Episode #063: How to Make Better Decisions with Rishma Walji

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity cause, membership or movement, I made this podcast just for you.  

Tobi: Welcome, everybody, to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. I have such a treat for you today. I have my friend Rishma Walji here to talk about how to make better decisions. Now, you’re probably wondering, what is this about? But you know that we’ve talked about mindsets and workplace culture before in this podcast. I’ll point out a couple of previous episodes and I’ll post them in the show notes so you can find them. But remember, we talked about the compassionate instinct and bringing wonder back to work with Dr. Keltner. We talked about promoting healthy workplace culture with Marianne Chance. We talked about moving from a scarcity mindset to abundance with yours truly.  

And the reason I like to talk about mindset is because our habits of mind actually determine our success as leaders. It is that important. Our emotions impact our thinking. Our thinking impacts our actions. Our actions impact our results. So having a good handle on your mindset is critical to becoming an effective leader and especially a leader of volunteers. But what if you’re not aware of what’s driving your decisions and actions? What happens if you’re on autopilot? That’s what today’s guest is going to help us unpack.  

So if you’ve ever questioned your path, suspect you might be on the wrong one, or just have a nagging suspicion that something is missing, you are in the right place. My friends, today our special guest will help us reflect on where we’re at now and what we need to do to find ourselves and leadership as humans. So we’re going to find ourselves and ourselves as leaders and humans. So, I know Rishma from a book writers group. We’ve been working on books and talking about all of the things that drive both our own leadership but also our own inspiration. And I think her work is fantastic. It is helpful in sparking a greater self examination in the ways we think about our work and the possibilities it has for our lives and those we hope to serve and support. As an impact leader, we need to be an attuned leader. So I can’t wait to have this conversation with Rishma. So let me introduce you, Rishma, and then we’re going to get started. Welcome to the pod. 

Rishma: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to talk to you, Tobi. 

Tobi:  Excellent. So Dr. Rishma Walji. She’s a Naturopathic Doctor and PhD. She spent over 20 years in clinical practice helping patients make big decisions about health, hormones and family. And aren’t those so interconnected? The women in the audience are really like, connecting with us right now. She’s currently writing a book about intentional decision making. A lot of her work is related to awareness and emotion that can either guide or mislead our life choices. She is host of the EXO Conversations podcast and a TEDx speaker, and we will link to both her podcast and her TEDx Talk. You definitely want to listen to this TEDx Talk. It is amazing. You did such a good job with that talk. 

Rishma: Thank you. And you know how nervous I was, so thank you. I’m so glad. 

Tobi: Hey, we had talk it on the TED stage. It’s not for sissies. So I just think this is such an important conversation to have, not only for people’s own professional and personal development, but I think, well, we are attuned to ourselves also impacts our organization. So we are going to talk about both how this impacts ourselves, but how it might impact our nonprofits and the volunteers we lead. So let’s kick it off Rishma with telling our audience a little bit about what you do, what inspired your interest in human beings and how they make and think about decisions in their lives. 

Rishma: Yeah, it’s interesting because I started off my profession just wanting to help people. I think that can probably resonate with a lot of your audience. We just want to help people. And so I went into healthcare. I went into women’s health specifically at the time because I was really looking to empower people. And so, of course, I ended up working with men and all sorts of people who are making big decisions about hormones, family planning, that kind of thing. But I really felt strongly about giving a voice to people who either didn’t understand their bodies, didn’t have enough information.  

And so going through a few decades working with patients, I started eventually realizing that I was interested not just in the medical side, which of course I spent a lot of time in, but also how we actually decide to do things in our lives.  

Because I was noticing and because of my I was in naturopathic medicine, so very proactive, not a reactive sort of approach to medicine. And I realized that our health and our lifestyle affects everything. It affects our energy, it affects our work, it affects our relationships, our communication. But we separate these things. We tend to respond to them rather than be proactive about it. And how do we actually take that into real life?  

Because there is this disconnect, I think, between what we think we should be doing and then what we can actually do. People say, get up and meditate, drink your smoothie, go to bed early. And it’s like, I’m not doing all of that stuff. I’m sorry, that’s not how my life works. I have kids, I have responsibilities, I have two jobs. And so I really started becoming interested in how can I get my patients results, but also recognize where they’re at in life. And I think that’s where the decision making really interests me because it’s like, how do we make these decisions in the face of real life obstacles? Real life constraints is what I call them. Decision constraints. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And I see that even in the organizational space, I see that in some of the comments folks are making. I think they’re making decisions on autopilot or on autopilot for themselves. But also, I think organizations and organizations are, of course, made up of people that organizations are making knee jerk or we’ve always done it this way. That’s what you hear at the organizational level. We’ve always done it this way. So clearly, you’ve wanted to help people. I’m curious, what does community mean to you? I always like to ask what volunteerism means, because a lot of times I’m interviewing people who are working in volunteerism, but I want to expand that and think about community. What does it mean to you and why do you think it matters in today’s world? 

