Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Deciding Whether Or Not To Do The Thing

Anybody with even a vague interest in service has almost definitely struggled with whether or not they should do the Thing.

Not this Thing.
The Thing can be anything - a shift at gate, stewarding an event, taking on an office, becoming part of retinue, making largesse - and it can be anything from an hour or two to a full-blown 4+ year commitment.

Regardless, whenever you agree to do a Thing, it means that you'll have a little less energy and time for something else (even if that something else is literally just sitting on your butt with a glass of wine - I'm not judging.)

Whether you're deciding if you can do one more gate shift or host one more meeting, it can be hard to say no once people have made it clear that they believe in you and think that you're a great fit for that Thing! It's a great compliment and it can feel like you're badly letting someone down if you say no.

Outside the SCA, it's not very common for folks to ask each other to volunteer in the same way that we do inside the SCA - there are simply not nearly so many volunteer-based tasks out there in an average life. So, none of us are really trained to say "no!" I think most of us also genuinely enjoy the tasks we undertake in the SCA, so if someone is asking you to devote more time to a thing you like, it's easy to say yes.

I certainly fall victim to "helium hand" from time to time, but I've received some pretty good advice that I want to compile here - mostly for myself, because I need reminders. I think it's important to really step back and think about what you can commit to, and what you can't commit to.

Not everybody is going to agree with all of these points, and that's totally fine - everybody has their own way of doing things. It's just a list of advice I've been given over the past couple years that is worth pondering on.

(Please note: everybody should be helping with tasks like set up and clean up because that's part of being in the SCA. You really should be helping with that whether or not you enjoy it, if you can. I'm not talking about universal tasks of helping out, I'm talking about specific personal responsibilities.)

1. Is the Thing something people actually need done?

I'm an ideas person, in that I have five thousand ideas and very little meaningful filtering system to decide what is a great idea and what is something that only I will enjoy. Some of that probably comes with experience (which I don't have all that much of.)

When you're deciding to do a Thing or even participate in a Thing, the first question you should probably ask yourself is whether or not it's something that people actually want done.

"Look guys, I found a new way to authentically spit-roast pigs in half the time! I'm bringing it to every event from now on!"
If you're volunteering to do something totally new - maybe a new event, or a new way to distribute site tokens, or whatever your brain has cooked up - make sure there is interest in what you're doing and good vibes about the way you want to go about it. Talk to some folks and see whether or not that's a niche that needs to be filled. Maybe someone else already does that thing, and you can join in with their project. Maybe somebody tried it ten years ago and it resulted in five fire trucks and a SWAT team showing up at an event. Who knows?

Also, if you really want to help out at an event, make sure you arrange that ahead of time. I guarantee that there will be a panicked cry for assistance on the Facebook page of whatever you're attending a week or two before the big day. That's your moment to jump in! You have absolute confirmation that somebody needs assistance. Hooray!

If you show up on the day of the event, poke your head into the kitchen, and see a team of ten up to their elbows in food prep and moving like a well-oiled machine, it's probably too late for you to help out in a useful way. Don't force yourself in there. There might be other stuff to help with later or elsewhere, but you need to really make sure that you're a useful body.

2. Can somebody else do the Thing?

When you've been playing for a while and feel really confident in your ability to do or run something, that's an awesome feeling. It's extra awesome if somebody believes in you enough to ask you to do something!

Before you agree, take a minute and consider whether or not there might be other folks who have the same skillset as you, but who haven't necessarily had the chance to get experience doing the Thing yet. If you're planning on stewarding an event, can you take a newer person under your wing as a co-steward and teach them the ropes? Is there an ambitious team of newbies who would like the chance to take a stab at organizing the feast? If you're always the one who does the Thing, that means nobody else has had the chance to learn how to do it. It's great to feel wanted and appreciated for what you do, but it might be a good opportunity for you to let somebody else try it or teach them how to do it.

On the other hand, if you're worried about saying no because you're afraid that nobody else will do your job the way you like it done, it's a good time to take a deep breath and step back for an event or two. You might be surprised at who will step up, but somebody will step up. Give them a chance to try it, even if it's not how you might have done it. (If you feel like nobody will step up and do it if you step back from doing your Thing, I doubly recommend it. The SCA has existed for 50 years and has branches all over the world - someone else will step up if they have to, because someone always has.)

You shouldn't always pass on doing things that you're good at, of course - if you enjoy it, that's great. Just think about ways you might be able to incorporate others.

3. Can I actually do the Thing? 

A very wise woman once told me that it's much worse to over-promise and under-deliver than it is to be honest and say no. Everyone understands if you're too busy to take something on and say so - it's definitely less good to agree to take something on, panic, and then drop it like a hot potato at the last minute and leave folks scrambling.

