By Mercedes Del Carmen Carreto Vasquez

Organizing is an art and discipline is the tool that will help you create a masterpiece. Creativity seems to come from scattered thoughts, and as long as I remember, I have been creative. Learning to balance a sense of creativity with the need for discipline has been the biggest challenge that I have faced in the TOLA program. I walked into the program with discipline that I had developed on my own, but TOLA has continually tested the degree of discipline I need to improve. Organizing clean-ups in the Mission, Portola, and Polk Gulch neighborhoods in San Francisco, has taught me the importance of having a goal, staying on task, and continuing efforts every day to complete the task. In four months I have learned to push myself, and to hold myself accountable and others as well.

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I remember helping organize the first clean-up in the Mission and how frustrated I became. The project was not easy. There were a lot of moving parts and tasks that were sometimes overlooked. Face to face visits, phone calls, emails, spreadsheets, and calendars became our best friends in order to stay on task. Organizing a successful clean-up required teamwork.

Working in a group meant that everyone relied on each other. If someone failed to do their job, then our work fell apart. When I asked around the office what discipline meant to them, I received one response: “accountability”. Everyone in the office has gone through or is going through TOLA, and everyone came to the same conclusion. Discipline, as an organizer is your self-accountability. A big part of the clean-up successes had to do with the check-ins and debriefs that we held daily. Check-ins in the morning helped guide everyone on their work for their day and talk about the progress that was being made. If new work had to be done, then check-ins would also be used to delegate work between the group. At the end of the day we would come together and talk about the progress we had made – a way to hold each other accountable. I didn’t think that a big part of organizing is constantly checking-in with your group, but it is one of the most important things to do. Organizing yourself means nothing, if you can’t organize others.

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To be honest, I have never been a fan of repetition, but in this line of work it is important. It is discipline that keeps you working every day, even when you feel like giving up. Although repetition can be draining, it is a part of the organizing experience. Like learning to draw, the more you practice, the better you get. With the repetition and discipline that I had gained from the previous clean-up, most of the work became second nature to me.

As an organizer I believe that actions becoming second nature is a great accomplishment. Once you reach a level of refinement in your work, when things start going wrong, you have the skills to think quickly on your feet and get creative. As my graphic design teacher once told me, “You must learn all the rules before you can break them.”