The Achiever

Blog Post by: Krista Elmore, CFRE

I heard a phrase recently that said, “I can do anything, but not everything.” It was tied to an enneagram 3 (if you haven’t heard of enneagrams, check out this site, they are fabulously fun personality types to learn about). An enneagram 3 is often referred to as, “The Achiever.” While this phrase stuck with me personally, because I fall into that personality type, I think it is applicable to so many that get into nonprofit work, whether that is their enneagram number or not. 

So many of us that work for, support, volunteer for, sit on the board of, or fundraise for nonprofits are achievers. We want to make a difference in the communities we live, in a mission we relate to, and in the lives of those served. The achiever personality trait is vital to persevering through obstacles, through bad days or tough cases, and keeps us driving forward towards our next goal.

There are drawbacks to being achievers, though. Sometimes, we have to combat our own hero complexes. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to slow down and take a break. Other times, we have to accept failure. These are all hard lessons for an achiever, for anyone striving to be the best they can be to make a difference, but the key is that they are lessons. As frustrating and challenging as it may be to not reach a goal or to have to ask for help from others, there is opportunity for growth.

I recently became a Certified Fund Raising Expert (CFRE). That process involved a major application where I had to outline all of my achievements, my continuing education, and prove that I was even eligible to take a test. Once accepted, which was a feat of its own, I spent weeks studying for a big multiple-choice test to prepare me for fundraising questions that span the entire world. It forced me to think globally, to focus on the non-negotiables within the fundraising field, and gave me a broader perspective. At the end of the test, I grappled with how difficult those questions were, wondering if I had done enough, then rejoicing when I learned I had passed.

Here’s the lesson, though: In order for me to successfully pass this big, important test, I had to ask for help from coworkers and from my personal support system and drop some of my other responsibilities temporarily in order to focus on the main priority, which was that CFRE achievement I wanted to see in the comma behind my name.

There are non-negotiables in life, which each of us have to decide upon. As achievers, we want to be able to do it all. We never want to let anyone down, or “drop the ball.” There’s a metaphor I love that says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that says, “when you’re juggling the priorities of your life, know which balls are made of glass, and which are made of rubber.” There are non-negotiables in life that need to stay in the air, the balls made of glass, that should stay a priority. The balls made of rubber, though, can be dropped and picked back up when you’re ready to add them back in.

As nonprofit achievers, make sure you know where your priorities lie. Family, your health, and your self-worth are non-negotiable, glass balls. In your job, you may have non-negotiables, too, but if you’re having trouble distinguishing between which priorities are glass and which are rubber, please do not hesitate to reach out to a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor to bounce your struggles off of and reassess what’s truly important. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to juggle when you’ve unloaded some of those, “it can wait,” rubber balls.