Academia is an exceptionally satisfying and yet frustrating place to work. In no other industry can someone be so incredibly involved in guiding societal change while being so radically adverse to workplace transitions. Because of this, for four weeks, I found myself hating my job. I had not only run my ship ashore, I had lost cargo, sent passengers overboard and shredded the sails!
When I look back on that month of self-pity and consternation, I realize it was self-inflicted. My happiness and satisfaction is my problem. Relying on others to “shape up or ship out” so I didn’t have to be aggravated or have difficult conversations was unrealistic and irrational. Rather than allowing my ship to sink, I had to learn to cope, which led to leading.
First, though, I had to recognize the problem. It’s these down and out moments, that trusted colleagues come in handy. Given trust and permission, they gently point out the obvious: The problem was me. One such friend handed me a book about pride. Pride! Really?! Yes, really. As I read the book, I learned the difference between being proud and having pride. And damn, if I wasn’t indeed wrestling with that beast! I had no idea. To be proud of your accomplishments is one thing, but pride, at its root, translates to: I need to know it all, do it all, fix it all – without asking for help (mayday! mayday!).
It was time to cope. It was time to retire this ship called Pride.
Pride Point 1: Patching the ship. Gradually, like a slow erosion, I lost sight of what was my job and what was someone else’s job. My job, like most directors, is to steer the ship. Period.
My boss, the president, sets the coordinates for the destination. We head in that direction on our respective vessels. It’s my job to strategically get my ship to the destination with the resources at hand and provide the tools for my team to “get ‘er done.” In actuality, I was steering the ship, checking the coordinates, making sure everyone had their oars, making sure they liked their oars; and do they like their oaring partners? Oh, and are there holes in the ship? Where are the holes? Do they need to be patched? Do we have materials to patch? Who needs to do the patching? Guess what… That’s not. my. job.
It IS my job to make sure everyone knows we are headed in the right direction and watch for icebergs. It’s the supervisor’s job to let me know if there are holes in the ship, where the holes
are, and if we aren’t going to arrive to our destination on time. There are other people on campus who are experts in repair (when did I suddenly become a craftsman??). It’s the staff’s job to nudge one another and say, “What’s the problem? We are all rowing in this direction; why aren’t you?”
So, I finally let go. After four weeks of wondering how I was going to do it all, be it all and still get other priorities accomplished, I let go. I charged my staff with manning the oars. Handing over freedom was very… well…freeing.
Pride Point 2: Buy-in Blues. Academia has a wonderful phrase called “buy-in.” Frequently, I need to get buy-in from several groups of stakeholders before I move forward with a project. Most days that’s fine. Other days, somehow, I let it get to me. In general, most of my team’s projects and efforts are lauded and appreciated. But for a month, I let the naysayers get the best of me.
For a month, I spun my wheels trying to make sure everyone was on board this ship before it sailed. While it’s important to gather the people to the ship, some are determined to wave from the shore (or maybe they aren’t waving!) no matter the direction or outcome.
Gratefully, I serve under leadership that recognizes buy-in can occasionally be unfair; then they talk me down off the plank. I told my boss about the effort I had expended to communicate change, to rally the sailors, and head in a successful direction. Some people, no matter what, will never get on board. So, with my boss’ blessing, I let. it. go.
Pride Point 3: Forgetting gifts. Jobs are gifts (many of you may roll your eyes as you read this). That’s entirely easy to forget when the day comes to an end and I look like a wrung-out cat because I’ve spent countless hours juggling too many tasks with too few hours in the day. For a month, I hated my job because I took it all internally. What I had ceased to do was actually bolster my own sails.
I work with a truly fantastic crew. What I absolutely love is the camaraderie we have. How many people can say that? When did I forget I wasn’t alone in these day-to-day frustrations? These are the people who have supported and championed me for nearly 5 years. Together, we have experienced some harrowing moments, worrisome moments and embarrassing moments.
A year ago, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, my colleagues were rallying not only for me, but for my sister – whom they had never even met. My team picked up my work duties, braced me from stress and sent gifts when I was out-of-state caring for her. The executive leadership stood in the gap for me, helping with copious paperwork, challenges and dilemmas. In that span of a year, I was given the gift of what it means to be a colleague instead of focusing on the daily grind. I let it all sink in and then I let. it. go.
Pride Point 4: Of mountains and molehills. It’s tiring keeping the fleet afloat all alone! Among the buy-in battle, forgetting gifts and patching the ship, I managed to convince myself all the molehills were actually mountains. I found myself exhausted trying to scale every single mountain. For a month I wasn’t just the champion of someone else’s fight, I took over their fight! Something inside me decided every issue was a cause for mutiny.
I was doing the very thing that drives us all nuts: Getting involved in minutia where I wasn’t needed or qualified (which essentially causes a mess due to miscommunication and conjecture). There’s a reason we have well-trained staff in a number of areas. So many times we get riled up over a perceived wrong, when in reality we don’t have the facts, the patience or the expertise. I readjusted my sails and remembered to trust others to do their job so I can do mine. Then, well, you guessed it: I let. it. go.
The perspective I grabbed was this: If I just remember we are all part of the same crew, rowing toward the same destination, my sail doesn’t feel so windless after all.