11.28.2012

"Whatcha Doing?"

I was having coffee the other afternoon with a friend and relating a conversation I had with someone who asked me "what do you DO exactly? I know you are always busy, but do you actually 'do' anything?" That question made me take pause. Because what I contribute my time to isn't defined by a paycheck or a job title, it is defined by my sense of self and what I believe to be an expression of my values.

I advocate for causes I believe in. For RESULTS, for Shot@Life, for Anchal Project, for Half the Sky, for KaBOOM!, to name just a few (as it is a rather long list). I've written extensively on education policy and how it can impact (sometimes in a negative way, sometimes in a positive way) family engagement opportunities. I write letters to the editor, I add my name to on-line petitions, I sign and send emails to elected officials, I make phone calls, and I encourage others to do the same for either the causes I believe in, or for whatever cause they believe in. When I ask for this support via this blog or other social networking sites, I also ask that we all be respectful towards one another regarding the causes we support. It's perfectly fine if you don't believe in or want to support the causes I believe in, after all, the world would be a most uninteresting place if we all thought/felt/spoke the same way, but we can be civil in our discourse towards one another, even when discussing our various points of view.

I have been called a Champion of Change by the White House, an uber-parent by EdWeek, a connector, a global citizen, a facilitator, an inspiration, a role model, a "change-agent," and if you ask my children "what does your mom do?" they would answer "she talks. A lot. To people. Sometimes random people she meets in the grocery check out line. About stuff. Mostly education reform, but other things as well. She talks." But no one has ever questioned the value of what I do...or tried to have me place a value on it.

But that is only a small part of what I do. I also at any given time, and in no particular order, do the following:
  • laundry & grocery shopping & fix breakfast, lunch, & dinner
  • talk
  • read
  • run
  • worry & rant
  • make donations of clothing/books/toys
  • sing loudly to One Direction on the radio
  • walk the dog

And despite what many people think, I don't do it all, after all there is only one me and I have quite a bit to do. But I "do" what I can on any given day and try to make the world a better place for those who don't have the time to do, but want to. And I'm not doing all the things I do to make others feel that they don't do enough. Far from it. I'm just really very fortunate that I can be a full time volunteer advocate and spend my time speaking out and acting up about the causes I support and believe in.

For a long time I was completely defined by others and what I did, or in some cases, didn't do. My role, or place, in my community was establish by the roles I stepped into: room parent, PTA leader, committee member. What I learned was as indispensable as I thought I was in any of those roles (after all I have a shelf of awards to prove that I was "doing" well) I learned through a "series of unfortunate events" that I was actually...dispensable. And while no one could do things in exactly the same way that I did them, the punch to the solar plexus reality was...someone else could actually do those things. And in their own way.

So I've spent a great deal of time thinking about "what I do" because for some reason it is terribly important to others that what I do, what any of us do really, has a clear definition. That it comes with rules and job benefits. And although this hasn't actually proved itself out, I suspect that if I was really driven I could (probably? maybe?) turn what I do into a "career" but it would then seem less purpose driven and bound up to other people's perceptions of what my purpose should be. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe we should all have a mission and a vision, and most importantly the goals in which we believe will help us fulfill those things. In fact, we should all be living out the very best version of ourselves, and if that means sitting behind a desk in a cubicle working for a corporation, then do it. And do it well.

Now, what I do may not be a housed in a traditional 9 to 5 existence with a cubicle and a commute, but it is my "do." And certainly there is no six week review meeting to evaluate my performance, no annual holiday party where my contributions are recognized, and definitely no year-end cash bonus...but trust me, as the chief cook and bottle washer of my own enterprise, I evaluate and asses what I "do" on a regular basis. In fact, the three week battle with insomnia proves that I am thinking about what I "do" quite a bit. And as often as all my friends and family members tell me to rest, to take a break, to "do nothing" and I sincerely want them to know, I try to do just that, but that go with the flow just isn't me.


But beyond the writing, the posting, the volunteering, here are a few other things that I do:
  • I do believe in honoring your commitments and following through on projects that you agreed to do, and I do know that at times I fail to do just that, so I do believe that others can call me out on that, and should. Sometimes you have to call me out because while I'm busy doing everything I may unintentionally forget a significant something and need a gentle reminder about what I agreed to do;
  • I do believe in saying no (politely of course) and admitting if you can't do something. I don't think anyone should be a martyr for a cause, I've been that person far too many times, the "I can do this" even when I was in over my head. That doesn't do anyone any favors and only leads to nothing getting done;
  • I do believe in owning up to mistakes and mis-steps and apologizing (maybe more than once) and I do expect the same in return;
  • I do believe in being kind, courteous, and respectful. I do set high expectations for not just myself, but for others, and I do get disappointed when I fail to meet my own expectations, and I don't handle being disappointed by others well, but I do blame myself for that rather than the person who hasn't met my rather unattainable expectations (which they might not have even been aware of in the first place); 
  • I do believe my friends should be honest with me when I ask "do I look fat in this?" because I would hope they would rather I didn't leave my house as a glamour don't. I will do the same for them in a kind, courteous, and respectful way, of course;
  • I do believe that friendship is significantly important and do try to let my friends know that they matter, that no matter what the ask they have of me is, I will do my best to help, cheer them on, comfort when needed and be supportive as I possibly can be. But don't take me for granted. I do believe we should all give and be given second chances...but beyond that, well, it's a case by case basis;
  • I do believe people should call me by my given name and not by a pet nickname they have chosen for me. If we have never kissed you don't get to call me "babe";
  • I do believe in fairies, I do! I do!;
  • and like Plato, I do believe "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." 

Like everyone, I just do what I do, to the best of my abilities. I do try to play well with others and I do try not to run with scissors. I do laugh a little too loud and cry a little to long. I do wear my heart on my sleeve so that is sometimes does get bruised. I do like a chai tea latte on a cold, autumn day. And as I say all the time, "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

So, what do I do? Advocate about how important it is that we all work together to create healthy and sustainable local/global communities.

Now, what can I do for you?



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