Today's guest is content marketer Brooklin Nash, whose early career in a Guatemalan non-profit led him to a "fight or flight" situation with a stubborn, insecure director who gaslit him.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:06] Welcome to the Professional Confessional: How the biggest mistakes we've ever made fundamentally changed our work, our careers, and our approach forever. Gain wisdom and perspective through these audio absolutions.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:22] Today's guest is Brooklyn Nash, whose youthful crusade to improve a nonprofit's program led to toxic interactions with his director and complete burnout for himself and his wife.
Brooklin Nash [00:00:34] I was very young, relatively immature, 22 to 25 year old. I actually didn't start in content marketing. I started my career "working" for a nonprofit here in Guatemala. So my wife and I moved down here to work with the nonprofit, and I was just freelance writing on the side to pay off student loans and pay our bills and all that.
Brooklin Nash [00:00:58] But most of my time and energy was focused on this nonprofit, and the mistake came in a couple of years after we started working with this nonprofit, when it became increasingly clear that our vision was not aligned with the leadership of the nonprofit. And then, I spent way too long and way too many years trying to immaturely fight that instead of trying to figure out where the line in the sand was and when it was time to leave. That's one piece. And then, the other piece in the amateur side is, just not knowing how to communicate that disagreement.
Brooklin Nash [00:01:31] The nonprofit was focused on an orphanage and a bilingual school and some community programing. This is a tiny nonprofit, and kind of this weird situation where we are a small staff. We all live essentially... Like, more or less lived and worked together very much like this community thing.
Brooklin Nash [00:01:47] And over the course of a year or so, I realized that it didn't make sense to work in an orphanage when we could be building community programs and family-based care programs. And, I brought that to the organization. It just wasn't taken very well, and I think that's when we started to realize that we were not aligned with where we were headed.
Ashley Stryker [00:02:09] So how did you try to take it to them? Was it an email? Was it in person? Was it a, hey, see you in the hallway, "You want to talk about something?"
Brooklin Nash [00:02:16] Yeah, I just brought it to them and I think in a weekly meeting or something like that. After that kind of point -- where we were trying to push for something that was very much being resisted -- it felt like every conversation, instead of focusing on the programs. And, the work was internal marketing of trying to explain why this other direction was so important, and then just got more and more frustrated.
Ashley Stryker [00:02:39] And as time went on, did anyone get frustrated with you?
Brooklin Nash [00:02:42] Yeah, yeah.
Ashley Stryker [00:02:43] What would happen?
Brooklin Nash [00:02:44] I think I wasn't at the point where I was able to adequately or effectively express what we were thinking, and why this felt like an important direction to us. So there was some frustration there. Like, maybe they thought there was... We were more aligned than we actually were, because I wasn't expressing myself well.
Brooklin Nash [00:03:03] And then the other the other piece of frustration came [when] the director was gone for a number of months, and I filled in as interim director for this nonprofit. And during that time, I just started making some of the changes. Not big changes to our actual programing, but just, like, the conversations we were having, what we were planning for the future.
Brooklin Nash [00:03:28] When they got back, they were just very frustrated with me when they came back and they realized what we'd been doing.
Ashley Stryker [00:03:33] What was the conversation like? Was it a sit down meeting?
Brooklin Nash [00:03:36] Yeah, it was a series of sit down, very long conversations, and I think there is just a lot of hurt there. I had been involved with the nonprofit for... I think four years at that point, and my wife and I had both had been and we felt like we...
Brooklin Nash [00:03:52] This sounds more conceited than I mean it, but we felt like we deserved a little bit more respect, and that our opinions mattered more than they were being treated like. It felt like it was just an, "OK, that's nice. We'll consider it," instead of actually being brought in and as part of leadership.
Brooklin Nash [00:04:10] And then on the other side, I think the hurt was this director just felt like she was being replaced -- more like I wanted... Like I was gunning for her job.
Brooklin Nash [00:04:19] And that speaks to probably the immaturity of how I handled it or how I was pushing for things, or just not being willing to cut it loose and be like, "OK, great, we have different directions. I'm stepping back" -- instead just pushing forward and pushing forward.
Brooklin Nash [00:04:32] So a lot of those conversations are centered on what that hurt looked like on both sides.
Ashley Stryker [00:04:37] That's sad. At least you had the conversation.
Brooklin Nash [00:04:40] Yeah.
Ashley Stryker [00:04:41] So what made her think that you were gunning for her job? Just because it was such a dramatically different shift from what the organization was currently doing?
