Letter From the President: Navigating 2023’s Big Hairy Problems

I hope 2023 has started out well for each of you, and that you’re on track to make it a great year for your community, the animals, your organization, and yourself.

Having been in this profession for over 38 years and on the earth for more than 61 years, I’m not naïve enough to believe the turning of the calendar page (yep, we used to do that manually with paper calendars featuring photos of cute kittens or exotic landscapes) will solve all the problems in the world.  Nor can I even imagine a year free of any troubles or challenges.  That’s all part of the game.

Rather than aspiring to a trouble-free world, we should instead hope to use what we have learned to navigate any troubles that arise. And, better still, we should go into this new year fully prepared and open to learn new lessons from the challenges (and triumphs) we’ll face in 2023.  Let’s be in charge of our own destinies, to the extent such a thing is possible.  Plan for the best, prepare for the worst and move through this year with a smile on your face and dogged determination to make 2023 the best it can be.

If you can use a few tips from someone who has seen the arrival of several new years and has spent most of them in the animal welfare profession, I may be your guy.  Here are a few thoughts to help navigate 2023 and beyond:

  • We Are Not Alone!  No, that’s not the tagline for a new horror film, but my way of stressing the great value in building, nurturing and expanding a professional network. I say frequently that the strength of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement lies within its network.  If we add up the years of service represented by our membership, they would undoubtedly total in the thousands. If you are experiencing a challenge, have had a success or just need a shoulder, there is somebody (probably several somebodies) within our network who has been there and done that.  And in late 2022 The Association made it even easier to connect. Through our online community, The Network, you can target your outreach to folks who do the same job as you or who work in your region or whatever factors seem most important.  Members, join The Network today and begin sharing.
  • Focus.  The work we do is hard, complex and seemingly never-ending.  By building a strong strategic plan for your organization AND community, you can be assured you’re focusing on issues/areas that represent true priorities for those you serve. We all try to be everything to everyone, and it rarely results in success. But focusing on the greatest needs in your area will help you chip away at major societal problems. Accept the fact that you will likely never end a day with an empty in-box  feeling like your work is done. That’s OK.
  • Be Kind. You’re probably already kind to animals or you wouldn’t be in this business.  But be kind to people, too…ALL people. Let’s start with each other. For nearly 40 years I’ve watched animal welfare organizations and professionals waste far too much energy fighting amongst themselves. Imagine how much more we can get done by putting aside petty differences and working together on the big hairy problems we all face. While we may have different ideas about how to get things done, we share a vision of what needs to be done. Honor differences and find ways to work together.
  • Keep Learning.  The day we stop learning should be the day they carry us out feet first.  Our profession is exciting and dynamic and things are always churning and changing.  Accept and embrace that! Use what makes sense for you and set the rest aside, but don’t stop learning and evolving. The words “We’ve always done it that way” are an anchor, not a mantra. The Association’s online Learning Center is great place to start. There are hundreds of learning opportunities right there, just a few keystrokes away. And look for any local, regional and national training on animal welfare, not-for-profit leadership, and leadership in general.
  • Take Care of Yourself.  Take up a hobby. Travel for pleasure. Spend quality time with your family and friends. Laugh! The worst thing we can do is accept the notion that we must never take our eyes off the road in this work. Counting your accomplishments in the number of hours spent at work (or thinking about work) is a formula for failure. As a profession we have accomplished so much. And we have much more to do. But we can’t perform at our best if our own batteries are running out of juice.  At 60 I took up yoga and practice in classes at least twice a week. I walk my own dogs (remember them?) about 4 miles on most days. And I’ve taken up pickle ball, which is more fun that grownups should be allowed to have. For a long time I would’ve argued that there’s no time for such things. Now I know differently.

Happy New Year, Friends and Colleagues.  You are a wonderful bunch of people and I look forward to seeing you in the year ahead.  I’ll expect your best Dad or Mom joke and some vacation pictures on your phones. And, if anyone wants to challenge me to a round of pickle ball, bring it on! Namaste!


Jim Tedford, CAWA, is President and CEO of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement.


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