So, my leadership program is over. Needless to say, two months after the fact, I have absolutely procrastinated in writing this post. When I last wrote, I was nearing the end of my journey, hardly able to believe that it was coming to an end. I was filled with anxiety and fear but also excitement. I know that time is the only inevitability and that my stress and exhaustion would soon conclude with elation and extreme relief. I must say, despite all it took out of me, it refueled me with so much more.
The week of our final 11-person presentation in front of all the SIPs at our organization, I barely slept. I felt as if I were on a reality show and vowed never to apply for a reality show. There is no way I looked camera-ready at any point during this agonizing process. The week of, some people met on the weekend but I was like, NOPE. I value my work-life balance, though it hangs on a thread most days. The week before we showed a draft to our coach and she basically made us re-do the whole thing and was really happy with it.
Then came, the 3 day experience!
We show our draft presentation to an SIP, thinking we are good because our coach was so proud of all the progress we made. NOPE! We basically re-did the whole thing AGAIN and stayed in the conference room until 11:00 that night, often arguing ridiculous points to death because we were all very tired and very passionate about doing well. We changed our speaking parts, threw out half the presentation, and added more pictures and personal stories to make it less boring. The next day was spent entirely in a conference room re-working the presentation and doing a dry-run. I finally left at midnight, having reformatted the entire presentation multiple times.
The final day was our presentation day - the moment of truth. I was strangely awake and energized after 2 days of no sleep and thinking about the project from the moment I awoke to the moment I entered a fitful sleep filled with leadership dreams. We rehearsed the entire presentation at least 3 times and got feedback. I talked too fast and didn't breathe as usual and feared my public speaking curse would never be broken.
By the time the presentation rolled around the usually presentation anxiety I had seemed to dissolve into sheer excitement. As I sat through the opening presenters, watching my teammates with whom I had passionately bonded through this harrowing experience, I started to feel very happy. I felt proud of them and silently cheered as they each nailed it. When I took the stage I was a little frightened but mostly eager to get it over with so I could sit down and deflate.
I gave my slides, I paused, I smiled. I shared why this was so important to me and why it should be important to them - because we care about our students. I sat down and I felt amazing. It was over. And I lived.
I am sure I still talked too fast, but at least I breathed. Everyone said we did a great job. At dinner that night, people gave speeches that made me cry and I barely made it through mine without sniffling. I could barely keep my eyes open from the exhaustion and the carb-heavy Italian meal they so graciously served us, but it was so nice to hug everyone and pat each other on the back. We really felt like a family. Our coach was beside herself with pride - I went from having a fearful awe of her genius to seeing that she really cared about us and our success belonged to her and filled her heart with joy as much as it did ours. I realized how fond I had grown of all of these people - all special in their own way. I never realized that through this program I would get more than professional development - I got 10 new friends and a few new mentors.
So on to what I learned. I had some goals when I started out - they were:
I absolutely think I am well on my way to achieving these goals. Throughout the program I was forced to let go of things and empower my staff more. I started to see the change in them towards the end of my program. Considering where I was last January when I first arrived to an angry, resistant team who wanted nothing to do with me and my cheerfulness. Now, despite their unavoidable interpersonal dramas, they seem eager to work hard and do great work. They are now planning almost all of the campus programs. I was forced to take a 2.5 week vacation less I lose all my days for the year (hanging by a thread I say) and I didn't get a single phone call the entire time I was gone. They take themselves seriously and have amazing ideas and feel empowered to execute them. They went from scoffing at my program proposals to handing me 5 at a time.
I really believe in the "teach a man to fish" philosophy now. I used to be afraid that if I let them do things that quality would suffer and I would look like a failure. I realized that even if they make little mistakes it is not the end of the world. As one of my bosses once said, "Mistakes are how we learn." I think of all the times I screwed up as a youngin and how it helped me to learn and made me who I am today. If my boss hadn't trusted me and given me those opportunities I would never have learned all the skills and hard lessons that make me the proud professional I have become. Watching my "kids" pull off a successful event with little to no involvement from me is one of the best feelings I've ever had in my career.
I'm starting to realize that leadership isn't just being "in charge" or having to make all the decisions, it's knowing how to get things done through others, and teaching them and myself in the process. Biggest epiphany ever! Delegating isn't just about less stress for me, it's about accomplishing the goals of my work. I was so focused on results that I neglected the process. The process is just as important if not more important than the product. I am in the business of education, not event planning.
Though I still don't desire to move further up the ranks any time soon, it's been too much too fast as it is, , I don't have the staunchly resistant feeling I once had about being promoted. It doesn't feel as yucky to me or make me want to cry like it used to. It feels possible and natural and not so scary anymore.
Someone once told me that if I knew how good I was, I'd be dangerous, and I'm still trying to live up to that. I also learned from my coach that I'm extremely self-aware and my willingness to learn is a great asset.
I still have to work on my assertiveness and I probably still create most of my own stress. I definitely pushed myself to the point of burning out this past quarter. I'm trying to focus more on what I do to create my own problems vs. blaming "the man" or my institution. I have to negotiate the path that others see for me, versus the one I want for myself. I have to take control of my own destiny and start shaping the next steps that will take me where I want to go. I have to stop letting life happen to me and take the reins. I fear if I just go with the flow as per usual I could end up in a situation I don't enjoy. I am working on a strategic plan and planting seeds with key people in the institution to build the case for my dream job, which will also benefit the institution greatly if they are willing to provide the resources.
Like every milennial, it's hard to see myself in the same job for "the rest of my life", but I think the grass is always greener. The fact that they invested so much in me, makes me want to make it work for the long term. I can't change my institution, but I can change myself and how I operate within it. I am trying to be more strategic and I really feel like this program gave me the tools to do it within the culture of my organization. I now know what they want to hear and how they'd like to hear it in order to get things done.
I also realized that work is not the most important thing to me anymore, despite no longer being terrified of being so successful. I want to be successful on my own terms. I want to start a family and I don't want to work so hard I harm my health or start taking out my stress on others. I have a good thing going with my institution, so I'm going to make it work for me and them. Instead of complaining, I'm going to take that frustration and try to transform it into a solution. I can complain to my boss about how unfair it is, but they can't do anything about it. I have to come with a plan that can work first.
If I can be more confident and continue asking for help, I can avoid getting into this cycle where every six months I want to quit and I stop caring about my work. I do care - I'm so passionate and I know that I find great meaning from the work that I do. Teaching young people to be successful and helping others is who I am, not just what I do. I hope that I can find the strength to have this amazing career while also keeping my priorities straight. I feel so empowered and so excited about what is to come. I think a lot of the anxiety I felt over the summer came from a sense of powerlessness. I hope that if I do the right things and say the right things, and am strategic and positive that I can steer myself towards an amazing opportunity.
Nice to meet you!
I am a tech pro, blogger, DIY'er, reader, TV binger, music lover, nerd and semi-crunchy mom. I write about professional development, being crafty, motherhood and politics. Thanks for joining me and letting me share my thoughts with you!