The Reluctant Leader


Over the last week I have had to give myself a firm reminder about the importance of maintaining my boundaries with school. This comes after the summer semester started with a bang.

With classes being condensed into a shorter period of time over the summer the professors are wasting no time assigning papers and projects. Fine with me. I am set with my groups for every group project in two of my classes for the remainder of the summer, this came with some negotiations though.

In one case members of the group looked to either myself or one other person in the group to take the lead. I was reluctant and he agreed to the role so I was saved.

In another case I did not get off the hook so easily. Last night in class our professor assigned a class project where the entire class works on one project together as a whole. There were to be between 3-4 leaders who run the different task forces for the project, it was sure to be a huge undertaking. When the professor asked for students to nominate other students to take on the roles of leaders mine was one of the first names thrown into the ring.

While most other people nominated accepted their nominations on the spot I was again reluctant. I explained that I would like to fully understand the role of leader before I commit, my professor was understanding but at least 5 members of class pushed back. Not in a bad way by any means, everything they were saying was very complimentary. It certainly put pressure on me though. Ultimately I knew I had to do what felt right to me.

I was flattered by what they were saying, clearly I have made a good impression and they trust my instincts but part of being a good leader is knowing your limitations and not over extending yourself. I cannot say yes to every single opportunity placed in front of me and still have a life outside of school. My life outside of school is just as important to what I do in school, I have to protect my balance.

Once I understood the time commitments to the roles and what was involved I agreed to be another leader’s right hand man in an area I know I am strong in and will do well at. I will still play a major supporting role to this project as a whole but am granted a little more freedom to accommodate the other things on my schedule without over doing it.

Right now I am taking on a new role at Hospice in the bereavement department which requires training, this is time I have to set aside.

I am also starting up the next phase of the community assessment project with my classmate. We have both agreed to give this next phase a 6 month commitment of time meeting up a few times per month to work in the field with the residents. Another big time commitment.

This summer I am volunteering at the NASW conference which is a four day commitment of my time.

Not to mention actually going to class as well as keeping up with reading and assignments.

None of this even touches on the time I set aside for my personal life. Todd and I are going on vacation next weekend plus I keep time just for him and I as well as time for myself and time for my family and friends.

I only have so much time and energy to give, I have to be guarded with where I choose to focus both.

Outside of being selective with what I choose to take a lead role in I have to maintain the daily balance of school and home life. I have heard so many stories about frustrations people experience with school and working in groups and so often it sounds like basic boundary issues to me.

Here are a few of my rules for myself:

It takes me a half hour to drive home from school. That means I have a half hour buffer to decompress from my day before starting my evening with Todd. I can use that half hour to talk about my day with Todd on the phone or listen to music, it is my half hour to use as I please. The idea is to use that buffer period to unwind so when I get home I am ready to be present with Todd and am not still thinking about things going on at school or things I need to do the next day etc.

I have strict boundaries with my phone as I have mentioned in previous posts. When I share my phone number with a classmate I always give a disclaimer. I am not always immediately available, you are welcome to send me a text or leave me a VM and I will get back to you. I also make it clear that as of 7pm I am “off the clock”. At 7 Todd gets home, I turn my phone on silent and it stays in the kitchen for the rest of the night, I do not look at it again until the next morning. There have been times when I check my phone in the morning and I see people have texted me at 2am about an assignment, that is the exact reason I set this boundary.

I say No. I don’t think anyone likes to have to say No but as I have outlined above sometimes you have to. If needed I will explain my No but I know I am only one person and cannot take on every job. Plus by me saying No it gives another person an opportunity that I have passed up, I am OK with that. I am not in competition with anyone in this program, I want us all to succeed, do well and truly experience everything this program has to offer. I appreciate that my colleagues recognize me as someone they trust and see as a leader but there are so many other insanely talented future social workers in this program that would thrive given the opportunity to lead, why should it always be the same person?

Lastly and most importantly I stick to my guns. Today is a perfect example. I was making calls and sending emails to coordinate my part of this huge class project with the expectation that I would put it all down and walk away from my computer/phone at 6pm. I had been at it since 2pm so I decided 4 hours was all the time I was going to commit today. That does not mean everything was done at 6pm though. There was more I could have done but none of it was time sensitive, it can wait until tomorrow. Well right at 6pm I got a text response that I had been waiting for in order to go forward with an aspect of the work I was doing. It was tempting to respond to the text and then right three more corresponding emails but I didn’t. It can wait for tomorrow. I told myself 6 and I had t hold myself to that.

If I go back on the boundaries and limitations I set for myself there will be no balance. Boundaries are well and good in theory but they mean nothing without the follow through. So I turned the ringer off on my phone, checked the To-Do list I made for myself for tomorrow to make sure nothing was left off and closed out of my email/class website.

A half hour later Todd was home, we ate dinner together and then took Lucy for a long walk around the lake to watch the sunset. Balance.

I will say the one area where I still struggle is at bed time. Unless I am truly exhausted from my day I have trouble turning my brain off to sleep. I do things that help, reading for pleasure before bed, no electronics within an hour of bedtime, talking out my gratitude with Todd to end our day on a positive note and even deep breathing exercises. I have always been a thinker though and my brain loves to wander in the dark quiet of our room when it should be drifting off to sleep.

I accept that there are still areas that need work, I am still figuring out a lot of this as I go. I feel good about the fact that boundaries in relation to school are even on my radar though. These boundaries I have set with school and my classmates will translate into professional boundaries in the future.

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