Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Things came to a head for me on Thursday evening, and I had to really remember everything I teach to keep my shit together. The weight of the work I'm doing became crushing, especially because I haven't had any time to recharge. We drive 6-8 hours every day to get to these remote associations, and then I'm running highly emotional sessions for several hours in a 95 degree hut. I don't complain about working in these conditions, but it becomes very hard to do it every day without a rest day to recover. On Thursday night I was really feeling crushed by the grind, but rather than taking an extra day to rest, I felt urged into stacking meetings to do several in one day. So I ended up in this very difficult emotional bind: I push and completely exhaust myself, or I feel like a bad person for not helping more people.
I'm currently co-writing a book with my rad mentor. Before this project, I was editing our chapter on how to say no, and I realized I really needed to take my own advice. I also needed to calm down before I had any conversations and look at it from their perspective. I talk a lot about triggers, and how it becomes very hard to not blow up a situation when we are upset... and dang, it IS really hard. All I wanted to do was rail at them and vent my frustration. I also knew that if I did that, there would be very little chance of me being able to work with this organization again.
Sometimes when I get upset enough like this, I don't listen to that side. I say "screw it, I don't need them," blow up the situation and move on. This is obviously the opposite of what I teach. I teach that everyone needs to identify their contribution to the problem, try to understand the other perspective and don't lay blame. It was incredibly hard to do that.
I convinced myself to practice what I preach, and sent a very nice email to explain the situation from my perspective. I shared that I was grateful for the opportunity, it is incredibly rewarding, but I am having some concerns. I also shared possible solutions to my concerns, which is a very helpful thing to do - because then it's not complaining, but problem solving to figure out a way to meet everyone's needs.
I convinced them to only do one session per day, so this worked marginally well, until Friday. On Friday, I got heat stroke while I was in the field working with an association of citrus farmers. I knew I was pushing too hard to do the session on Friday, but didn't feel like I had much of a choice... I didn't want to leave a group of rural farmers hanging at the last minute, and they told me it was too late to cancel. It was definitely the worst of all my sessions... they found it valuable and asked me to come back, but I knew I was only able to give a small percentage of what I could if I were well rested/healthy.
I got through the session, and told them I needed to rest on Saturday morning. I would try to do the afternoon session on Saturday (only because they told me it was an indigenous population who would come by foot, and didn't have access to cellphones - who is going to bail on that). I left for my hotel, the only thing keeping me upright was knowing I would see Isaiah that evening. But as we approached Cali, information changed. Apparently, they had combined both associations to the morning session without approval from leadership - uh oh.
I was exhausted, sick and then furious. I had worked hard to try to be reasonable, and pushed myself beyond what was healthy already. And when they told me that the plans had changed and they were trying to make me do what I told them I wouldn't do, I snapped. Now, I know I need to practice what I preach, but it's important to note that if people keep encroaching on your boundaries, you shouldn't keep taking it. Of course, there was some miscommunication that happened, and the changes weren't approved by the people managing the program.
So I called up the coordinator of my project and explained my position once more, fairly firmly this time. While I wanted to be a team player, I also knew that I was at my edge. Luckily, we were able to work out a solution so I could have another rest day.
This process highlighted the same fundamentals I've been teaching these farming associations. Recognize joint contribution to the problem, realize that no one has bad intentions, and share the impact it's having on you. I'll have an opportunity next Thursday to do a training for the leadership of the organization who has staffed me, and I'll definitely be emphasizing these points.
This trend has cropped up again and again, through all of my work: it's not good leadership to push your people to the brink of collapse. It builds frustration, resentment and sucks out any motivation or goodwill... even if you're doing amazing work. There was such strong cognitive dissonance when standing in front of a group of people who find my work very valuable and sharing their appreciation, while feeling drained/not motivated because my personal needs weren't being met.
I'm going to consider how to further incorporate this lesson into my work, having so viscerally experienced it this week. The saving grace for me has been the woman in the field with me, who acts as my translator and coordinator. She keeps me sane, and is incredibly empathetic. She has consistently been on my team, and done everything in her power to help me/take as much of the weight off, and I'm so grateful. In the meantime, I'm taking the weekend to drink gatorade, watch movies and recharge. I'll be back with more to share on Monday :).