Saturday, September 15, 2018

stress, management

This week I attended my first management training ever, with my coworker Miranda, in a tall building next to Pershing Square. I was excited because I’d heard good things about this particular training, and because management—like so many other parts of nonprofit work—is something my boss and I had hoped I’d be good at without any training or guidance, only to be unpleasantly surprised.

I’m not a terrible manager. I listen and I don’t micromanage, and I have a good understanding of how various tasks fit into a larger picture. But there are so many other parts—clarifying roles and expectations, managing up and across, being proactive instead of just saying “What do we do now?”

I’ve always shunned management culture because I fancy myself an artist or an activist or something. Management sounds so capitalistic and boring. It belongs to the world of khaki pants and TPS reports. It’s for people who can’t just all be cool and get along, and sometimes fight and cry and hug it out.


This is, of course, ridiculous.

William Carlos Williams said: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.”

It’s difficult to get poetry from management. Yet people suffer every day for lack of what is found there. Management is just couples therapy for groups—a form of clear and fair communication that makes it possible to be in the world with other humans. And we all know how I love therapy.

Look, bizness people doing bizness things. (Photo by rawpixel via Unsplash.)
I’ve been at 826LA one year as of this weekend. For the first few months, I came home with what I dubbed a learning headache. Then we reshuffled our department, and there have been a lot of growing pains. Sometimes I doodled angsty poetry in my notebook during meetings.

Look, we’re all adults here
walking around in our dead-bird skins
tissue paper in our eye sockets.
I’m tired of listening to my self-esteem playlist
every morning while you
light the gas lamps every afternoon.

Sometimes I think I still know nothing about fundraising. Sometimes I wonder if I want to. Other times I imagine myself as both the lever and the thing being lifted, constantly cranking myself to new levels. I’m leaps and bounds from where I was a year ago.

I have a learning hangover. In the past six months, I gained back the weight I Weight Watchered away last year. I never worked late enough, but I was often late to pick up Dash.

That fine line between baby bird and crazy dinosaur. (Photo by Joy Stamp via Unsplash.)
He had literal growing pains—spontaneous and short-lived evening leg cramps—twice last week. At least, that’s what I and the Kaiser nurse hotline think they are; WebMD says they’re nearly textbook childhood leg cramps or leukemia, because WebMD.

He switched classrooms recently and has been a little more clingy, a little more likely to pretend to be a baby bird, a little more likely to pee on the porch, then run inside and announce “I didn’t pee on the porch.”

My 826 predecessor, Carolyn, has always been generous and helpful to me, so it was no surprise that when I posed a question in a local moms’ Facebook group about a baby swing (for AK’s sister, who is due momentarily—stay tuned for auntie updates, y’all), she was quick to offer hers to us, for free.

Despite—or perhaps because of—her general awesomeness, it has been hard not to feel like the Second Mrs. de Winter to her Rebecca. Today Dash and I went to pick up the swing, and I was not surprised to find her house pristine despite the fact that two young children lived there. She was wearing a breezy linen jumpsuit and sorting through her youngest’s books. She was sweet to Dash, and gave me some friendly, practical, down-to-earth work advice. And the swing.

There are no evil housekeepers in my version, and my Rebecca is alive, so it's not really apples-to-apples.
I was just grateful Dash didn’t pee on her floor.

My friend Holly recently introduced me to Amanda Palmer’s song “In My Mind,” which just about sums it up:

In my mind
When I'm old I am beautiful
Planting tulips and vegetables
Which I will mindfully watch over
Not like me now
I'm so busy with everything
That I don't look at anything
But I'm sure I'll look when I am older
And it's funny how I imagined
That I could be that person now
But that's not what I want
But that's what I wanted
And I'd be giving up somehow
How strange to see
That I don't wanna be the person that I want to be

I want to be like Carolyn and also I don’t. I’d like to be a version of me with tidier countertops, who doesn’t sometimes stress-eat fifteen cookies in a sitting, who is a more diligent reader and prolific writer. (I was prolific once upon a time.) I sort of hope/feel like I am turning a corner at work, but I also know I am prone to now-everything-will-be-easy narratives, and that cancer check-up season approaches, which is never easy.

I would like to bring some effective management techniques to my life as well as my work, but I hope the messiness of my learning process adds some nice layers, like the oils in a cast iron pan. Not that I would know how cast iron pans really work, because I mostly cook pasta and pre-made things from Trader Joe’s. That’s fine too.

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