Ah, how the mighty have fallen.
A few weeks ago I was riding high on all the different things that were taking off. Rockets were getting packed left and right. Life felt full of the vibrations of incubations, the humming of tea kettles about to scream. I had a few different groups that I was organizing; projects that were starting to cook. I looked forward to the explosions.
But now, as reality and the passage of time set in, so does torpor.
Let’s start with P.O.W.E.R., and the fact that I was given the challenge of organizing 120 people to show up to an event on April 21st. I am working with a group of six others, and I can’t even get the two leaders to write back to my emails. And one of them is a man of God; somehow that seems to count double. I haven’t even reached out to my group of friends to ask them to come, because I’ve lost all connection to the project. When I think about it, my face and fingertips get itchy. In case that doesn’t resonate, here are other things that inspire the itch: the nagging shoulder-tap of unfiled taxes, the cold stare of a pile of unopened mail, and remembering I forgot to write a Thank You email two weeks too late.
My Young Friends group has its first charity event coming up on April 14th. it’s less than a month away. But I haven’t managed to get people together to organize a fundraiser; we have no budget; letters to solicit donations from stores sat in my inbox for a week too long. I’ve never not met a deadline before; but I honestly don’t know how, or if, I can pull this one together.
Let me make this clear – I am in no way blaming the other people I’m working with. I’m blaming myself for not organizing them well.
I’m new to organizing, but I do recognize the first hurdle I’ve come up against. It’s hard to strike a balance between building consensus, and being too didactic. And thus, we arrive at one of my least favorite things from the Land of Educational Institutions: Fake Consensus.
Fake Consensus, I would imagine, is a natural phenomenon with which many of you are familiar – it’s that wonderful little process whereby a superior or leader asks everyone to contribute ideas to a project – this can take the form of brainstorming, bubble-mapping, sticky-noting, small-groupicizing, free-writing, share-outing, powerpoint-presenting, drum-circling – whatever it takes to get a whole pile of ideas amassed and steaming in the middle of the room. This process can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to three months.
Then, once the ideas have been harvested, the superior goes off to “synthesize” them – only to come out a few days later with a plan that in no way relates to anything anyone offered, but bears an uncanny resemblance to whatever the boss was already thinking, and the plan around which he was originally “soliciting feedback”. Or, in version 2.0, the boss disappears with the posters and stickies and leafs of papers full of suggestions, and promises to return with a plan within a week. Nothing is ever heard about the project again, and any time it is asked after, it is said to still be in “development.”
I have had bad experiences with both of these scenarios, and so I struggle to find a balance when I’m organizing groups of adults between asking & telling, suggesting & delegating. I want folks to feel a sense of ownership and investment in what we’re doing, and I also know that others have great ideas I might not think of; on the other hand, people like direction and structure, so it’s often appreciated when there’s a little bit more telling than asking, at least at the start of a venture.
With both P.O.W.E.R. and the Young Friends groups, I think the root of the problem is simple – I’ve become overwhelmed, and lost my own momentum with both projects. Especially P.O.W.E.R., as the cause I’m organizing for is not close to my heart – in fact, I struggle to understand it, and I feel like those organizing me have not exactly strived to give me a sense of ownership – just a sense of responsibility and anxiety around meeting a quota. It’s hard to huff those fumes for long without getting lightheaded and faint.
The excitement of daydreaming is gone, and is now replaced by the logistical slogging through of checking lots of emails, gently (or not so) nagging people. Getting these projects off the ground feels like trying to wake up a teenager – you whisper their name, head poked through the doorframe; you enter the room and say it louder a few times; you lay a gentle hand on their shoulder – they grunt and turn on their side away from you; you replace your hand on their arm and give it a soft shake – they grunt louder and swat you away; five minutes later you’re pulling them out of bed by the hands like a zombie while they groan and roll their head around and whine and make themselves deadweight, as you press your feet into the bed frame for traction and pull, trying to yank them up to standing without disrupting their rumpled, too-small pajamas or breaking your own back.
As you may have inferred, I am struggling to get these projects unconstipated. Awake. Moving. Lively. Rolling.
Perhaps I’ve just become lazy when the going gets tough – maybe I’m so used to doing things by myself, in a vacuum, that I’m not as good at leading a team as I’d hoped I’d be. Perhaps a shot of energy is all they need. Perhaps it’s not as bad as I think it is, or at the very least they’re still salvageable.
Whatever it is, I don’t know how else to proceed. All my time-tested tactics have failed me. Friendly emails “checking in” go unanswered. I have lost the will to do things by myself. Without the hysterical gas of hypermanicwannaproveicandothis, I find myself thinking “well, there’s only so much I can do . . . ”
But I also know I could do much more.
Where to go from here? I don’t know. I’m currently just hoping with all the little bit of fumes I have left that I don’t have two majorly public fails on my hand in the month of April . . .