In high school I ran track. I wasn’t very good and it wasn’t very memorable – for me or anyone who watched. Coach always stuck me in the middle of the relay team. He’d put a strong runner in the first leg; to get a solid start, to gain that early edge. Then the star runner at the end – the one with the strongest dedication and usually a singular focus on running – because they could do a lot to clinch the win.
People remember the starter; the one who takes off in a flurry, when the gun is fired. It so exciting! As the last leg is being run, the cheers increase, no one even blinks, everyone is focused on who is going to cross the finish line and burst through the tape. They really remember the finisher.
Very few remember the ones who carry the baton in the middle.
They need to be there. You need all 4 legs of the relay. Someone has to get the baton from 1 to 4. The middle legs aren’t as exciting, and don’t seem as important, it can be hard to see them, but you can’t run a relay without these runners. Someone has to fill the gap.
I didn’t know it then, but my brief season on the track team, running the forgettable leg in the middle of the relay, was a foreshadowing of my adult career and calling.
I have been blessed to work with some remarkable people and organizations in the nonprofit sector. Over the span of the last 25 years there have been very few campaigns and not a single non-profit organization that were my brainchild.
- An old college classmate and friend ‘birthed’ the MS Challenge Walk idea; I started the one in KC and adapted the concept to our chapter’s culture.
- The volunteers started the Walk for PKD; I came in once it was ‘a thing’ and strengthened it, gave it some form, function, and clear voice. EW Group had already launched the MG Walk when I came on board and helped make it stronger.
- A colleague thought up KidneyWise, concepted the program, engaged critical thought leaders; I came in and made the team function, pulled the ideas from vision to executable reality.
- When I joined the Bateman Horne Center, the merger had happened, the long-held dream of Cindy’s had been given life, and Suzanne had put in all the legwork to cultivate the funding to fuel her complimentary vision. The partnership was born; I came in and clarified the voice, strengthened the delivery of their message, installed all the infrastructure they would need for the journey ahead.
In every one of these instances, and many more, I was running the middle leg of their relay. The initial spark of genius wasn’t mine; but I gave it legs. The singular passion to make a targeted impact wasn’t mine; but I embraced it, and gave it wings.
With every job and every client, that’s the role I embody. Understand their vision, clarify their mission, identify their best strategies based on their strengths, install the tools they need to execute them… Then the time comes to hand off the baton to someone who will run the last leg of the race and get them to the finish line.
It’s a lot like parenting… We pour so much into our kids – investing time, patience, finances; sacrificing sleep, pride, selfishness, our own goals or desires. When we want the end of the ice cream or the last slice of pizza, we give it to them anyway because seeing our kid happy is more important than our own culinary cravings. Then, when they are ready (or at least close), we send them off into the world without us, praying we gave them all they needed to create their best life. If we’re lucky, they call us or come home every once in a while, share their triumphs with us, and oh-so-rarely say thanks for what we poured into them. But even if they don’t, we’d do it all over again anyway and proudly smile and whisper to ourselves, “that’s my kid” when we see them shine. Their success makes it all worth it; it is our greatest achievement.
And so it is with my “babies” at work, my clients. I rarely get a call on Mother’s Day and they don’t come home at Christmas, but when I see them doing well, when I read about a new program or learn of their positive impact, get a Google alert about a research breakthrough or major advancement, I smile and whisper to myself, “That’s one of mine. Way to go, kid.” Because for a short while I was a critical part of the team. Though few may remember, and my name has long been over-written on all the files, I will always cherish the many amazing warriors I befriended with multiple sclerosis, bu humbled by the unquenchable spirit of the ones with polycystic kidney disease, marvel at the unfathomable strength of the parents of a child with cancer, celebrate the hope found in a new community of those challenged by myasthenia gravis, and be inspired by the persistence and courage of those struck by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
So, I run the race as best I can, as though I’m running the last leg of the relay and bound for glory in the winner’s circle, even if I’m lost in the middle and forgotten soon after I pass on the baton. Because when I get to the end of my life, I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the only One whose opinion truly matters.
It is so very hard to say good-bye when the time comes, but it is a tremendous honor to do the work I do.