Rishma: Oh, my gosh, community is so important. I mean, to me it means having I hate to use the word authentic. I feel like it’s overused, but real deep connections with people. I used to joke with people that I have a friend who would just call me randomly and oftentimes would call me on my birthday but didn’t realize it was my birthday, and I 100% would prefer a random call because you were thinking about me than a call once a year on my birthday. And so that’s a real connection to me, where it’s someone who genuinely wants to talk to you, wants to respect your thoughts, your feelings, wants to share what’s going on in life. And that to me, is community, whether it’s one person, whether it’s 100 people.  

And I think in today’s world, we live in such an isolated way, especially in the western world, right? We live in very small families. We live in our own spaces. We’re not sharing. We don’t have any communal sort of activities, especially, I think, with the digital world, we’re so much more disconnected. And so community, from a health perspective is really important for mental health, but also, I think, just for life, you’re more likely to go out and go for a walk. You’re more likely to laugh when you’re with other people. So community, I think, is really, really important on a personal level, but also on a wider organizational level. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s true, those authentic I share with you that caution around the word authentic, but really true connection, a true connection amongst people. And I think when we have that, volunteerism actually offers an opportunity, a platform for those connections to be made in lieu of sometimes other connections that we’re not able to make. So I love that idea of community being either a small group or a large group. And volunteerism offers that space for community to be built from the ground up.  

Rishma: It also brings people together in a way that I think especially with volunteerism, there’s often a common bond, right? Everyone wants similar things. Everyone feels I mean, of course they’re going to disagree, but there is some commonality that connects them all together. And that I think, is really beautiful about volunteering. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve made some pretty big shifts in your life. I’m curious about how these came along. We’re speaking about decision making, and you yourself have made some decision. You’re leading the pack in decisions, I think, of big decisions and big shifts. Tell us a little bit about what sparked your own evolution. What were those key moments where you said, you know what? I’m choosing a different path? 

Rishma: Yeah. You know, it’s funny because I talk a lot about decision making, and yet I say, I don’t know what the right decision is for you. I just know that I feel comfortable making big decisions and small decisions in my life because I really pay attention, and I think that’s the difference in what people end up asking me about is, how do you pay attention and how do you decide what’s right for you? Because everyone is different. And so for me, I think what you’re referring to is how I left my practice. I was in clinical practice for 20 plus years, and then I left.  

And by all means, external means, I was successful. Like, I had a waitlist. I was building. I was growing. It was busy. I was having great success with my patients, and then I left. And part of the reason was because I needed something different for me. I was a caregiver for my kids, for my parents, for my in law. There was a lot of other things happening in my family where I felt like I needed a shift. I needed some flexibility with my time, and I needed something different emotionally, too. So I think this might resonate with your listeners, too. When you’re in a healthcare profession or in a volunteering field or any kind of caregiving profession, there is this aspect of giving of yourself.  

And when I was in clinical practice, I gave a lot to my patients, and I had to really work hard at protecting my self care, protecting my emotions, all of that kind of stuff. And I think I could have chosen not to do it because I’m so empathetic, but I decided to just focus on those things. And then at some point, when I had to also take care of all these other people in my life and all these other family members and various things, I was slipping with my own self care. And I thought, okay, something has to change in order for me to protect myself. And while it wasn’t maybe the decision that sounded the best, people look at me and they’re like, why would you leave a successful profession?  

I needed something different in my life, and I knew that connecting to what was really important to me, that’s why I made that decision. And that’s also what people ask me about, well, how did you make that decision? How do you feel comfortable with it? Which is why I ended up going into this decision making topic, because I was like, it wasn’t by accident. I thought about it. I was aware. I knew what I needed, and now I just have to deal with the repercussions of that decision, because, of course, it meant that I lost something as well, right? I lost a steady income. I lost an identity. I can’t say, oh, I’m in clinical practice. I’m a doctor. This just feels very weird now because I’m not doing it every day. So now I have to deal with those things. 

Tobi: Yeah, that is a brave move, my friend. Brave. I mean, think about it, gang. Rishma had a full on successful practice. You don’t see that very often. In fact, with my primary care physician, I’ve been with her for a long time, over a decade, and I love her to death. She’s just been a fantastic support for me here in Tennessee. When I moved here, I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a really good primary care physician, and I did. And I keep telling her, you can’t retire until I do. And she just laughs. And it probably was hard to leave people who were relying on you. And at some point, you just said, you know what? My self care has to be primary. First and foremost. That is a conscious decision.  

And you’re right. Folks who are helping the helpers help the helpers the leaders of volunteers, the volunteer driven organizations, the executives, they really have a hard time sometimes setting those boundaries, and it can take a lot out of you working, especially in direct service. And if you’re not leading as a leader and setting good boundaries and role modeling for volunteers, volunteers often pick up on that and start they’ll start to transgress professional boundaries. They’ll start to approach into burnout. There’s a lot of signs and consequences of that. So both as leaders modeling the way for others, but also as leaders ourselves, keeping ourselves healthy, I think, is so important, and you’re such an inspiration for taking that brave step now.  