Brooklin Nash [00:04:48] Yeah. And because I was in, like I said, we had been there for four years, I think almost five years at that point, and what I was asking for was to be treated as part of leadership. And I asked, "Can we... I don't know, what can we start making these decisions together?"
Brooklin Nash [00:05:04] And the answer was essentially flat out, "No, the board doesn't feel like it's a good idea to share share these responsibilities from an executive director or... And talk to these people otherwise." The beginning of the end was of me actually coming to the point I realized this was too far gone was it felt a little bit like gaslighting.
Ashley Stryker [00:05:23] Do you remember a specific situation where she did gaslight you?
Brooklin Nash [00:05:26] Yeah, that example I gave that happened a few times over and with one, like I said, this was a small organization, so it was colleagues, but also community.
Brooklin Nash [00:05:35] So she came back. She was having all these meetings with everybody, including me. And I think, in the course of the conversation of, I don't know, talking about where the gaps were and how I could potentially fill them, she made it pretty specific claim about what some other people on the team had said about something I did.
Brooklin Nash [00:05:56] And I went to them, because I value transparency. I wasn't trying to pick a fight or anything. I was like, "If you have made you feel this, I don't... I'm sorry, I made you feel that."
Brooklin Nash [00:06:05] I would want to talk about it and work it out. And there wasn't anything to work out because they were just like, "What are you talking about? I didn't say that," or, "We don't think that."
Ashley Stryker [00:06:13] So, you basically had two options: You could continue to stay and fight for what you thought was the better direction for the nonprofit's mission, right? Or, you could go. How did you pick?
Brooklin Nash [00:06:23] It took me way too long, something my wife could tell you. She was ready a lot sooner than I was -- and that's a piece of the mistake, is just, like, holding on to something for too long instead of just realizing when it's actually doing more harm than good in a professional setting.
Brooklin Nash [00:06:37] It's one thing [to hold to something for too long], when you're talking about with a tech platform or something. Not to say... I love outreach [marketing], but this was literally we were working with kids in a school and with these on-the-ground programs. So, it was a lot harder to let go of than, like, leaving my job now would be, to be honest. It took a couple of years, honestly to get to that point.
Brooklin Nash [00:06:57] What it ended up looking like was just me, asking and saying, "OK, moving forward, can we share this responsibility and share these decisions? You have these strengths and I have these strengths and they really do complement each other. Can we talk about that moving forward? Because to date, like we haven't been listened to and for us to stick around, we need to know that we have a voice in this and a stake in it."
Brooklin Nash [00:07:19] And the answer was essentially, "No, we can't share that."
Brooklin Nash [00:07:21] So, I wasn't going to continue spinning my wheels, so we ended up stepping back.
Ashley Stryker [00:07:26] How did you find your next step after that? What were you looking for differently than what you had?
Brooklin Nash [00:07:30] It's this weird thing, because if that hadn't had happened, I don't know that I would be necessarily a full time content marketer.
Brooklin Nash [00:07:38] Because of my own mistake of holding on for too long and not being super mature about it, we just ended up being not just burned out, but just burned.
Brooklin Nash [00:07:47] So when we stepped out, we just needed a break from the nonprofit world in any capacity. I had freelanced along the way with writing, and I jumped into freelance writing and content marketing full time, learned more about content marketing so I could upskill. And then the rest is history.
Brooklin Nash [00:08:01] So that first year I just was like, "Okay, great. If I can make X amount freelance writing this next year, that's great. We can stay in Guatemala. That's all we need" -- and just went gung ho for this full-on other direction because of what had happened the previous five years.
Brooklin Nash [00:08:15] And I think if maybe I had been more mature about it, or we had stepped out earlier before we burned out like that, maybe we still would be working in another nonprofit capacity.
Ashley Stryker [00:08:23] If the mistake is not knowing when to fight or flight, basically, and being able to maturely communicate that -- which is something I personally struggle with -- if that was the core mistake that you made there, how have you not repeated it? How has it changed how you operate?
Brooklin Nash [00:08:37] That's a good question. It's definitely changed how we operate in the future. Eventually, we would like to get back into nonprofit work, and I think it's given us some good insight.
Brooklin Nash [00:08:45] We came into this as bright-eyed, 21-22 year olds, super optimistic about it. And again, it's a little dose of realism of even nonprofits have their problems and sometimes toxicity. But I don't want that to turn into as being inherently distrusting.
Brooklin Nash [00:09:01] The other piece that I think... The other big takeaway is just a lot less willing to put up with something that I think is bullshit and just figuring out how to express why I think it is BS, and maybe what it would need to change. That's definitely, I think, a positive that came out of it because there's a lot of B.S. that can...
