Nine life lessons I learned from this project

Nine life lessons I learned from the Equine Nonprofit Network (in no particular order):

1. Strategy, strategy, strategy. If you go into a project of this scope without a clear written plan and timeline, you will have trouble succeeding.  If you are doing social media, write out your strategy. If you are going to market the project, write out your strategy. Write a mission statement and live by it, because when things get tough and you have to make a hard decision, it will be have to be your moral compass.

3. You have something to learn from everybody. I met some incredible people along the way.  After visiting close to 20 farms, having 30-40 meetings, and driving ~2,500 miles in just 3 months, I felt totally immersed in this world I had inserted myself into.  From Chris, my tour guide in Corolla, to Dan and JoAnnah in Asheville, I have made new friends in every corner of the state.  Literally.  (Draw a line from Boone to Corolla to Shackleford to Southern Pines to Waynesville.  I pretty much hit every corner and I have stories to tell from all of them.)

2. When in doubt, be objective.  Never judge. As a subject matter expert to some degree, and in a field/discipline as subjective as horse ownership, it was absolutely crucial to go into this project as open minded as possible.  Everyone does things differently, and my opinion doesn’t matter. If I didn’t have a clear mission, I might have unintentionally let my opinion and bias sway my work as a storyteller and connector.

4. Back up all your work, and always save iteratively.  In the weeks before my launch I got excited and tried to move my site from the test space to my domain on WordPress.  In my haste I ruined the whole site. Broken, just like that. Just two weeks before my launch date I had to remake the whole 200 page website. Luckily though, I used Google Docs for my organization system and was able to recreate the content even better the second time.

5. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and speak knowledgeably about it. I’m not a web developer. I’m not a designer. I’m not an interactive designer.  But this project included all of those things.  I knew that what I was doing was bigger than that, and I positioned myself as a creator and visionary instead of each of those job descriptions.  Knowing my goals, and being able to talk about my strategic approach, I was able to find and foster a set of people who believe in this project.  It is my hope that it will become bigger than me and maybe one day I will be able to step back from it.  Seeing the big picture also helped me to land my dream job, where I will be doing similar work for a company I really believe in – and of course employment was a goal all along.

6. People believe in those who believe in themselves.  One of the first people I met in this project was Whitney Wright from Hope for Horses in Asheville.  I drove down from Elon (3.5 hours) to meet with her on a Saturday morning in November, and she kindly gave me two hours of her time.  When I visited her again at the end of the project (the final visit for the project) she admitted that often times she gives an hour of her life to talking to someone who has a big idea, and she never hears from them again and never sees any follow through.  I was able to show her the site (pre-launch), the map, and I was able to talk about the multitude of experiences I had and people I had met along the way.  Simply following through made her feel like I didn’t waste her time.

 7. Being around brilliant people on a regular basis is a privilege.  As a student in Elon’s MA in Interactive Media program I have had the opportunity to be around really smart people everyday.  This spring I was also an intern at VisionPoint Marketing in Raleigh – between the two places I had the opportunity to bounce ideas off of some really cool people.  Special thanks to Iris and Ashley who kept me company on farm visits and endlessly brainstormed with me to keep me on track, Justin and Chris who helped me when Google Analytics was failing me, and Phil Motley for setting the bar high and pushing me to raise it higher.  Everyone who has been around me this spring deserves a big thanks for letting me be the “horse girl” and not making fun of me too much for it.

8. Smile.  It will all be over too soon.  In the moments counting down to the launch of the site I felt like there were an endless amount of tasks to complete.  It feels like your life will end if they don’t get done, and the stress just continues to build.  I’m sure this will continue to happen and I’m sure I will continue to feel stress in life and work.  I’ve always subscribed to that old maxim “if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I might be an extreme example because I find ways to do the things I want and make it work.  For this project though, I combined all my favorite things – horses, nonprofits, photography, video stories, long car trips, sunrises alone on the beach, wild horses, and witty best friends.  No matter how tedious things are though, its important to take the time to appreciate the little things. The people you meet for too short a time, yet feel like you have known forever.  The cold chill at dawn while watching the stars fade into the sun rise.  The tears of someone who is so passionate about what they do that it just pours out of them while sharing their story. The people who go out of their way to be kind, even when you wouldn’t expect them to.  Being able to look in on, and be welcomed into, families and communities of people that love each other unconditionally.

9. Everyone has a story. I think this one goes without saying, but still, its worth reiterating.  Listen, ask questions, be humble.  Telling stories is a privilege and responsibility. If someone is willing to open up and share, and let you tell their story, it is so important to have integrity and be true to them.  I feel so privileged to have been able to witness not only the beautiful side of rescuing, wild horse preservation, therapeutic riding, and equine assisted psychotherapy throughout this spring.  But people have also opened up about the less glamorous parts. The struggles of not being able to save all the horses that need saving. The pain of a child losing their battle in life. The frustration of bureaucratic red tape that will destroy our wild horse herds.  These organizations focus on the best parts of what they do to keep their focus on the successes, so its important to take care when sharing the hard stuff.  Running these organizations is hard and I don’t think I could do it.  I have so much respect for the professionals I have met along the way who took the time to let me into their organizations. THANK YOU.

On May 1 I sent out an email to several hundred people announcing the launch of the Equine Nonprofit Network. For a long time it seemed like it was some intangible idea, an illusion that would never be completely finished.  Throughout the whole process very few major changes were made to the original concept.  I went into the research phase with a clear plan and an open mind, and along the way I was able to tweak and adjust my path for the best possible outcome.  When I started this blog in September I set the countdown counter for May 1, 2013.  And on that day, it launched.

This project was hard. It took a lot of time, covered many miles, and introduced me to some interesting people.

Are there things I would do differently? Definitely.  Would I do it all again? Absolutely.

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