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Learning Curves

When I retired from the practice of clinical medicine, I eagerly anticipated escaping high stress problem solving but after 30 years, the clinical experience of emergency medicine has shaped the way I think and approach problems and the pace at which I expect problem solving to occur. Even in retirement, I can’t get away from it: I think like an emergency medicine physician. When I conceived of Toilet Equity, I thought starting and running a nonprofit would be straight forward. After all, I’d be developing this idea in the stress-free comfort of my home with friends to encourage and support me. I’d even be sleeping every night! As I researched the task, I read how I shouldn’t start a nonprofit if there was any other way to accomplish what I had in mind, but I was undeterred. For 30 years, I had managed every problem that came through the emergency department door. Now, free of all that pressure, I thought I’d easily achieve my goal of bringing Toilet Equity to life.

It has been anything BUT easy. I thought the medicine learning curve was steep but here I am again on another steep learning curve. The idea of Toilet Equity is fairly simple -- build some toilets for folks without, in which human feces/urine can begin the aerobic bacterial process of becoming compost. It’s the execution of that idea that’s the hard part. Many different pieces need to fall together and I’m finding out I have to learn and grow several new skills. I have to be a builder, which I’ve discovered is not a natural fit for me as I struggle to get my first toilet out into the field. I have to be an administrator. Huh? I have to organize Board meetings and actually build consensus about how to bring our idea to the world? I have to be a fund raiser but having just attended my first seminar about grants from the Colorado Nonprofit Association, I discovered a big hole in my knowledge base. I have to be a data organizer so why did I never take a computer course to help me understand the many different ways to collect and organize data? I have to discuss my idea with the unhoused folks who will use these toilets and the community organizations that support those folks. Whoa, that’s a big ask of an introvert! What was I thinking???

Lately, I feel a little bit lost but emergency medicine taught me two important lessons: perseverance leads to progress and I don’t have to know how to do everything. When I cared for a critically ill patient for whom I didn’t know immediately what to do but everyone was expecting an answer, I’d anchor on the things I did know – a functioning airway, a palpable pulse, giving me a minute to organize my thoughts and make a plan. Those lessons quiet my brain now and give me confidence that despite the steep learning curve, I and the TE Board will find our way forward to create toilet access for those without.


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