A Founder's Reflections

All my life, heroes, both real and imagined, have influenced me from books, movies, television and music. Even those whom I have met in person, and, yes, even those costume ones from comics (no, I have no desire to run across rooftops, though that may be fun). Though I don’t consider myself a hero like those I just mentioned, I’ve known since a young age what it means to do the right thing. And that is how I served as President here for seven years – by doing the right thing. Even when it wasn’t always the most popular thing, and even when it was something I really didn’t want to do.

When I became President I had two responsibilities. First, to uphold the mission, and second, if I couldn’t help HEP, don’t hurt it. There was also one more that was more personal to me: to leave the organization better than I found it.

For me that would be no easy task as many, many, times I had to let go of my own desires for the organization to keep the whole damn thing upright. I thought of some of the heroes I admired, and how they would have to sacrifice their foolish desires for the greater good. I know I sound a tad over dramatic – I realize this wasn’t a crusade and I was not in search of a holy grail – but I was just trying to do the right thing. There were many things I wanted to do; so many dreams that I had for this organization. When I first became president, I felt like a kid who had gotten the keys to a candy store. I wanted to do this, that, and the other thing. But then reality set in.

Being at the top doesn’t always mean you can do anything you want. Being the leader of a non-profit is no easy task and I learned early on that leadership is earned not given. Part of that is checking your own ego and become willing to listen to other ideas that may or may not clash with your own. Stability needed to come first. I also found out that sometimes things you come up with sometimes fail, and you cannot take that personally. If you do you will fail and maybe even bring the whole damn thing down around your ears.

Any good leader knows that he is only as effective as the people around him, and I have been fortunate during my time here to work with many great people. Many have left, some are still here, and some who have just arrived and are already making a difference. I said in a column a little while back that a true leader knows when it’s time to stand aside and let others lead. That time is now, though I must admit I will never truly leave. I want to be here when those great ideas that myself and others have talked about happen. And I intend to be. I will continue to fight to end homelessness, and I will continue to write this column.

I also would like to say thanks to the most important people in this organization: the vendors who sell this paper. There is little doubt in my mind that I would have lasted this long without them. I cannot count how many times they have encouraged me to keep going – not by words, but – with what they do. HEROES.

-James Shearer

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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