I am writing this post sans the endorsement of the Junior League. All opinions expressed are my own and represent my POV.
Many moons ago, when DH was attending business school, I joined the Junior League with my friend, Robin. Robin is the most fun person I have ever met. When she asks you to do something with her, you should not think about “if” you should just buckle up!
Robin brilliantly determined that we should join the Junior League for three reasons:
1. We like to volunteer and it’s more fun when the volunteering is organized.
2. The Junior League is everywhere and we would probably move around a lot.
3. Membership in the Junior League would be a great way to make new friends in new places.
Her rationale was so sound, that I put aside my biases and signed up with her. True, there are some Hilly’s, (impossible not to encounter in an old school women’s organization) but most of the people that I have met are outstanding, passionate volunteers who are dedicated to serving others and are truly excited about serving others and improving communities.
When we decided to move to Mexico I immediately checked to see if there was a Junior League. Turns out there is a Junior League of Mexico, and though it is 1/3 the size of the other Leagues I’ve been a member of, the League in Mexico is just as impactful–an impressive accomplishment in such a large city.
True to plan, membership in the Junior League has provided me with an instant network and an immediate opportunity to engage in my new community each time our family has moved.
Domestic or abroad, the League is the League. Each year, it “places” or assigns its members to a committee or project. A “placement” provides members an opportunity to align their skills and interests with the community’s needs. This year, I represented a special situation for the placement committee: my Spanish was fledgling at best. I arrived fired up and ready to go–where to put me was the question.
In the past I had assumed roles leading committees, mentoring other members formally and informally, and helping improve communities via direct service projects. In short: my greatest contributions have come via communicating with the organization’s membership and building connections with the people the League serves.
When I learned that I would be placed on a project where neither talking nor direct service were involved, I was none too happy.
This year, I was placed as a member of the Casi Nueva (Spanish for “Like New” store) committee.
In one of my former Leagues, the organization had a thrift store. In that League, the requirement was a nightmare assignment for me and my friends. I hated it and I never went. Apparently, no one else in the League liked it either, because the store closed.
Upon placement here in Mexico, I had nightmares of sifting through clothes, standing at the register and ringing people up in an ugly little apron.
Unlike my past League, La Casi Nueva is an important and well received part of the League’s operations. Casi Nueva brings positive PR to the League–because it brings positive exposure for its projects—and it provides much needed income to finance the League’s direct service work. I’m also pleased to report there aren’t any ugly little aprons to wear while volunteering.
The revenue generated in this tiny store funds Harvard-recognized recycling efforts, programs that teach and inspire self esteem in young people, and fund nutrition and cooking programs. As someone who is interested in the infrastructure of philanthropic organizations, I decided to give the placement a whirl. Besides, I reasoned, I probably owed the organization a shift or two since I paid my way out of those other thrift store obligations in the States.
Having only been here four months, I’ve only attended a handful of shifts. However, so far, I have learned so much from this experience. I think every alpha-personality should have an experience where they are totally unqualified and are supported by people who believe they can succeed. As a manager and a leader, the experiences I am having in this little store are going to help me be a better leader and teacher. I’m hoping by January, I can work with more regularity because though the placement wasn’t what I wanted it’s turning out to be exactly what I needed.
What have I learned?
For starters, I’ve learned that a completely incompetent person can be taught anything when patience and kindness are demonstrated. (By incompetent, I mean me!)
Although I speak and understand Spanish, I did not have a vocabulary that allowed me to determine the price of goods sold. I did not have experience working and collaborating with others in Spanish. This job is the first time in a long time when I wasn’t the expert in the room. And though I have had a computer since I was six years old, I have never used a Spanish language keyboard or run a computer program that was entirely in Spanish.
To my surprise, the first day I showed up, everyone in the store knew and understood my limitations, and despite them, they just assumed I could do it and started teaching me the store’s computer program.
Right then and there I decided that in the future I am going to work harder to demonstrate an attitude of faith versus failure–because not only is it motivating–it’s contagious.
There is nothing like having someone else think that you can do something when you’re not sure. You sort of feel like maybe they’re right–and you definitely want them to be.
As a long time member of the Junior League, I’m well aware that the mission of the organization is to develop the full potential of its members and a great emphasis is placed on training and development. As a Type-A woman who has traditionally been on the teaching and coaching side of things at work and in my community, learning how to do something completely outside of my area of expertise and comfort zone has been an enriching experience.
With a lot of patience and understanding, I have been able to price goods for re-sale, make price tags using the Spanish language computer system (!) and even add a little value every now and then!
My happiest moment came earlier in the week. I went to the store, and for the first time the manager wasn’t there. Normally, I work directly with her. When I learned that she was sick, I offered to leave and go home.
Not so fast!
The store employees looked at me and said, “Oh no, we need you. We just received a massive donation from Tiffany’s. We need you to help us mange the shipment.”
Not wanting to disappoint the staff, I followed them to evaluate the shipment. Having managed a warehouse in a past life I knew what had to happen: everything needed to be sorted, organized and counted. Then we could quickly price the goods and get them on the floor for sale. All monies generated would help the League so much. The donation was large and generous: grey and navy business suits for men and women.
Special shout out to Tiffany & Co. for their donation.
Without bias, my co-worker listened as I suggested an approach to managing the massive donation. He listened to my suggestion, offered a modification and we went to work. It wasn’t until later when I realized that I was actually being productive in Spanish!!
I was proud!
Little by little, I am slowly finding my way. Along the way, I am counting and celebrating the small victories. I’m grateful for things that are familiar because they provide me with a framework that I know and trust. And, I’m enjoying the challenge that comes with learning new things while sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.
Win or lose, I’m feeling encouraged and supported, and I’m loving the potential in that!