Gang I’m not recommending that everybody quit their jobs tomorrow, but there are things that maybe that’s the right thing for you, but there’s also other things that you might want. We have habits of mind. They say there’s like, I don’t know, 90%. I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s a really high percentage of your thoughts are the same every day. So if you’re not, like, pushing the pause button and taking a look and I feel like I’m on autopilot a long time, a lot of times I’m just pushing through. I got to get these things done today. I’m pushing through. I’m pushing aside discomfort. I’m pushing aside nagging worry. I’m pushing aside. But it goes somewhere. It doesn’t go out of your body. No, it stays right in your body. 

Rishma: It’s so true. And I think this whole idea of autopilot and I know I mentioned it in my TED Talk, which is why you’re bringing it up. I think it’s a huge part of decision making, and it’s actually normal. We’re supposed to be on autopilot because we can’t function if we have to make every single decision consciously. I think the tricky part is how do we decide what we need to make decisions about and how that changes over time? Because decisions we made 20 years ago, decisions I made for my career 20 years ago, were not right for me now. But how do I make new decisions that are right for me that also don’t feel selfish, also don’t feel like I’m letting people down? How do I make those decisions in a way that feel comfortable to me? And, for example, leaving my practice, I stayed on much, much longer than anyone recommended because I felt like I needed to do that so that I could make sure my patients transitioned well to someone else.  

So there’s things that we need to be aware of and things that we need to be, I guess, aware that we’re influenced by, because we’re going to be influenced by what people tell us. We’re going to be influenced by how we’ve done things before. We’re going to be influenced by our emotions and by our fears. And these are all the things that end up creating decisions that go on autopilot. Either we’ve been doing it that way forever, we don’t even realize, or we’re doing it, but we don’t realize we’re being influenced by it. Right? So that’s the piece of like, how can I bring to the surface, the conscious surface, the decisions I want to change? And how can I push down into autopilot the good things that I want to believe for the future? I think that’s why people are so drawn to mindset changes and affirmations, and they’re trying to put into autopilot better habits, better thoughts. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve noticed that even in myself, I made a conscious decision. Well, I did an online meditation course around Remapping your Brain with Rick Hansen and the Mindfulness App. I’ll link to it in the show notes. But I thought, this is such I do meditate and I believe in meditation, but I thought, this isn’t going to work. And I’ve been doing that. I’ve been working with a business coach and all that. And I’ve noticed that even my verbal is different. My verbal used to be like and it was always doom and gloom, and I’m stressed, and that still comes out. But I notice sometimes in times of stress and I feel myself looking to the future and say and predicting something that’s not right. Right. I’ll say to myself, wouldn’t it be great if and I’ve done that recently, and things have come true, they’ve manifested. 

And so just recently I noticed this wouldn’t it be great if dot dot, dot and I’m like, wow, my brain has been remapped because this is not something I’m consciously thinking, it’s just coming out. So it absolutely we nowadays, within the last decade, maybe a little bit more, we’ve come to understand the human brain and human functioning. So much so that we can hack our own brains now with some purposeful intention.  

Let me ask you, let’s start from the beginning. Now that we sort of have established that people can change through purposeful intervention of our own habits of mind, how do people know, first off, whether or not they’re being purposeful in their decision making? What are some of the clues? 

Rishma: Yeah, this is a really good question because I think it’s hard to know, right? You think you might be being purposeful but you’re so influenced by your life or you’re so busy that you can’t really stop and think. And a lot of people say, well, we need to stop and have self reflection, but sometimes you’re so in it that you can’t really see it. So one of the things that I say is that if you feel stuck or stagnant in any way, that’s a really good indicator that something needs to change. Something is not working well, you need to fix it or you need to at least pay attention to it.  

Another thing that I think a lot of people who get into volunteerism probably feel is a lack of fulfillment. When you feel like your life is not fulfilling in some way, you’re not satisfied with your life, there’s something that you need. You don’t necessarily know what it is, but something you need. Or you feel like you’re not motivated, you’re not energized. There’s a physical energy. Obviously we get tired, but there’s also an emotional energy, right? So if you’re not fulfilled, you’re not energized, you’re feeling stuck. And the other one, which no one really wants to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway because I think it’s important is if we’re always seeking external validation. 

Tobi: Oh, boom mic drop. 

Rishma: Because we do, right? All of us do and it’s normal and it’s natural because we want that community, we want to be accepted by others. And that’s a survival tactic. It’s a survival piece of human nature. But if you’re always seeking external validation, like what is coming from the inside? 

Tobi: Yeah, and I think there’s a subtle difference between feeling like you belong and belonging, which is a core human need. Belonging is a core human need. We are a clan-based species. That’s why we’ve survived for as long. We can’t be alone. We don’t do well alone. That’s why the pandemic has been so hard on people’s mental health. But this feeling of belonging, that is subtly different. There’s a distinction between that and seeking internal validation. Do you want to tease that out a little bit. I just want to make sure people see the difference there. 

Rishma: Okay, I’m going to give you an example that I did on my podcast because it was a very personal example, but I’m going to give it because it really resonated people said that they really connected with it. So originally, when I first moved into my house, it was like a fixer upper. And so I was embarrassed about inviting people over because things were falling apart. Then we did a renovation and then I was embarrassed because I didn’t want people to think that I was fancy, that they would come over and they would judge me. Like, oh, she did a renovation. And so part of me was like, okay, maybe I need to stop caring what people think about my house. Yes, I need to work on that. I am human too. Right. But also, who are these people that I’m inviting over to my house that care what my house looks like and that will judge me for it?  

