The following is a guest blog post from Bianca Neff, founding director of Petra Peacebuilders:
I never thought I'd launch my own nonprofit.
I'd seen other people do it, I'd even helped close friends launch theirs, but I never thought that was the road that I wanted to go down.
And then life happened, and a vision caught hold of me, and it wouldn't let me go. My cumulative life experience was leading me to starting Petra Peacebuilders and it just needed to happen. And I was obviously the only one who could give birth to this thing now named "Petra."
Petra Peacebuilders, Inc. is now a real, live organism! I feed it, I rock it to sleep, I try not to let it keep me up too late at night. Yes, it's a heck of a lot of work but most importantly: it meets an important need in the world, and it gives me more joy than any other work I've done.
I'm a single woman, age 38, with no children of my own. Nonetheless, much of Petra's coming to life has reminded me of a pregnancy.
Let me share some of my experience through the lenses of my new role as Petra's mom:
PHASE 1: GESTATION
Nothing is born healthy without a proper gestation period.
You must therefore build in proper time for reflection, thinking and all-around development. In fact, add even double or triple what you think initially thought necessary, because you will never regret having waited to give birth.
Once you go into labor, you can't revert to the gestation period without some tough consequences. In the case of birthing your big choices, labor is always self-induced, which is an advantage! So take your time.
Some pregnancies are inherently more difficult than others due to known risk factors; others have unanticipated complications. The work and the risk is definitely worth it!, but don't be naive. Build your knowledge and support base as wide and as deep as possible during that gestation period so that when it comes time to pivot into full labor and execution, you've done your homework and you're ready, with a solid team behind you.
And enjoy the gestation period! The daydreaming, the envisioning, letting your imagination run away about that beautiful thing that you want to bring into the world!
But don't be lazy with the gestation period, spending the whole time decorating the nursery. You won't get this time back. We all know that gestation includes excitement, as well as some nausea and fear. But never forget that it should definitely include lots of research and long-term prep. While there's no substitute for experience, that doesn't mean that everything should be learned on the fly, either. You won't have nearly the same time for research and prep after that thing is born, so don't squander the gestation time.
PHASE 2: LABOR
Labor is labor, no matter how much you've prepared. Feel the pain. Learn in advance how to ride it out. Get people around you to help you breathe when the pain hits. A life or career coach is an indispensable part of the labor phase, especially one who is familiar with the kind of project or idea you are giving birth to.
PHASE 3: THE "BABY BLUES"
For reflective types, don't be surprised if the joy of new life gives way to some form of postpartum depression. This can range from mild "baby blues" to full-blown anxiety and panic with accompanying mood disorders that can even reach depression, especially if you have a history of depression.
Petra works in the area of building resilience in peace builders who face tremendous difficulties in their work. At Petra, post-traumatic stress injuries, crises and critical incidents (war, rape, violence) are everyday topics. So in my case with Petra, it was many, many months of constantly thinking about the psychosocial needs of professionals in the humanitarian sector, and how Petra was going to help meet them in the face of very challenging odds.
I believe that the very attributes of compassion, empathy and vision that drive people to create and invent are the ones that make them most vulnerable to suffering.
The more deeply I care, the more I'm going to be driven to meet needs at great personal cost. The more I'm driven to meet tough needs, the more vulnerable I am to suffer the effects of secondary trauma myself. This was my experience in the months following Petra's birth, and it's a good thing I'm aware of what's going on inside me so I can recognize it and take appropriate measures.
Mothers alone experience the great emotional highs and the enormous emotional lows of motherhood. Don't be blind to the possibility of the baby blues, and make sure to get the help you need. This is where it's a good idea to have resources lined up -- just in case -- during your gestation period.
THROUGH IT ALL: REFLECTION
Above all, never underestimate the power of reflection and the importance of time for deep, critical thinking all through the life cycle of this thing you're birthing.
Let your own pivot points be guided by as much deep reflection as you can possibly afford, with the help of trained guides and professionals wherever possible.
Bianca Neff is the Founding Director of Petra Peacebuilders, a nonprofit that empowers those in the international development community through transformative experiences and coaching. Bianca is a humanitarian coach with an academic background in Conflict Resolution and Cultural Anthropology. After 20 years doing global humanitarian work around the world, she is building the work of Petra Peacebuilders and helping others in the field remain strong and resilient. She lives in a yurt in Spain. You can read more about Petra here.