The Director of Technology’s face was drained of all joy. Amy’s office was a sloppy mix of cables, computers, boxes, and papers. On her desk were a phone, a computer, keyboard and mouse. They where freckled with yellow sticky notes, each one with an urgent task to be completed. She was in complete overwhelm.
The superintendent had been out at a meeting with other superintendents and had returned to request that the entire district’s data and management resources be updated. He wanted a new student information system, and a data warehouse. He wanted parent and community connections and teacher web pages. All of this was great; but Amy’s was already tapped out, and sinking in overwhelm. She had been putting long hours in her office and staying late, very late. She had a family; but she was sacrificing home time for the job. Every time she did this she felt guilty but she justified it feeling that if she could just get this or that cleaned up she would be on top of things again. And then the superintendent threw this at her. He had no idea how much work it was going to take to do this. He wasn’t technology savvy at all.
Added to all of this was her feeling that he and the rest of the staff had no idea of the amount of work she was putting in, no idea that she was sacrificing her home life. She sunk in on herself; resigned and drained of spirit. She felt there was no way out.
At first Amy could do nothing but blame those around her. The superintendent didn’t “get it”, the demands on her time were inevitable and there was no way she could turn the many requests that swamped her away. If she said, “No” she might get in trouble or fired. There was never money to increase staff or to get outside help. “God,” she exclaimed in frustration, “if they only new how much time I spend updating the web pager for them. Being webmaster around here would be a full time job for most people.”
I offered to coach her through this and to attend the next planning meeting she had scheduled with the superintendent. Before that meeting we talked about the predicament in which she found herself. Who was accountable for it? It took some time, more than one meeting with her; but eventually she began to see that it was she who had said “yes” to the requests that had filled her days. It was she who created the unrealistic expectation that she could do everything, be everything to everybody, as if she had some magic abilities that no one else possessed. It was she who was unable to verbalize her value or take a strong stand for more staff, more resources, and outside help.
When “push came to shove”, she de-valued herself. She subordinated herself to others, and rationalized it as being dedicated. It was she who was willing to sacrifice her home life for her work life. She had lost her way. Her purpose for entering education was long forgotten.
As she began to see the role she was playing in this situation, she began to feel ashamed of herself. Shame is negative self-judgment. It added nothing to the situation except to make her feel worse about herself. I worked with her, “The past is done. We can’t change it. It just is. What we do from here is filled with possibility. You’ve taken the first step. You’ve stepped up to your own accountability. You’re looking at yourself, the one person involved in this drama that you can control and you’re saying you can do better.”
She smiled for the first time since we started working together. It was a smile of recognition of some inner knowledge that she was remembering, “I’m changing my story from ‘Oh woe is me! I’m a victim of people who don’t understand, to a story of, I have a say in how I do my job, and how I live my life!”
“How does that feel when you say it”, I asked hopefully.
“I feel a little afraid; but overall it feels like a weight is off my shoulders.” she paused, “I feel hope for the first time in years.”
Her face dropped back into doubt, “But what am I going to do? What’s going to happen if I…”
I interrupted, “You’re slipping back. Whose life is it, Amy?”
“Mine, Pete. It’s my life!”
And so began this leaders journey.
(to be continued)