And I think that’s the difference between belonging and seeking validation. When I am embarrassed about my house, whatever it is, I am seeking their validation. I want them to tell me that it’s okay, whatever it is. But really what I should be doing is having people over who don’t care and who love me just the way I am, no matter what. That is belonging. And to me, that example just really highlights how I should be making decisions about who I want in my life and how I should curate my friendships. Obviously, you can’t always do that at work or in other situations, but as much as we can just stay true to ourselves unapologetically, that, I think, is the difference. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And belonging, if you have a sense of belonging with folks and you’ve curated, as you said, I think that’s a great way to term it, curating your friendships. Sometimes people are in your life for a reason or a season. Yes. I have a friend who say people are in your life. He was my boot camp coach doing fitness boot camp. He’d say people are in your life for a reason or a season and sometimes you need to give them the gift of goodbye. But that feeling of belonging, you really should have that feeling. You think about it, the people who really care about you are going to be totally jazzed you have the rock and new house, they’re going to be happy for you. They’re going to want to celebrate with you and say, you deserve this, Rishma. You’ve done all the work. 

Rishma: And I would do the same for everyone else. So I feel like that belonging is very reciprocal and it’s just understanding. Is it real or is it that I’m seeking something? 

Tobi: Yes. Is your cup full or empty? So if people are getting the sense that they’re not being purposeful in their decision making. They feel like they’ve lost their mojo, I like to say. I’ve had these moments, I feel like I’m losing my mojo. If they do, what steps could they take to reevaluate and move towards something that’s more “authentic” or at least aligned with their true inner desires? 

Rishma: Yeah, I have a bunch of steps, but I’m going to say this is not an easy process, but it’s very fulfilling and it’s also not overnight because I’m constantly evaluating. You’re constantly evaluating. It’s something that is a long term process. But the first thing I usually tell people is to just pause and reflect. And I think the biggest thing that I tell people is we always think, like, what do I want? And then how do I get it right? I want this goal. I want to impact this many people. I want to make this much money. I want to whatever it is. And then you think, how do I get it? We don’t often stop to say, is this really what I want? Is this really the goal for me? So when I say stop and reflect, I mean actually reflect on what is for you. What do you need? What would make you feel satisfied, really, like, paying attention to what is in your mind? And then why? Is it because you think you’re supposed to do that? Is it because someone told you to do that? Challenge yourself. What is it that I want? And why is it that I want it? That’s the first thing to really start with, because otherwise, you’re just going to keep doing things that aren’t going to take you where you want to go. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. I even think about that. When we set goals as a manager or as a leader within our organization, what is it that we want? And everybody, I want more volunteers. And when I’m helping with people strategic planning, I’ll say, well, what’s your big why would having more volunteers help your organization? In what specific ways is it going to help you move your mission forward? Just having more people may or may not help you make a bigger impact in the world. 

Rishma: Yeah. Also having more people is more of a solution. It’s not really the outcome that you want, right? Like, if you think about what do you want for your organization, you want maybe more impact. You want to raise more funds, you want to have more efficiency in how you use those funds. You want to build more schools. Whatever it is that you’re doing, having more volunteers is more of a solution. But what problem is it solving? Is it that you need more people? Is it that you need more efficiency? Is it that you need to do something different that that community needs more than what we’re doing at the moment? Like, what is the actual outcome? So we can think about personal goals, which is a lot of what I talk about. But we think about the organization, what is the organizational goal and what actually is the goal. More volunteers is not a goal. It’s more of a solution. And is it solving the right problem? 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s almost when we’re asking this question is this goal the right goal for me? Why? I know when we were in our book group you were talking about all the different ways we’re influenced. I think too when we’re asking that question it’s a good idea to keep those things in mind whether it’s culture. As women we’ve been influenced to think a certain way. Even the caregiver role. We look at volunteerism, majority of volunteer managers, leaders of volunteers are women, are actually white educated women. We know from our research in the volunteer management progress report and there maybe we don’t need to go down the rabbit hole about why that may or may not be, but what are we “programmed” to be and act in that role of helping the helpers help, right.  

And so I love this question of is this goal for me and why? But also what’s impacting under the surface my goal setting. Now some of it’s obviously your organization strategic plan, et cetera, but there’s also the way we go about our business. There’s working in our business and there’s also working on our business and two people, two separate professionals depending on their level of awareness could approach the same strategic goal 180% differently. So I think about maybe talk through a little bit more what are all of the things that are sort of impacting our “programming” or getting us on autopilot before we ask the question is this the goal for me? Sometimes I think we’ve got to take even another step back and say what are the pressures on me that are making me think this way? 

Rishma: Yeah, for sure. So one of the things that I do once I’m thinking about goals is I step back and I think how can I challenge my assumptions? And it’s not easy to challenge your assumptions because we want to believe that we’re right. So challenging your assumptions is a really tough thing. And I think that’s also why it’s hard to communicate with others sometimes because when someone disagrees with you, they’re challenging your assumption. And there’s research to show that we react badly to that because we think they’re challenging our identity. Like you disagree with me and therefore you think something bad of my identity. You’re personally attacking me, which is not actually true, but that’s how our brains think. So if there’s a way that we can improve communication when people disagree, we can challenge our assumptions better.  

