FT Even as a new staff member, it ok to say “not my circus, not my monkeys” when you are overwhelmed #sachat
This Polish proverb has been one of my favorites since I stumbled across it on Pinterest. It encompasses so much more than “not my problem,” especially for someone like me who wants to solve every problem. I launch straight into “fix it” mode whenever someone brings me a challenge. Reminding myself that something isn’t my responsibility and doesn’t involve myself or my staff can be very liberating, despite going so directly against my nature.
When you’re starting a new position, one of the biggest challenges can be translating that long, fancy job description into what your actual job entails. That giant list of responsibilities takes on a whole new meaning when you bring it to life instead of reading it off a piece of paper. So when you’re asked to do something that falls into the nebulous realm of might-be-my-job-but-I-can’t-really-be-sure, how do you figure out if it is truly part of your three ring circus?
It can take a while to get familiar with the institution, the department, and even your own job, but this doesn’t mean you have to take every burden on your shoulders until you figure out what you’re really supposed to do. In student affairs, we want to take on every challenge if it will help our students, but some things really aren’t your problem! Even more importantly, letting your students know that you have limits can help them evaluate their own workload and learn to solve their own problems when necessary.
Evaluating your own responsibilities means doing two things: learning to delegate, and remembering that “no” is not a four-letter word. In the case of delegation, the phrase becomes somewhat different. Although it may still be your circus, you can let someone else handle the monkeys! They can figure out the details and help make everything run more smoothly. Sometimes you may have an opportunity to assist a colleague with a project or event, in which case it’s equally important to remember that supplying a monkey doesn’t mean taking responsibility for the whole shebang. And yes, fellow SA professionals, sometimes you can say no to the entire circus if it seems like something you either can’t or shouldn’t handle.
Some of this advice can be particularly difficult for a new professional because we all want to prove ourselves worthy. It can be very easy to lose sight of the ways in which we can shine by going above and beyond expectations without launching ourselves into the stratosphere. Being an exceptional staff member does not mean letting yourself be pulled in every direction.
This blog post has been particularly difficult to write because it goes against the very fiber of my being to leave something undone. I usually leave no “i” undotted, no “t” uncrossed, but what do you do when those “i’s” and “t’s” aren’t yours to worry about? At the same time as we want to promote a culture of support and assistance, it cannot be at the expense of our actual responsibilities or mental health. Your offers of help lose meaning if you are unable to complete all of the tasks you have undertaken.
So take a minute, even those of you who have been in your roles for years, to reevaluate if all those monkeys are your own. And for those of you for whom this advice seems impossible, hang a copy of this poster on your wall to help you remember that you’re already the ringleader of your own circus!