Ashley Stryker [00:09:21] Let's say you have another 21, 22 year old, bright eyed, bushy tailed person who sees something they want to change. How would you recommend them proceed in a similar situation where they have to either try to make change within the organization? Or when should they decide it's time to leave?
Brooklin Nash [00:09:36] I think when I think maybe by the time you get to, I don't know how many times... A third or fourth time, let's say, where you feel like you're saying the same thing and it's not being received, then it might be time to move on.
Brooklin Nash [00:09:49] And it's not just big picture at a nonprofit. If you're a content marketing manager, and you've made it clear to to your boss that you're putting in the work for this upward trajectory, but it's becoming more and more clear that there's really not the next opportunity. Maybe they have one senior content marketing manager, and then they're not opening more head count for the role for the next year or two.
Brooklin Nash [00:10:09] Like, just kind of look at what you've communicated and how it's been received, and then what the options are for the next year or two. And, if those don't match up, it might be time to look for an opportunity that might make those things match up better.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:26] How transparent should you be with that kind of a philosophy? Should you tell your manager, "Look, I told you I wanted x y z. It doesn't seem like that's going to happen. Am I wrong, or is it time for me to start transitioning?" Should someone be up front about it, or should it be on the down low?
Brooklin Nash [00:10:41] So I err on the side of transparency. Probably also depends on your boss, honestly, and the organization.
Brooklin Nash [00:10:46] And thankfully, I have a great manager. I have been able to be very transparent with him and say, "Look, I'm thinking about this. What do you think about that? What can we do different?" And he's walked with me every step of the way on it.
Brooklin Nash [00:10:56] So I think it probably depends on your situation. It's up to you to really put yourself out there and advocate for yourself. You have a great boss when they're coming to you, and a good chunk of your conversations are not focused on the project or outcomes for the company, but focused on you and your career and what you're majoring in and what skills do you need to work on -- apart from the company! Just in general, to build your career.
Brooklin Nash [00:11:20] I think any great manager will take the time to invest in you as a person instead of you as the role or function.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:27] And if they treat you like the role or function, that's probably a sign...?
Brooklin Nash [00:11:30] ...Probably a red flag, if you haven't had if you haven't had a conversation with your manager about your career. Honestly, even separate from the company, I think that's at least a yellow flag, if not a red flag.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:42] All right. And then, if you wanted to... Instead of flying, then you thought it was better to try and stay and fight. How would you do it more tactfully than you did at your previous organization?
Brooklin Nash [00:11:53] Yeah, I think I just would have asked a lot more questions. I don't think I asked enough questions. I think I jumped right into what I was convinced of and what I knew and needed to happen.
Brooklin Nash [00:12:04] Looking back then, I think I handled it poorly, but I don't think I was wrong. I still believe in what I was fighting for. I just don't think I stepped back and ask enough questions: "How do you feel about this? What are you thinking? What are you afraid of? What does this mean to you?"
Brooklin Nash [00:12:16] As it sounds like you're getting a little bit more into like therapy versus talk on strategy, but just taking a step back and asking... By asking them the questions instead of immediately getting into this, like, back and forth where it feels like a fight...
Ashley Stryker [00:12:30] I'm laughing only because I had -- my family calls it "being right or dead right." You can be right or you can be dead right, and you don't want to be dead right --
Brooklin Nash [00:12:38] --You don't want to be dead right, yeah, exactly. You can be technically correct and still be in the wrong. Yes, I think that was the big takeaway.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:46] So Brooklyn's mistake was the bad presentation of good ideas, compounded by youthful inexperience and his director's own insecurity. Basically, he didn't know when to quit! He kept pushing his organization for changes they were never going to implement, while simultaneously ignoring the writing on the wall that they were never going to promote him into leadership in similar situations.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:11] Brooklyn now practices up front, transparent conversations with his employers and managers, and believes working for a company that never invests in your own personal development is a red flag for toxic management. In a professional "fight or flight" situation, don't stay and fight for the organization that doesn't fight for you. Instead, fly somewhere that will appreciate your push back and support your growth. Otherwise, you risk being dead right and suffering complete burnout.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:42] Today, Brooklyn Nash is an expert content marketer specializing in B2B SaaS platforms. He's worked with the likes of Outreach, Mixpanel, G2, Drift, and Marketing Profs, among others. You can connect with Brooklyn on LinkedIn at PC-Podcast.com/BrooklinN.
Ashley Stryker [00:14:07] And, you can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com or on your podcasting platform of choice.
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Ashley Stryker [00:14:34] In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear it today. That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!