ideas right now) – but I don’t have to do it all the time. So I invite my colleagues who have been at this for a while to consider their JAMO readiness, so closely connected to the Joy At Seeing Others Move Up (though JASOMU is not such a great acronym). And let’s talk about how it feels and what we are learning.