Knitting Makes Me a Better Executive Director

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is Executive Director of theA Queens Council on the ArtsA in Jamaica, New York, a children's book author, a pianist, and a fanatic knitter. In this First Person Nonprofit story she tells what she's learned from knitting:

I had been a classical pianist. But as an executive director, being able to play 32 Beethoven sonatas was not going to provide the knowledge I needed. So I asked someone for advice who had left one world successfully for another world: my mother.

What I got was a ball of yarn and two knitting needles.

My mother taught me to love creating works of art from a single strand of yarn. She taught me to aspire to mastery: "You want the yarn to move gracefully through your fingers, up and over the needles like a little dance." She brought me into her knitting circle.

And in my Mom's knitting circle I learned the power of peer circles. In both knitting circles and peer circles you sit in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and discover that you have all the answers -- and all the questions -- in the room. In both cases there's something in your hand, and something in the middle. Both these gatherings are places to share, to be vulnerable and to be supported.

I love the buzz in a room whether it is a knitting circle or a peer circle of visual artists: it is the sound of a creative community. In a recent piece in the New York Times about things that make people happy and things that don't, David Brooks writes: Joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.

Knitting and budget cutsA

Knitting is transforming something linear into something multi-dimensional. I've lost two funders recently, each with substantial amounts of money for certain programs. If I look at this in a linear way, it's a loss, a cut. But if I can see it in many dimensions, I can see that if I'm losing funding and support in one area it means that there must be some fat somewhere to cut. And that instead of a loss it's a way to re-evaluate what we're doing and ask ourselves honestly, is the tail wagging the dog or is the dog wagging the tail?

How do we become excellent?

When I was a music student there were conservatories around the world training students like me for careers in performance. But there were no such academies when I became an executive director. How do you become excellent in this work? What do you need to practice, what experience do you have to create?

In learning a craft or a trade, it is customary for apprentices to spend years studying with a master before they could become journeymen and artisans in their own right.

How do you get better at anything? Practice. That, at least, I knew from my piano days.

So I knit a little everyday. It delights me to see the progress I have made. I love the feel of the yarn and needles. As an executive director I strive for excellence on a daily basis, through reflective practice of actions big and small.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -- Aristotle

I am changing the world, one artist, one peer circle at a time. It is work I embrace with the same commitment to excellence and practice that I was taught as a young pianist, that I learned in knitting circles, and that I practice every day as an executive director.

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is an executive director who writes style notes for people who change the world atA www.hoongyee.com. She is also an artspy, momspy and nonprofit knitter. You can follow her on TwitterA here.

Comments (16)

  • I love to knit, too! We need a nonprofit knitting club!

    Apr 06, 2010
  • Nonprofit knitters unite! I hope you can find some local lovers of all things knit and nonprofit and start your own knitting club. Trust me, it will be a source of great joy for all of you.
    best,
    hoong yee
    www.hoongyee.com

    Apr 06, 2010
  • Wonderful! Come to the Textile Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota we ARE a nonprofit art center supporting all fiber artists including knitters, weavers, beaders, felters, dyers, quilters etc... We welcome and encourage everyone to come and learn the joys of textiles and fiber art.
    Check us out at www.textilecentermn.org
    Margaret Miller
    Executive Director

    Apr 06, 2010
  • I love that you are having a textile garage sale! I am sure you have some stuff that we nonprofit knitters would go crazy for.
    best,
    hoong yee
    www.hoongyee.com

    Apr 06, 2010
  • Peer mentoring, happiness is community, artistic metaphors for our mastery of non-profit directorship, all fitting and inspiring. Thank-you!

    Apr 07, 2010
  • hi deborah
    thanks!
    its so important to stay energized and to feel good about doing this work.
    best,
    hoong yee
    www.hoongyee.com

    Apr 08, 2010
  • p.s. I'm a folk musician with a family band in Western Michigan and I direct a neighborhood association. We're "Kinsfolk."

    Apr 08, 2010
  • Anonymous

    that rocks!
    love that name and that music is something your family does together.

    Apr 10, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I am known for taking knitting, crocheting, or needlepoint to meetings and people will ask for an explanation if I don't have a project! It helps keep me focused as well as providing an opportunity to make gift for someone in the larger organization if requested. Prayer shawls are also great things to work on and give when needed.

    Apr 09, 2010
  • OH! Can I relate to this! I am an RN ( private / nonprofit Institutional setting) and often take folks to see their MDs, to the ER or to Urgent care. Imagine the waiting times..yep perfect time to knit. I am well known as the knitting nurse and have my projects inspected on a daily basis. If I forget or decided to read a (fibery!) magazine, I get questioned!. Knitting IS fun, relaxing, productive and definitely makes you a better person in many subtle ways. Thx for the article.Claudia in Nor Cal

    Apr 10, 2010
  • Anonymous

    if i were waiting to see a doctor it would definitely bring a smile to my face to see you knitting!

    Apr 10, 2010
  • Anonymous

    there is nothing like the energy of an unapologetically creative giving person. people around you are truly fortunate!

    Apr 10, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I agree that what knitting teaches has applications in other parts of life. As an executive director, I often felt I was knitting--and often taking out rows in the same day-- but when I allowed myself to hold my work out at arm's length, I could see the progress and it was usually beautiful, or at least functional.

    This past year I competed in a triathlon, and it was my knitting experience that kept me going--one breaststroke, one cycle, one step at a time--with full confidence that there would be something of accomplishment at the end.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Apr 12, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Wow! That is truly something inspiring on so many levels and a creative metaphor for all of us as we face challenges big and small.

    Apr 12, 2010
  • hey there hoong yee -
    you just may have inspired me to get out some knitting needles, or better yet, join a circle to encourage me to finish a long -languishing crochet project!
    claudia bach

    Apr 12, 2010
  • hi claudia
    so nice to hear from you! enjoy your journey, i would love to see you enjoy finishing your project.
    xo hoong yee

    Apr 12, 2010

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