A couple of recent client conversations renewed my motivation to write more about managing the number of things you are juggling. Those conversations made me realize that you want to say yes to things. You value community, collaboration, and collegiality. So I started writing a Short Guide to Saying Yes. I’d like to share some of the draft…
Every time you even consider saying no to something, or consider your own needs and desires, your gremlins worry that you are stepping onto a slippery slope to becoming That Selfish Bastard.
That Selfish Bastard appears in your own stories as the person you really don’t want to be.
You value community and collaboration. You recognize that individual achievement rests on a foundation of collective support and activity. Unlike That Selfish Bastard, you will do your share. You care about the success of colleagues and students. It’s not all about you.
I want to say That Selfish Bastard is not real, and that’s true in the sense of being able to physically run into them in the corridor.
In another sense, however, That Selfish Bastard is very real — as a character in our individual and collective stories.
When I say “That Selfish Bastard” you may immediately think of non-fictional people you have come across in your life, with names and National Insurance numbers. But that is an effect of the combination of the character The Selfish Bastard, and the particular actions of a particular person in a particular context. The human you are thinking of has redeeming qualities. That Selfish Bastard doesn’t.
Collective stories invoking That Selfish Bastard (perhaps in the guise of an actual human those telling/listening to the stories know) serve as a warning. A reminder to the collective that individual achievement is only possible if the foundational collective work is attended to. These stories invoke the fear of becoming That Selfish Bastard in the individuals telling and listening to those stories, usually emphasizing the negative consequences of doing so.
Fear is not a great motivator.
Or, more accurately, what it motivates is not the best expression of the desired behaviour. Using fear to drive collective behaviour tends to be ineffective.
Stories of That Selfish Bastard, individual and collective, tend to create a negative spiral. Those individuals who value community and collaboration least, and are most likely to prioritize their own needs and desires, and obfuscate the contribution of others to their achievements, will be least affected by stories of That Selfish Bastard. Either they will not recognize themselves in the story, or they will judge the story differently than intended. Those individuals who strongly value community and collaboration are more likely to respond to those stories of That Selfish Bastard and end up carrying even more of the collective burden, perhaps further erasing their own unique contributions in the process.
You will not become That Selfish Bastard.
You value community and collaboration too much for that to happen. But you don’t need to martyr your Self either. There is a way to do what’s important to YOU and contribute to the collective.
You will always be busy. But it feels completely different to be busy doing things you find meaningful and to feel more or less in control of what you are doing. Saying no to some things allows you to say yes to other things. Focus on how you can make your BEST contribution to the communities that are important to you. That means not being overwhelmed, overcommitted, and undernourished (physically, emotionally, spiritually).
It’s not easy. But it can be done.
Is number of hours the right measure? includes a discussion on meaningfulness
Post edited to add audio version 18 November 2019.