And I’ll give you a personal example, although I’m sure we can think of one that’s more organizational based. But for me one of the assumptions I had growing up was that if I was volunteering, volunteering is a really big part of my life since I was little. My parents were really big into volunteering. And so one of the assumptions that I had was I have to give a lot of time. Like we would go on weekends, we would volunteer, after school, we would volunteer. It was a time based thing for me in my mind. And as I got older and I had kids and I was working two jobs, I really felt like I wanted to volunteer. But I didn’t know how to do it with my time constraints.  

And a lot of people say, oh, everyone has 24 hours in a day. There are legitimate reasons you cannot volunteer your time. And one of them is you’re taking care of other people or you have two jobs. Like how can we be more efficient with our time? It’s a legitimate issue. So for me, I was thinking, how do I volunteer? This is something I’m missing. I’m feeling a lack of fulfillment I want to include in my life. But my assumption was I needed time and so I would put it off year after year. I don’t have time. I don’t have time.  

And then finally I sat down and thought, okay, if this is really important to me, how can I challenge my assumption? Is it true that I don’t have time? Well, yes, partly it is true, but also, why do I need a lot of time? I have also qualifications that can I don’t have to spend 8 hours volunteering at a food bank. I could spend 2 hours coaching a group of people on their health and that would still be giving back in a way that would be volunteering, but using my time more efficiently and frankly, using my expertise in a better way because not all volunteers have the training that I have. So it was a way that I was able to challenge my assumption and still do what I wanted to do in a way that worked for my life. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. I love that example. You really did a good job weaving it in. And heads up everybody who’s listening. This is what volunteers are going through as they’re thinking about and maybe even feeling a little bit guilty or recalcitrant that they’re not giving or feeling like they’re missing out. This is the emotional processing that people are when they’re thinking about volunteering. So we need to be compassionate on our end to this struggle. The struggle is real and we know people want to help, but they’re going through this sort of juggling of what do I, and they’re making assumptions. So I think even as an organization, the way we speak about volunteering, we can help people also challenge their assumptions in the way that we’re framing things. I like to reduce the bar, like for as little as 1 hour a month you can blah, blah, blah. And then people are like, oh, that helps people challenge their assumptions.  

I also like the idea of challenging assumptions about our capabilities, about what we’re supposed to do. The shoulding that we should all over ourselves, especially as women, as caretakers, we should be doing this or we don’t have the capacity or capability because we’ve been quote unquote programmed that we can’t like technology. I see that a lot. I can’t learn technology, I’m not good at technology. That’s an assumption. Everybody started with zero knowledge of technology. Everybody. Now, some people, the younger folks, younger generation folks, they learned it technology before they can even remember because somebody put a smartphone in their hand when they were two years old. So they don’t remember the poking around. But like, everybody, I’m 60 years old and I run a tech company. Now, I don’t say I’m like an expert at tech, but we had to learn things. So all of those assumptions about our capabilities, where we belong, what we have the power to do, those are all those types of assumptions that I think pressure us for sure. 

Rishma: And you can even go the other way, like depending on what your goals are, this is going to be controversial because I know some people don’t react well to this, but I really think it’s important. There’s another thing, too. There is an identity around volunteering, and you would know better than me. But I feel like we feel like we just want to make a little bit of a difference. Like if I can help one person but that’s also an assumption. Like, what if we want to go big? Right? What if we want to go big? And as caregivers, we feel limited in our time. I feel as a mom, for example, I would be like, I just want my kids to see that I’m a good role model. Well, yes, that’s true, but I also want to succeed in my own life for me, and that feels selfish.  

But in volunteering, it’s, I think, a very similar sort of mindset, right? I just want to help this one person. But really, what if we want to go big? Is that an assumption? Is it true? How do we change that thought process? There is this stigma, at least in my experience. You tell me if you disagree. There’s a stigma around money in volunteerism. Like everything has to be altruistic. It’s the same in health care, it’s the same in teaching. Right? But what if there was another way to see the way we raise money, the way we fundraise, how we use the money, what the money is for, how we market? All of these assumptions can be challenged depending on your goals. 

Tobi: Absolutely. And I completely agree. There’s a huge assumption around investment in volunteerism, the investment of funds. I hear this all the time because of course we’re selling products and services and we hear from people, I would love to take your program, but my boss says no, and I’m thinking to myself, you’re crazy. What if you could bring in 50 more volunteers and they’re all becoming donors? I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty quick turnaround on your investment. So we think about volunteering as free labor. That’s an assumption. Volunteering is free labor. It’s not free labor because people are making sacrifices to volunteer. Organizations are investing time and energy and staffing into volunteering and resources into volunteering.  