It's just as bad to agree to do something and then do a really mediocre job which doesn't represent how brilliant you are. (It's taken me a while to get my head around this one, but it's definitely true - a single task done incredibly well is a far better reflection of your potential than a thousand tasks done poorly.)

If you've found yourself in a swamp full of things you said "yes" to six months ago and now you don't know what to do, ask for help now. Right now. Immediately. Figure out what you might be able to pass along to someone willing, try to decide what you can let go of in the near future, and re-commit to doing the rest of what's on your plate with the energy it deserves. See if there are people who can help you accomplish the things you need to accomplish.

Some responsibilities are easy to pass off (a shift at gate or retinue or serving feast) and some responsibilities will directly impact the health of the game in your area if you drop out (being King/Queen, being the Baron/Baroness, doing an important office, running a major event.) Be very careful what you agree to, and make sure you have the support and time you need to see it through to the end.

It was at this moment that Jack realized his flamethrower pig-roast was a bad idea all along, and that he should have listened to Mistress Jill when she said so three months ago.
My least favorite sight at an event is the many generous and dedicated souls who have been run off their feet collapsed from heat stroke or hunger because they have way over-committed themselves. A lot of these folks haven't planned for their own comfort and don't even have a proper break for shade or a good meal in between all of the stuff they have to do. (That has been me. I'm pretty sure everyone has done that once or twice.)

Consider -  if you've taken on so much that somebody now has to take care of you and take on something you said you'd do but are now too sick to do, then you're not helping anybody. Leave yourself breaks, take care of yourself.

4. Am I willing to give up another Thing to do this one?

Following on the above, there is only a finite amount of time in anyone's life. Understand that every new Thing you take on will mean that you won't have time to do something else, even if that something else is just a quiet hour or two by yourself in the middle of a busy day. You may find that some activity you really love and value will slip away due to the little bits and pieces you picked up along the way which are now taking up a lot more time than you thought they would.

Weigh your time and priorities carefully and make sure you're not trading something you really love for something you could really have done without.

5. Do I enjoy the Thing? 

You know what I'm really great at? Data entry. You know what I really hate? Data entry. Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you have to do it all the time, and the same goes for service.

"Oh no, I'm fine. Everything's fine. I love being a field marshal. Really, I do." 
If you can't stand sitting at gate, don't take a three-hour shift at gate every two or three weeks. There's nothing worse than watching somebody deflate over the course of a few events because they've done nothing but a thing they really don't enjoy for the last six months.

The best thing about the SCA is that there are so many varied and interesting tasks to be done. If you like archery, I am sure you can find some ways to help make archery in your area run more smoothly. If you like rapier, I'm sure there are ways you can promote it! No matter what you enjoy, you should be able to find some way to help out which feels both purposeful and enjoyable.

That's not to say that you should NEVER help out with stuff you don't like to do - hey, somebody's got to take people's money for an event to run, and a shift there from time to time won't kill you. There are tasks that everyone should take a turn at from time to time in order for our Society to run.

However, you should definitely balance those tasks with activities and tasks which bring you joy. It's not a sprint or a marathon - there's no SCA finish line. It's your life. Do things that inspire you.

6. Do I really, honestly, and truly want to do the Thing? 

Is this something you feel like you "have to" do? Why do you feel that way? Is it a good reason? Talk to someone you trust about it if you're not sure.

Is someone pressuring you into doing something? Why do they feel it's so important that you do it at this time? Do they fully understand your other commitments at this time?

Are you saying "yes" for the wrong reasons? For example, are you hoping you'll gain positive attention for doing this, but have no other interest or skillset which suits the responsibility? Are you worried someone will be angry or upset at you if you say no? Have you spoken to this person about why it might not be a good idea right now?

Are you going to be bitter, angry, or resentful about your responsibilities three or six months down the road? Will it suck the enjoyment out of the SCA or a specific event for you if you feel like you can't do what you want as a result of agreeing to do something else?

Have you slept on it? Take a few days and really decide whether or not it's a good idea for you to do this right now. Tell whoever is asking that you can't commit right away and that you'll think about it. This takes some practice to learn to do, but it's worth it.

Are you hesitating because of some other reason? Do you doubt your abilities? Is there someone (or a group of people) you can talk to about getting help and support which will make you feel better?

If you've thought about these questions and you think it's still a good idea to do the Thing, go for it! Jump in with both feet and enjoy yourself! Don't forget that you can always ask people you trust and talk out your worries and concerns. 

Anyway, I hope this was helpful - I know it's a good exercise for me!

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