My Highlight: A Lesson in Perspective


Todd calls me everyday around the same time when he is leaving his office to walk to the car. The conversation is pretty routine, “Hey babe, I’m on my way, what’s for dinner, how was your day, what was the highlight?” What was the highlight is my favorite part of the conversation. What went right today? Even if all you have is my ham sandwich at lunch was delicious, it is good to be able to identify a highlight.

Todd’s highlight today was he actually got a good bit of work done, yesterday he was in a bunch of meetings and that is not his favorite. He enjoys the work he does and does not like to be taken away from it.

My highlight today was unexpected.

Last night when I got home from school I felt a bit overwhelmed. I deliberately did not take a lead role on our class project this semester because I knew I did not have the time to take on such a big role. We are running a supply drive for a school in a low income area and there are a lot of working parts and pieces. Last night  was an important class because it was the class where we go over the logistics for our first major supply drop off with the school. Two of the three group leaders did not show up last night. I ended up coordinating the entire thing because I was the only one with enough knowledge of the situation to do so.

Ultimately I want to do what is right for our class and the school we have partnered with but this is a lot to manage on a week where I already have a full schedule.

So today started busy. I had emails to send, phone calls to make, I had make sure everything is in order for this drop off. Once I was finished I had just enough time to make myself presentable for a 2:00 meeting in the community my colleague and I are working in.

It has been a little while since I have given an update about the work my colleague and I are doing in the other community. This is primarily because there has been no information to share. Our paper has been shared with the director, the dean and other local leaders. The next phase of our research started today.

Today we met with the principal at the local elementary school who had been helpful during our first phase. We caught up with him, filled him on how well received our initial research had been and thanked him for the part he played in our success. He asked what this next phase looked like for us and we explained that we would like to speak with  more residents in the community this time around. He responded by saying that if we wanted to talk to people he would take us to meet some people. We thanked him and told him that would be really helpful. Then he said, OK then let’s go. We were surprised and thrilled. We didn’t realize he meant RIGHT NOW. He cleaned out his car, piled us in and drove us around the community.

It was incredible!! We met a family who lives just a few blocks from the school. They were very gracious and agreed to share their contact information so we could schedule a time to come back and meet with them. Next he took us to the housing projects near the school. When we interviewed him for our original paper he spoke at great length about this housing project. He talked about the impact of generational poverty and how close knit the community is. The family we met was very welcoming. They invited us in, we met all their children and talked for a little while. They also shared their contact information with us and invited us to come back and speak with them.

It was a whirlwind of an experience, all of this took place in less than an hour. It was amazing though. This principal is a man of action. He knows his community, he is involved. Everyone we met was so excited to see him, there was hugging and laughing. As we drove through the community men stood around on street corners and residents gathered on front porches, he seemed to know them all. With his window rolled down he would call out to them and they would call out to him. In a community that seems to be very skeptical of anyone viewed as an outsider he has clearly be accepted as one of their own. That is so powerful and I am so thankful to have this man vouch for us. He introduced us as his friends from UCF, they are here to teach social workers how to help. What he was saying is, I trust these people and you can too. I am so grateful for this man. He is so willing to offer his time, energy and help in ever way. He is an everyday hero.

That was my highlight. I woke up this morning grumbling because I had a lot on my plate and it was going to be a busy day. This man took time out of his day to drive us around the community, introduce us to residents and answer our questions. He had been at the school all day and had a doctor appointment when he was done with us but he still took the time. He did the extra and did not complain. He was willing and happy to do it. I needed perspective today and this man helped me with that.

I should never be grumbly about doing a little extra or having a busy day if it means the work I am doing will ultimately help someone else. The coordination I set up allows for the drop off day to run smoothly and for students and residents in need to be provided with goods. What am I grumbling about? It is easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture, I think that is where I was when I woke up this morning. I end this day with perspective and a grateful heart.

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.