So there’s no such thing as a free ride when it comes to people’s labor. So it’s interesting those assumptions that when we’re setting goals for ourselves, even in leaders in this space, I think this is a great way to really think about it. Let’s get back to this step by step because I think our audience and you know what? I think we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, I want to talk about what happens when, number one, you’ve lost your mojo and you realize it’s step one, you’re like, you know what? I’m not being purposeful. Number two. I’m reevaluating. I’m asking myself, I’m challenging my assumptions. I’m asking, is this the goal for me? Why is this the goal for me? Then before we do this pre work, before we even get to what’s the goal and how am I going to achieve it?  

But after the break, I want to talk about what happens when there’s a conflict with that either inside yourself or with others around you. Because I think once the light bulb goes off and we’re like, yep, I got to make change. The people around you, whether it’s your supervisor, your volunteers, your spouse, your partner, your friends, whoever it is, they may disagree. And so that’s a cliffhanger. Like a cliffhanger. I can’t believe so hang on a minute. We’ll be right back. So we’re going to be right back after this break with more on how to make better decisions with Rishma Walji.  So don’t go anywhere, gang. We’re going to tell you how to manage this, so stay tuned.  

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Tobi: Okay, we’re back with our exploration about how to make better decisions with my friend Rishma. Rishma. Okay, before the break, we were talking about our step by step. So our step by step was, first of all, we’ve got to recognize we’re not being purposeful. And I would hazard a guess that most of us in some part of our life are not being as purposeful as we could be. And we don’t have to wait until we lose our mojo to realize that, right? We should probably address that ahead of time. And then we’re taking steps to reevaluate. So we’re challenging our assumptions. We’re recognizing that there are pressures and programming that has come into our brain from all over. We’re human. Our brains are sponges, no doubt. And we shouldn’t blame ourselves for taking in programming because our brain is built to learn, right?  

And so then we ask ourselves, is this the goal for me and why? And only then do we set goals and plan to meet them. So if we’ve done this, the light bulbs gone off. We’ve decided, you know what? Things are not going right and I’ve got to make a change. What do we do when folks around us are like, wait, hold up. I liked you not having boundaries with me. I liked you rescuing me. I liked you spending all of your time and energy on me or on our project or in our organization. I like that you didn’t push back and that you would take up the slack over and over again. Because I have a feeling, gang, if this is you, I know you’re nodding your head right now and you’re listening and you’re saying, yeah, I’m that person. So what do we do? 

Rishma: Yeah, for sure. This happens so often in so many situations. I think the first thing is really understanding not just your goals, but your values. I often will talk about goals. I actually don’t like the word goals. I need to find another way because I think that it’s not just about what you want. It’s about who you are. It’s about how you want to feel. It’s about who you want to be in life, how you want to show up to the world. So it’s not just about your goals, but it’s also your values and your identity. And when we’re not clear about who we are, how we want to show up, what’s important to us, what order of priority things are important to us, and that it can change. It certainly can change and will change over time and in different parts of our lives.  

If we’re not clear about that, it’s much easier to lose your path and give in to the lack of boundaries and people walking all over you, taking advantage of you. It’s much easier because we then feel bad and we’re not firm in how we want to be. And so part of it is really understanding your identity, your values, like what is important to you. Because otherwise you can’t be strong enough to stand up for what is important to you. And I think the thing that people forget and I forget this too, I’m human too, we are all going through this that when you are not clear and you’re giving up on your boundaries, you’re also trading something else. Like this is the part that about decision making people don’t talk about is that you can’t really have it all. You have to give up something to get something else. It’s always a trade, right? You might have to trade time, you might have to trade money, but you also might have to trade a belief. You might also have to trade your self care. You might also have to trade an emotion, whatever that is, an identity, right? You have to trade something to get something else.  

And so we have to know that that’s right for us in order to have the strength to change that. So when I was early in my career, and maybe you can resonate with this, there were certain things that were important to me and family wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t ready to have a family. I wanted to earn, I wanted to pay my bills, I wanted to make sure that I was established. And then family became important. And now as my kids are becoming teens, now I’m important because I’m like, who am I again? What do I want? Right? I’ve given so much to other people, so different things are important to me at different parts of my life. And probably in a volunteer organization, it’s the same thing.  

You don’t have to do things the way you’ve always done it because you’re not going to be the same organization all the time. Maybe now diversity is more important to you because you’re more aware that that’s the thing and you should be more aware of diversity, right? Maybe you want to grow as an organization. Different things are important. And so in order to get those things, you have to trade something else. It’s really important to have that identity and that value. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. I think about it as our internal compass. And in organizations we have our mission, vision and values, right? And we should be touchstoning those. We should be going back and touching them over and over again. We should surface them and ask. One of the key assumptions is that we’re always living up to these, right? That’s a key. Well, they’re on our website, so we’re living up to them. Well, I can tell you that some organizations are not. I’ve worked for them, so I know. And I remember feeling like the real cognitive dissonance with like, you know what, this is not walking the talk right now.  

So there’s the internal compass of the organization, the mission vision and values, and touching back on that and really becoming that person that reminds people when we’re not setting good boundaries. I’m pretty sure that’s transgressing one of your mission vision and values because I’m pretty sure that people’s values in a nonprofit setting are not we’re going to take advantage of people as much as possible. That’s probably not in that list, right? Or we’re going to burn people out and we’re just going to be a revolving door of staff and volunteers because we just don’t care about people’s well being.  

