Author: Xiaojie Qin, Founder and Director of CandleX
Date: March 2022
For the 7th year anniversary, I decided to answer a question that I got asked over and over again over the years: How did you get started and how do you run the organization?
I thought the best way to answer is to use our value statement as an anchor. I review our organization introduction every year, and I compound on the values. Some changed over time. I often review whether we are still in line with our value in our decision-making, and review whether we actually have prioritized some values over the others as the backbone of our organization. Now the update “Who Are We? | CandleX” article is published, I’d like to answer the question by expanding on how we came to be, and grew by Value #1: Passion.
It’s difficult to keep a baby, who’s never felt hunger, alive. The thirst for knowledge and the desire to be part of the change are what keep CandleX going. At CandleX, we have no fixed working hours, and as a director and person, I do not like ‘allocating’ tasks to others. CandleX definitely inherited from me that non-forcefulness way to operate. Then how do we get things done?
From the very beginning, I operate on the belief that there are many passionate people out there who need a space to contribute to mental health for the community. As long as it’s a belief, there’s a margin for error. I was willing to test it out. One thing that I do know is that I am passionate about mental health and wellbeing. I do not want to make people do things, but I can start by doing something myself and see if there would be others that like to join. No grand plans, no efforts to look for funding nor get a team in place first. That was in 2015.
At a public event in Beijing, I signed up as a speaker and shared my journey with mental health by tapping into my strength and vulnerability, authenticity and compassion for myself and the community. It created a ripple effect. I was very soon invited to give talks in schools, in companies, and even on TV. I knew right away this was a shared passion. I knew I needed to create a team so this powerful shared passion could shape our community.
At that time, I had worked in the NGO field for 7 years already. I was comfortable with the idea to start a local NGO. Sounds daunting? All I thought at that time is that I needed a name, a logo, a mission statement, an official email account, and a team structure. The team structure looked great. It’s funny to look back on it and see my name for all different positions. I was a one-woman team. I just did what I could as a one-woman team: I waited, for “shared passion” to take care of the rest.
Very soon, my enthusiastic yoga friend joined me for talks and workshops. I don’t even recall how one of our very first volunteers that year, a teenager, at the age of 17-18 joined us a whole year until she left China. Another young lady, who came to our support group and did not really even believe this type of peer support would work, ended up working with us as a support group coordinator for her 4th year now. Sometimes our passion and emotions which give us enlightenment for the meaning of life, come to us unexpectedly. If we give teenagers a stage, they perform! If you follow us long enough, you would notice that our graphic design has improved significantly and are more consistent now. These are products of one of our teenagers, who first joined our teens open letter project in 2020 and bravely shared her story with school bullying both in China and in the States. One of the least visible people the whole time, our operation officer, has been with us for four to five years now, assisting me with holding the structure in place. None of it would have happened if they did not share the passion for mental health.
My previous working title was specialist in monitoring and evaluation, which meant my opinions and comments were given more weight in my specialized area by default. It also meant I previously had very little management work. My first management role was the founding of CandleX. Learning to work with others was not a walk in the park.
Over the years, I went through an experience that made me realize as long as there’s passion, people’s differences can be put aside and I could grow personally. In the past, I was more of a solo person who would rather do things in their own ways and their own speed. That started to change in 2016. A newly arrived therapist from the US joined the team as early as our first year. I was so thrilled because then, we actually had an in-house therapist for the work that we did. After working together for a while, we started to feel uncomfortable with each other, and we had conflicts, serious ones, after which we were not sure about working together anymore. It was not an easy decision to cool down and repair our relationship for either of us. It is just so much easier to avoid the hard work sometimes. There was a period of time when I wish the team were working harder, or being on-time more, taking our meeting notes more seriously. I had lots of expectations, and I ran the organization with certain principles that I am comfortable with. These principles are fine for me and certainly helped me to model professionalism and to deliver the best services. But for the organization, running in such a way bent flexibility and dampened appreciation, and certainly, at times it created management issues. Our in-house therapist and I came to a gridlock at some point. Despite our differences, we both are so passionate about mental health, and the work that we did together. We managed to move through these moments because we have this shared passion to hold on to, and also the respect we have for one another even though we yelled at one other. She was with us for the following five to six years hosting and attending countless workshops, talks, events, and running online psychoeducation programs even when I thought she could not possibly have time for it. She made time, or rather – her passion made time!
CandleX’s still growing, and I am sometimes still in pain. Just like yoga, passion is like the breath that helps us to build endurance and flexibility within us.
Passion has always been in the driver's seat throughout the years, and fun is part of the journey. We would not have been here after seven years. When I first started it, I had a full-time job. I would work on CandleX on the weekends and at night. People said I worked all the time. I disagree. I worked on CandleX in a way that felt less like a job but like a hobby. I would go dancing and yoga in my free time, and working on CandleX was just another fun thing on my agenda, in a professional way. In 2015, I shot a documentary on depression in Chiang Rai because I enjoyed interviewing people, making videos. I also went with the flow and unexpectedly did a mental health workshop for an international school in Bangkok when I was there on vacation in 2016. I believe in the law of attraction. I broadcasted my passion and our team grew, which fed the organization with more passion and it started to maintain itself. With more people contributing to our offline awareness events, I started the support group in 2015. In 2016, we implemented a creative fun awareness-raising project on bipolar disorder by working with an amazing photographer friend of mine on taking people’s photos, which later ended up in exhibitions in and out of China, and a book that was an iTunes number one sale. When enough people emerged to facilitate and coordinate in 2019, I started the teens open letter in 2020.
The past few years, my passion has now been more directed at starting the fire, while the community’s passion has been that oxygen that sustains the fire. My creative ideas do not distinguish between free time and work time. When it hits me, that’s when I work on it. I do not believe in “hard work,” not even when I was little. In fact, I think we all need to “work” less, and just “live” more. Life happens when you start to feel like the boundaries between work and free time are blurring. I left my full-time job in 2019, and since then I found it very difficult to answer the question: what do you do in your free time? Time is not divided into work vs. free categories. It is just, time.
Can we run low on passion? Yes, we can! I learned to be the gatekeeper to the spirit of our value, and passion is one of them. What we do each day either charges – what I call – our battery, or consumes it. You have to keep your battery charged!
We encountered challenges over the last 7 years. One outstanding case was our partnership with another organization that ended up with over-complicated admin procedure for funding. I remember waking up and feeling demotivated because that funding part of the work was consuming our passion and energy. All the messages from our operation officer during that time carried so much frustration and fatigue, which made me feel bad for her. One day, I decided to terminate that contract, which also meant not only we lost the funding but our own funding invested in fundraising too. I still stand by the choice I made till this day.
April 1 this year marks our completion of the 7th year. If you are still looking for the meaning of life logically, it may not work. Instead, I invite you today to feel the passion from within because the meaning will come when you allow yourself to be led by passion.