Buckle up friends, I’m about to get really real…
Camp season 2015 has ended, and it was definitely one of the most challenging summers I’ve ever experienced. Pretty much everything that you can imagine could go wrong, did. From major registration system problems, to food orders not showing up, to camper issues, I had it all. Fortunately I had a really stellar team so we got through it all without the campers being any the wiser (and if I’m being honest the majority of the staff had no idea what issues I was dealing with ‘behind the scenes’.)
So I got back to the city on Saturday, and on Tuesday I popped in the office to stay hi and drop off some stuff before heading back to camp on Thursday to finish shutting down for the season.
My supervisor (the Executive Director of Programming for my organization – who manages her own program besides supporting me and my program) asked when I’d be back in the office next because we needed to chat about some stuff.
I didn’t like the sound of that, so I asked her if we could just talk now since I was already in her office.
(In hindsight, that was a really bad call, I was still so exhausted from the summer and not in a good place to be having any reflective, serious conversations)
She told me (in the nicest way possible, because she really is wonderful and one of my favourite humans) that there were some issues this summer that we needed to talk about, communication being the biggest one, and that our CEO had asked her to talk to me about it.
Cue record scratch sound.
My first reaction to anything is always emotion. Which mostly sucks.
So, I sat in my supervisor’s office and tried to stay calm and professional while my eyes filled with tears.
Ulgh. So embarrassing.
I tried to have a conversation about it, but my voice was doing that wobbly thing (that I HATE so much) and I was so angry with myself for reacting with emotion, and that was making me need to cry more because I cry when I’m frustrated and she was being very kind, and that was making it worse.
And then I started feeling defensive. Not great.
I told her I was feeling frustrated (because I believe in being honest, and I’m fortunate enough to have that kind of relationship with her), I told her I don’t like failing at things, and that I didn’t know what they wanted from me, that I had tried my best and it wasn’t good enough so I didn’t know where to go from there. I did admit that I understood where they were coming from and running through my mind were several examples of times when I had dropped the ball on communication this summer – which was just making it worse because I really don’t like failing and I was just getting more bummed out.
She was super supportive and told me I was not a failure and that it was just one small part of a really difficult summer and that she wanted to work with me on fixing it.
At that point I became very aware of how I was reacting (somewhere between really needing to cry, and really, really defensive – not a great time to have a constructive conversation) so I told her I was sorry for insisting that we chat now, clearly I was still really tired from the summer and asked if we could talk about it again when I was feeling more like myself. She agreed that coming back to it at a later date was a good idea and we left it at that.
On Thursday I headed back to camp and my ED met me there to help me clean and finish shutting down (because, seriously, she’s the best) we mostly just cleaned and chatted about everything else but she did ask me how I was feeling about everything. I said “Honestly? I’m kind of cranky about it all…”
I had spent the previous day stewing about it and getting myself all worked up and indigent about it.
My average day at camp is about 15 hours long (minimum) without any real breaks. We have 9 sessions that are each 7 (8 if you count travel time) days long with a 2 day break in between, that I usually ended up working at least one day of.
It was a HARD summer. Because of the administrative problems with registration and a bunch of new campers (which – YAY! But new campers have very nervous parents that need a lot more time, support and questions answered than returning campers), so I spent about 90% of my time trying to get a handle on admin stuff – which is NOT ideal. So I was already feeling guilty about not being around to coach and mentor my staff the way I wanted to and feeling like I had failed them… and then to realize that it was all for naught because I failed at the admin side of my job anyway.
I felt like I had so much on my plate and that there is no extra money in the budget to hire a full-time registrar, or any other full-time camp staff for that matter (it’s just me year round in the camping office) so I was feeling like they were identifying a problem but unwilling to help me come up with an actual solution.
I told her all of that, and I also said that all I knew is that I couldn’t put in any more time. (She agreed that me putting in more time wasn’t an option)
I was very grumpy.
So, we left it at that – my wonderful supervisor gave me more time to process and we went on with our cleaning.
Over the weekend it was all I could think about, I couldn’t sleep, I was bummed out and angry.
I started to heal.
The frustration went away and I realized that I had an opportunity to learn from this.
And over the course of the next few days I was able to shift my perspective.
I showed up at my supervisor’s office early Tuesday morning and said “Okay, I’m done being cranky about this. You’re right, there were problems with communication this summer and I’m ready to learn from it.”
And because she’s the best, she put down what she was working on, gave me a kind smile and said “ok, and I’m ready to help you.”