That’s not really where we’re at as a nonprofit sector as a whole. But we’re not always true to our mission, vision and values. So that’s a really good place to start. I think, for individuals, our internal compass, we need to establish it on our own. But we also can reinforce it by being around our community, our small clan of people. Like, I have a few girlfriends and we get together, we do Zooms every. We live in different places and they live on the West Coast, I live in the East Coast. We get together and we are reminding ourselves as we’re catching up who we are. And we’ve been friends for a really long time. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. And I have another friend I’ve been friends with for over 30 years. And with those old friends that have been around for a long time, you’re reminding each other your identity because you are identity as a collective as well. And you’ve again curated. You stay with long term friends because they continue to reinforce and support your identity if you have healthy relationships. I’m going to put that assumption out there.  

And I also think for some people, their faith community is that reminder of their internal compass and their values. So we’ve got to find for each of us that place where we can go and touchstone onto and even, like, our spouse or our partner, those kinds of folks in our family, our kids, wherever we can find that group of people who can help remind us. I think that can help be a strength. As we’re setting boundaries. 

Rishma: Yeah, for sure. And it changes your communication. It changes everything, right? And I think also those people, especially if it’s a healthy relationship, as you said, they can hold you accountable to your values. Because we don’t want to think that we don’t hold true to our values, but of course we’re going to let go of them in some situations. There’s going to be a time where we feel backed up against a wall. We’re going to feel stressed. We’re going to feel one of my big values is to speak my mind. But I can’t always do that because sometimes I feel unsafe. Sometimes I feel I don’t want to be rude. Sometimes there’s all these things. So how do I speak up in a way that feels good to me? I need my people to say, hey, this is how you can do it. This is the way you can do it. You need to do this right. I need people to hold me accountable to that value because we can’t always do it on our own. Because of our internal thoughts, our patterns, our subconscious programming, all of these things right? 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So what stops people from shifting out of autopilot? We talked about how we can what are the key things that you might have a warning sign for yourself that, oh, wow, you know what, I really need to start this process. We talked a little bit about people losing their mojo and everything. What are the common things that maybe people realize, hey, I do need to embark on this process? What stops them from getting started? 

Rishma: Yeah, the biggest thing is pattern, habit pattern. This is how we’ve done even in an organization, but also on a personal level. So one of the things that I tell people to do is try to recognize your patterns. And sometimes you can’t recognize them on your own. You need other people to point them out. Sometimes you know something needs to change, but you don’t know what it is. And that’s part of the self-reflection. You need to recognize your patterns. And they might be organizational patterns, they might be group patterns, they might be personal patterns. And this is one that’s, on a personal level, very hard because you don’t want someone to say you’re not open minded. Let’s say as an example, right, like, let’s say you’re trying to change your organization, bring more diversity. You don’t want someone to say, oh, well, you don’t have enough diversity. You’re not open minded. You don’t want to hear that because it’s an attack on you as a person. It influences you in a way that feels negative, and so you want to fight against that. Well, that’s not true, right?  

But you have to recognize patterning. And if we can separate ourselves from this type of thinking that it’s an attack, we can grow. So it’s like you want to seek information, but all of that to change patterns. And it’s the same as if you have a health issue and you know something’s not right, but you don’t know what it is. It’s probably because you’re hunching over your computer, you have neck pain. Like something like this, right? It’s a pattern, it’s a habit, it’s a posture in the way that in healthcare, you would just look for a pattern that’s causing that issue. You can look for patterns in other aspects of life. It’s just not always easy to find them or to admit that they’re happening. But if you’re able to do that, that’s what causes change.  

And I really want to emphasize this point that especially in practice, I saw when people didn’t see their patterns and when they felt like there wasn’t anything they could do to change, they would lose hope. And in the research, losing hope is one of the things that really kills us faster than so many other things. We think we have no options. We get depressed. We feel like there’s nothing, no change can be made. When you’re in that place, look for a pattern, seek information, because maybe it’s that you don’t know how to change in healthcare, people would come to me, and they don’t know how to change something, but I do because I had that background.  

So seek information so that you can change a pattern even if you don’t know what it is. This is this growth aspect, this curiosity aspect. I think that’s what you have to have in order to make a change. You have to have curiosity. You have to have self-compassion. So you’re not judging yourself for not doing it the right way all this time or not changing on your own. Right? Maybe that hunching over my computer was helpful for me for some moment in time because I was getting something done. We can’t judge ourselves for our patterns because they protect us, but also how can we change them? And that’s the key to making sure you can open up doors, have options, and not lose hope. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. I love that idea and I think it’s important because we have this knee jerk reaction. When you were talking you’ve talked about this a couple of times during our chat today about taking something on as an attack on our identity. You offered the example of diversity. And I know a lot of our leaders of volunteers are very interested in increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations. It’s a big topic in our field right now, and it continues to be, and it’s something that I am a big supporter of. And one of the things I like to just recommend to people is when they hear information, when they’re receiving information that seems to be kind of shocking to them that they didn’t realize they were doing, like kind of our unconscious bias gets called out. I just say, just lean in and ask, tell me more. It doesn’t hurt you to learn more information. You can just lean in and tell me more.  

