Getting expectations out into the open

“What are your expectations for me?”

A fellow board member posed this question to me as we sat at the bar inside the new Harris Teeter [note: it’s not critical you know where this conversation occurred but I feel it would be a missed opportunity to not highlight THAT OUR GROCERY STORE HAS A BAR].

I appreciated this fellow leader’s straight-forward approach to a topic that we don’t spend enough time on within the nonprofit sector. In my opinion, we often confuse “expectations” with “deadlines” as if task completion was our key responsibility. Yes, we should get the projects done and programs executed that move our organizations closer to achieving our missions (and ideally best serving our constituents and the greater public good). But, establishing clear expectations between supervisors and employees; between colleagues; and even within ourselves requires honesty, transparency, and prioritization.

I have been accused of having “too high” of expectations for people I’ve worked with over the years (including unrealistic ones for myself). That’s true. My mother shares this similar challenge, and it can lead us both to feel disappointment and hurt. I don’t think the immediate answer is: “well, it’s time to temper those expectations!” A better initial step is to start having conversations with others around these expectations. Perhaps they are unfair or too lofty; but maybe they’re just right and the person on the other side simply needs to hear them.

In general, I have three consistent expectations for people. These expectations aren’t exclusive to those I work or volunteer with; they extend to my friends and family as well. In no particular order:

Be honest. I recognize the time to be sensitive with information, where answers may be dusted in sugar before delivery. But, don’t lie. Ever. It’s pure poison to a relationship and erodes the foundation of trust immediately. We’re imperfect beings, and we need to extend to each other the grace that mistakes happen, things get forgotten, and sometimes you just don’t FEEL like it. Far be it for me to judge what is happening inside your head space and heart. All I’m asking is not to be strung along with responses that “sound good” but are pure fluff.

Comedian Kevin Hart holding microphone with his right hand extended out as it to make a "stop" motion. Text: "Let's Just Be Honest Let's Just be Real."

Ask for help when you need it. Y’all: martyrdom was so 500 years ago. Let’s drop the charade that we can “do it all” and lean on each other when necessary. Full disclosure: I struggle with this expectation. Asking for assistance feels like an imposition, and I certainly don’t want to add more to someone else’s likely overfilling plate. But, here’s the thing: I’m making a whole slew of assumptions. And, I’m likely, as you are too, willing to be the helper when summoned. Break free from those self-imposed handcuffs and adopt a new four-letter word: help. This ties back to being honest: if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, using it as a moment to reach out to a trusted companion allows for something beautiful to happen. Is there something you need help with right now? Call me!**

Help

Do what you said you are going to do. Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements’? If not, I highly recommend picking up a copy at your nearest independent bookstore. One of the cornerstone agreements from Toltec culture is: Be impeccable with your word. What does this mean? Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. While this belief extends far beyond accomplishing specific goals or fulfilling responsibilities, it touches on how important it is for us to come through. Whether it is using our words or actions, people depend on us when we give them reason. If we need to let each other down, refer back to expectations one or two.

silverman

In certain spaces, the number and types of expectations may be more specific and may shift to adapt to the situations. But, for me, these three are the glue that binds our ability to connect and remain connected to each other. Be honest; ask for help; fulfill your commitments. Sprinkle it having fun, showing compassion and understanding; and remembering that we’re all in this together. This world is tough; it’s unjust and inequitable. But, it is full of people who want the world to look different: to be equitable and just; to be a place where we aren’t fighting for basic human rights because they’re woven into social and institutional fabrics.

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What do you expect from others? From yourself? Do you have expectations or do you let others create the expectations for you?

**unless it’s related to anything electrical or plumbing. You may want to call a professional. It’s not my wheelhouse. But, I’m happy to hang out until an expert arrives!

Instituting a ‘no work’ day – and being okay with it

Work-life balance.

worklife_balance

A subject we like to talk about at great length; an action that many of us refuse to implement.

In our culture of 24/7 availability, it’s hard to resist refreshing your work Inbox at night while the latest Netflix show plays in the background. Checking your own personal social media accounts often leads to taking a sneak peek at what’s happening with your organization’s Twitter and Facebook engagement and then 30 minutes go by in a blink of an eye.