Here’s what I know:
Yes, there was a problem with communication this summer (mostly with the people in the head office) but that wasn’t the actual problem, it was a symptom of the actual problem, which is time management and organization.
Here are some of the solutions I came up with – that I’ll start working on right away (well, once I’m back from this much-needed vacation)
- Better manage my email
There are 2 kinds of people in this world. pic.twitter.com/y8bUyrGHeo
— Eli Langer (@EliLanger) March 1, 2015
Can you guess which kind I am?
One of the things I struggle with is that I don’t deal with my email right away. I open it up and say “oh, I should do something about that… later”, then I get distracted, move on to something else and forget about it. It’s bad.
So I’m going to focus on cleaning up my email, and creating some systems around dealing with things before they get lost in the thousands of other emails that are kickin’ around.
2. Keeping better track of phone calls
I’m not that bad for calling people back, it’s when I have to some follow-up that I drop the ball. I’ve already checked them off my list and if I don’t keep really good records, I’ll forget to get back to them for part 2 of the conversation.
3. Manage people’s expectations
I need to better manage the expectations of the head office staff.
I think that if I gave them office hours when they could most likely reach me during the summer, it would help. Even if it’s for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, they’d know that it’s a good time to reach me by phone or that they can most likely expect a reply email from me at that time.
Now obviously it won’t always work out, if there’s a problem on site or if I end up heading to the hospital then they’re going to have to understand. But missing one out of seven days isn’t bad, and if I’m finding that it’s happening often that I’m not available during that time, then I will obviously have to choose a better time.
4. Create some standards around reply times for phone, email, and social media contact
Based on my
quick Google search very extensive research, the average customer expected a reply to an email within 4 hours in 2014 (recent surveys are showing that it’s closer to 1 hour only a year later), and under an hour for social media platforms. The average response time for most companies is around 24 hours.
I feel like I can find a reasonable response time somewhere within those time frames, and it might look different during camp vs off-season, or even among different platforms. The important thing is that I create some sort of expectation for myself because I’m good with rules, so if it becomes a rule in my mind, I’ll follow it.
Check out this great infographic from Kissmetrics for some more info.
5. Just be more organized and efficient in general
Last spring Travis Allison recommended the book Getting Things Done by David Allen during one of his GoCampPro office hours. I went out and bought it but didn’t have time to read it, ironic, I know.
So, I’m going to give this a read and hopefully learn some great tips for being more organized and productive.
6. Allow others to help & ask for help when I need it
My ED suggested this one, we’re going to try to make better use of the office and camp staff who are already in place during the summer since we can’t create a new position. I’m going to have to be more willing to let others help me and not feel guilty for asking for help.
Being able to delegate is something I’ve been working on for years, it’s a struggle guys. And we had a really good laugh about the fact that I actually run a delegation workshop with my head counsellors every year to encourage them to become comfortable doing it within their role. Believe it or not, I’ve come a loooong way since my early days in leadership. #WorkInProgress haha
So, for those of you who made it down this far in the page (thanks for sticking with me by the way!) here are my take aways from this experience:
- I wish I had reacted better from the start rather than getting emotional/ defensive/ grumpy before recognizing that this was an opportunity – I’ll learn from this and try to take criticism in stride next time… how very “millennial” of me to take my bat and go home because someone gave me some negative feedback (that was glaringly obvious)
- Failure really is a learning opportunity if you’re willing to embrace it as such
- It’s important to have solid relationships with your colleagues. (If my ED and I didn’t have the type of relationship we do, I never would have been able to be honest with her about how I was processing her feedback. If it had been anyone else, I would have had to suck it up and I may not have had my weekend epiphany)
- I thought I was pretty self-aware, turns out I need to spend a little more time reflecting and growing
- I have really, really high expectations of myself and when I don’t meet them, it sucks. And when someone else points out that I didn’t meet them (or their expectations either) it sucks even more. So, while I think it’s still important to have high expectations, I’m going to try to be a little easier on myself.
- Contrary to the title of this post, I’m positive that I didn’t do my best this summer. For much of it I was sort of in survival mode, but if you had asked me a week ago I’d tell you I did the best I could with what I had. Now after some reflection (and sleep!) I’m able to look at it more objectively and say these are the areas where I could have done better, and now I have a plan for how I’ll do it!
And because you’re probably thinking that I couldn’t possibly make this post any longer, I’ll leave you with some great inspirational quotes about failure being an opportunity.
How was your summer? Did you have any challenges you overcame? Something you identified that you can work on for next year? Any amazing moments that took your breath away? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.