And I think you talked about self-compassion, I think also self-soothing. I know this is going to sound really woe, but I’m going to say it anyway because it helps me. Sometimes some self-soothing when you’re in a painful moment to say, you’re going to be okay. It’s going to be we have to be our own inner mama sometimes. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to survive this. You’re going to grow. You’re going to get better. You’re doing the right thing. You’re on the right track. And if you have your if your internal compass is telling you, yes. One of my values is that human life is sacred, that human beings, regardless of circumstance, regardless of what they look like, regardless of what language they speak, regardless of any of that, we are all sacred human beings, and we actually are more alike than different.  

And I’m here to make sure that with the power that I have to make sure there’s a level playing field here. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. And that’s a value someone might have and say, it’s okay, you don’t have to do this perfectly right now. It’s okay, it’s okay. So I like that idea of because I think people are in for a bumpy ride when you’re learning new habits. It’s not like we first time we got on a bike, we jumped on the bike and we rode around the block and went, woohoo. It just didn’t happen. But once you got or riding a bike is a lot faster. Let’s use like, skiing or something like that, some sport where it takes a little bit longer, or playing a musical instrument. After a while, it will feel natural. You will have the body memory to make it happen. But it’s hard at the beginning. 

Rishma: And I’m not a diversity expert, but as a woman of color, I appreciate when people say that they want to change this. And the question I would ask, just based on my work, is, if this is a value that’s important to you, are you willing to trade some discomfort, some embarrassment, some fear in order to make a change? 

Tobi: Yes. 

Rishma: Because we’re all going to say the wrong thing. Even me, I mean, I say the wrong thing all the time because I’m not an expert, and I only know my own personal, lived experience. I’m not an expert on every other culture. So of course we’re all going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to do the wrong thing. But if I have a commitment to making that change, if I have a commitment to establishing equality in my organization, am I willing to trade showing that I don’t know what I’m doing, being embarrassed, saying the wrong thing, and then saying, look, I’m sorry that I’m not an expert, but can you teach me, like, leaning in, I think asking those questions, being open these are things that I’m willing to trade in order to make that change. 

Tobi: Absolutely. And it’s true. I mean, I don’t know. Step up and raise your hand if you’re an expert on all things about being a human. We are. I think it’s the human condition to be flawed. I’m just saying. Rishma this has been such a great conversation. I really hope that our listeners have enjoyed this, and I really can’t wait. When your book comes out, and it will, I’ll have you back on and we’ll talk more about it. But in the meantime, let me ask you two more questions. One is, what are you most excited about in the year ahead? 

Rishma: That’s a really good question. I’m trying to figure out me again as my kids are getting older. So I’m really excited about my book, but I’m also really excited to just enjoy this life that we have and this finding myself again. I lost a bit of my identity when I left the practice, and now I’m sort of reestablishing how I want to give back to the world and in what way I want to do that. So I’m just kind of excited about finding myself again. It sounds a little bit cheesy, but redefining myself, I guess, is the way that I’m going to say it. I’m kind of excited about that. That feels really good right now. 

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re on the path. 

Rishma: Yeah, it’s really fun. And I really appreciate all the work that you’re doing. It’s so meaningful, so important. And I think that you’re just going to make such big waves. You’re already doing so much and after your book comes out, you’re going to do so much for the world. I love what you’re doing. I think it’s so valuable, so important. 

Tobi: Yeah. We haven’t talked a lot on the pod about the book. I haven’t even really gang, I’ll just dish it right here. I’m writing a book for volunteers who lead, the folks who are leading in our organizations, sort of a life manual for volunteer leaders. 

Rishma: And I’ve had a sneak peek and it is good and it is needed and it talks about things that people don’t talk about. I’m like big cheerleader for you. 

Tobi: You are too much, girl. Well, stay tuned. It’ll come out hopefully next I’m not even going to say hopefully. It will come out next spring. Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about your resources. Gang, we’re going to post in the show notes for sure. You have got to watch Rishma’s TEED Talk, it is so heartfelt. There was a point where I just went, oh, I emitted sound when I was watching. It was so good. 

Rishma: Thank you. It was super vulnerable. So I appreciate that a lot. Thank you. 

Tobi: Yeah, so you got to do that. Listen to Rishma’s, also her podcast and what other resources would you like to point people to that we will post in the show notes? 

Rishma: My website is probably the best way to find me. I have a lot of free resources on there, too. It’s livingxo.com. So that’s where you can find everything about me, all my resources. Yeah, just come and say hi. I love to connect with people. 

Tobi: That is so great. And please do. Gang, please take Rishma up on her invitation. So this has been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much for joining me. We’ll have you back when the book comes out. Just want to thank everybody for joining us for this episode of The Volunteer Nation. If you liked it, make sure you share it with a friend or colleague who might need a little extra inspiration, especially this episode. And if you comment and subscribe, it helps us push us to the top of the algorithm and reach more people. And this podcast has been steadily growing ever since we started it over a year ago. And I appreciate each and every one of you listeners and Rishma, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Rishma: Oh, thanks so much. It was my pleasure. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe rate and review you so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.