sanity-insanity-road-signI believe one of the sources of our frustrations is when our expectations do not match the realities of our situations. I’ve learned through the years to recognize what I can control or influence and those I simply need to accept as I’m in no position to change them. I’ve also learned that changing my perception and emotional response is more accessible than changing those around me. By re-framing or recognizing my control/influence boundaries, I’ve learned to minimize my frustrations and make the best of my situation.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it’s probably easier to change myself (or my attitude) than to change others. For example, some folks are more naturally outspoken and have more dominant personalities than I do. During meetings, I’ve gotten frustrated when I’m unable to express my thoughts/ideas when the discussions are happening. Maybe it’s because I’m introverted, and it takes a lot of energy to be in these situations, or tha,t I’m just eloquent enough to verbalize my thoughts. Sometimes, these folks are way above the organizational hierarchy or from other organizations, and asking them to change their ways would probably not be the wisest nor the most effective move on my part. Given that I can’t change these folks, I’ve learned to change my attitude and expectations when attending these meetings. I’ve learned to relax and accept that these meetings are sometimes monologues, and I’m there just to listen. I’ve come to realize when decisions have already been made, I wasn’t going to waste my effort and energy having to argue my points. If I do need to convey my ideas, one of the things I do is to write them down and email them to the group before or after the meetings. I may also share my thoughts with other folks so they know where I’m coming from and can help me express them during the session. Just a side note, when I facilitate meetings, I make an effort to encourage other folks to participate and acknowledge their ideas.

Another scenario I’ve come to accept is that formal positions don’t always mean being in a position of authority. Throughout my career, I’ve led several committees and projects at our university, ranging from departmental and divisional to campus level. For the most part, my position as chair/leader of the committee/project meant I was able to have a relatively high level of influence, and I was able to shape the discussions because of my expertise and position in the organization. However, there have been times when I find myself only havingplaceition in my name. Based on the politics, personalities, or expertise of those involved, I find myself in a role with limited authority. This would have bothered me in the past, and I took it personally.  However, I’ve come to realize that as long as the project’s objective is met and the process is generally what I consider respectful and productive, I will contribute in the way I can, even if it means just scheduling the meetings. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t exert my “authority” as a chair/lead and adjust the direction of the discussions when needed. What it does mean is that I’ve learned to “pick my battles” and not to take my situation personally.

It’s easy to get lost in the messiness we encounter along the process. Keeping the bigger picture and end goal in mind gives us a compass to guide us along the way.

We all have ideas on how things should be. I’ve read many books on leadership, communication, and organizational management, and I sometimes forget these books are about what and how things should be in an ideal world. The reality is that these ideals could be far from our realities. Because our value systems and experiences shape our world views, we also set our expectations. When these expectations are not met, it’s when we get frustrated. Keeping in mind that our ideals are not always shared by others and accepting this fact may be the difference in how well we maintain our sanity.

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