Dilbert

Weekends — or the days that you are officially “off” from employment — are precious. Typically, we only receive two each week. Two. 104 of the 365 days available each calendar year. Yes, there are holidays, vacations, and personal leave sprinkled into the mix. But, those aren’t always guaranteed.

I struggle with not working over weekends, whether it’s checking email, engaging on social media, finishing up notes from a call earlier in the week, etc. Weekends offer uninterrupted time to wrap up all of the loose ends!

STOP THIS THINKING IMMEDIATELY

Y’all: we could work and work and work and work for the entire 48 hours of the weekend and we would still never complete all of the projects and tasks on our plate. If we want to continue to lead in this critical work for social change and justice for the long haul, we MUST prioritize our own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And that means honoring a no-work day.

Dog wearing a coat and tie position at a desk with a book open; text overlay reads: "How's my work-life balance? It's ruff."

I recognize that sequestrating yourself for a full day is not always an option — some careers require you to be on call or travel or be available to consult with people that you serve and support. Even if it can’t be a full day, do you give yourself dedicated space to unplug?

Hide your phone. Power down computers and tablets. Carve out intentional time for those activities that fill your cup. Take a nap. Read a book. Binge watch “The Great British Baking Show.” Work in your garden. Stroll around the park. Lounge near the pool. Hop in the car, on a train or bus for a day trip. Shop. Play a board game. Call a family member or friend. Sit on the front porch with a sweltering glass of iced tea or lemonade (because all things swelter right now in North Carolina). Find your restoration cure.

Today, I’m having a no-work day (confession: ok, I did set-up a couple of work tweets). But that’s it. No email. No reviewing the five Word documents sitting open right now. Tomorrow is another option. I know that if I don’t put my own oxygen mask on first, I will be in a world of hurt come Monday.

Need further inspiration? Three resources for finding that peace, even for a moment, in our chaotic world:

No more excuses

Whenever I hear the question: “Do you still blog?” I feel my insides cringe in shame. My responses range from a variety of pre-determined excuses, including (but not limited to):

“I generate so much content for my day job that I find it too exhausting to be creative in the evening hours!”

“It’s hard to handle more screen time after a full day of eyes glazing over a LCD display.”

“But look at all of these other things I’m doing over here!”

So much unnecessary justification. In truth, I think about my blog – or moreso writing – often. As averse as I am to invasive technologies, I do wish that I could insert a Matrix-like probe into my brain in order to capture my thoughts and reflections, which could then be stored on an external drive to revisit in the future. I admire people who carry around notebooks or use apps like Evernote to function as a warehouse for their ideas. I could follow suit, but I know myself well enough at 32: I would start the practice with great gusto only to fizzle out to noncompliance in the space of a week – maybe two if I was feeling ambitious.

Why do some behaviors stick so easily while others remain allusive? Is it a matter of will or want? Do I need more external accountability to help at least establish a new norm?

Reading the essays of Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” provides me needed motivation. I love her writing. It’s simple yet complex; raw and approachable. Watching another person externally process complicated emotions or unpack our bizarre social norms while constantly acknowledging their own limitations or hang-ups is so refreshing. The notion of expertise can be laughable, particularly in this time of talking heads vying for our attention on television and retweets on Twitter.

For me, writing is how I try to make sense of me and how I fit into this time and space. The world has felt over-complicated lately. We speak to each other in these floral, jargon-driven sentences that breathe style without substance. We’re dogmatic in our positions despite our claims of open-mindedness. We create our understandings of each other based on key indicators – job titles, voting records, Instagram posts.

Sometimes I feel so naïve. Why do we not naturally operate from a mindset of compassion, abundance, and love? Where does this desire to accumulate come from? How did we construct an oppressive society where few win and many lose? (and why?) And after thousands of years, why do we still operate from this playbook?

Always more questions than answers, right? And the question I most grapple with: what is my role in all of this? How do I become the change I want to see in the world? Right now, I do have a vision of leading a nonprofit organization as an Executive Director. But, white leaders dominate the nonprofit leadership landscape – would my pursuits undermine the work to dismantle inequitable systems within sector? Or is that me passing the position over to someone who isn’t committed to justice or equity?

One day at a time.