Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do Unto Yourself...

One of those classic staples of leadership is this concept: Never ask an employee to do something you're not willing to do yourself. Of course, it's a bunch of crap; that's the whole reason you have employees, so you don't have to do certain things yourself. I'm pretty sure it's the main reason my dad had kids. But the underlying principle, that you'd theoretically at least be willing to entertain the idea of doing that job, makes assigning that job to someone else okay.

Well, I came up with my new Mormon-womanized version of that statement: Never sign up to do something that you wouldn't ask another sister to do. Would you really ask another woman in the ward to single-handedly handcraft the refreshments for a stake Relief Society dinner? Then don't volunteer to do it yourself. Would you assign a woman to bring dinner to a deserving family on the same night as your daughter's wedding reception? Then don't say yes yourself! Would you call your visiting teacher and ask her to embroider thirty towels as handouts for your next lesson? Then why on earth would you do it yourself??

Because we don't want to let other people down.

Because we underestimate the time it will take and overestimate how much spare time/energy we have.

Because we like doing craftsy things and it seems like it'll be first.

Because we are perfectionists and don't trust anyone else to do things the way we want them done.

Because we want to make our calling/responsibility more important than it really is.

Because we get a kick out of people saying, "You did all this? By yourself??"

Because no one ever says, "One day I want to delegate as well as Sister X." Nope, never.

Because we take an unhealthy amount of pride in sacrificing ourselves.

Because we feel guilty burdening anyone else, so we'll shoulder the burden ourselves.

I think you see my point here. Your own personal reason for overburdening yourself may vary from this, and I'd love to hear your additions to my list. This comes up today because I volunteered to make the refreshments for our Young Women In Excellence night tonight. When we were brainstorming ideas, I thought I'd make some gingerbread girls out of sugar cookie dough and decorate them. Another counselor suggested making them out of rice crispy treats instead and I thought, Bingo! That'll save me so much time! I had several weeks to prepare for this and I like doing craftsy things, so it sounded like fun.

And then I got a kidney stone. Not a horrible one, thank goodness, but it set me back a whole day and left me pretty wiped out. I wouldn't have minded asking for help except that I realized that the scope of the project was so massive, the day before the event, that I couldn't possibly ask anyone to do it. It was going to take me hours and hours and no one should be expected to wipe out that much time from their busy schedule for a treat that people will eat in less than one minute. And that led me directly to this a-ha moment. I should not expect MYSELF to wipe out that much time from MY FAMILY to do something of fleeting value.

How do we turn this boat around? How do we stop expecting so much from ourselves and, by extension, other women? What is it going to take to pull back the reins on this runaway horse? I think it's only going to come one refusal at a time, by each woman in their respective wards. JUST SAY NO. And let me be perfectly clear: I'm not saying to say no to reasonable requests. I'm saying to say no TO YOURSELF. Tell yourself no the next time you think, "But it won't take too long..." or "But it's such a good cause..." or "But if I don't, who will??" When I was at the dessert table tonight, one of my advisors said to me, "Did you do all this yourself?" And I realized that instead of feeling pride in my accomplishment, I felt embarrassed. Why? Because I realized that it was too much to do myself and that it was unhealthy. I wished I had asked one advisor to make the five trays of rice crispy treats and the other to cut them out, leaving me with the (fun!!) job of decorating. Divided, it would have been a reasonable amount of work for each of us.

(To be fair, I'd like to mention that my YW presidency and advisors are, overall, pretty minimalist. We don't do over-the-top activities or lessons or handouts very often. I love working with my president and the other counselor, and I learn as much from the other advisors as the girls do. I think we try to focus on the spiritual needs of the girls, not the temporal, cutesy, gotta-impress-the-other-ladies things that happen in some wards. Every so often we re-learn this lesson, though, and tonight was that night for me.)

So how am I going to remind myself of this lesson the next time I have a super-cute idea for an activity/handout/refreshment or in some other way try to overextend myself?

1. Set a limit of how many extra-familial things I can handle at one time. If I want to take on a new, large-scale project (i.e. starting a Girl Scout troop) something's gotta get tossed (6 credit hours this semester.)

2. Listen for the undertone. When someone says, "Did you do all this?" hear the underlying, "What are you, nuts?"

3. Give other people the opportunity to serve. In this case, my advisors were prevented from fulfilling their callings because I hoarded the project to myself.

4. Give other people the opportunity to learn from failure. How is anyone else going to learn these (painful) lessons that we're learning unless they are given responsibilities? And give myself the opportunity to feel disappointment. It's okay for things to turn out badly--everyone, generally, survives. I could learn that lesson better.

5. Shut up already. Yes, I might have fantastic ideas about how something should be done, and yes, they might be the best ideas in the entire universe. But guess what? There's usually another way to do things that is just as good. So save the fantastic, over-the-top ideas--and the accompanying energy they will require to implement--for something that's going to be life-changing (i.e., not a group project at school, not a typical Wednesday mutual activity, not a closet-organizing binge.) And until I find that thing, nod and agree to smaller-scale success.

Have you put yourself in the position of doing unto yourself what you'd never do to another? How have you stopped from doing that?


Drake Steel said...

The only flaw in your article is that its leadership in the military that says to not ask anyone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. However the same flaw in reasoning, "Oh yah, you charge the machine gun nest..."
Also, there seems to be a one-upsmanship in the church. I don't think we have the "how to serve the Lord and teach other's to be leaders-thing down." In every other church they pay someone to do all the heavy lifting, the Minister, Priest, Rabbi, Imman, etc. We don't have a great mechanism to teach the new Relief Society President for instance, but it is equally tough for any leadership role. I was called to be the YSA president and asked the predecessor how to do the calling. He gave me a brief rundown of what he did etc also mentioned an excellent book on leadership by Paul H. Dunn, "The 10 Most Wanted Men," and that was it. A blank canvas paint away! Add the "you've got to improve the calling" bit and eventually you have neurotic people in leadership killing themselves and feeling bad about it.

rachel said...

Well, I think you already know where I stand on this. As far as church goes, I don't know that I have ever had someone say, "you did all this?" to me. I am a bit of a minimalist. However, I realized, after thinking about this post, there are other places in my life where I don't delegate or I take on more than is needed. The primary one would be in my own home. How often do I "just do it myself so it gets done right" (or, just gets done)? Hmmm... something to think about. And, having been the person who wasn't asked to help from #3, and not liking it, I realized that I need to give other people (including my children) a chance to have responsibility and possibly fail at it too, without me hovering. I totally agree with the post - interesting list at the top as to why we do this. I like the "I want to delegate like sister X" line. :) True. So true.

Emily Simmons said...

Dad - I totally agree about the one-upsmanship, or at least having to live up to the reputation of a calling. No one wants to be the first YW president to say, "You know, this calling's a breeze." If you say that, obviously you're doing it wrong...except that maybe you're not, maybe you're cutting the fluff and the unrealistic expectations.

And Rachel I think you'll find this thought pertinent: I realized while I was in this mental fog on Tuesday, exhausted and in a little pain still, it was all I could do to put my head down and power through. I couldn't think enough to delegate at that point. It wasn't until last night when I realized my task could have been broken down into pieces and people could have helped. But I couldn't get to that thought while I was sick. SO--you know how much I hate the RS visiting teaching message that's always about "don't just say 'let me know if I can help', just jump in and help?" I actually saw the beauty in that, for the first time. This whole experience has been really eye-opening for me.

Laurie Nguyen said...

Emily, you are completely right! Thank you for sharing this!

Denise said...