Step Back to Step Up

How I learned to say ‘no’.

It’s hard to be a leader; anyone who has ever had a leadership position can tell you that. Even for those who are “born leaders,” there are still things that need to be learned in order to be successful.

Without tooting my own horn, I can say I have always considered myself a leader; my teacher in 1st grade told me so, so it must be true. Growing up, my friends looked to me when they had questions, trusting I would be there to provide the right answers. In times of crisis- having a friend fall off their bike was quite the crisis for an eight-year-old- others looked to me to help the injured amigo (usually, that consisted of me simply running to grab whoever had a parent closest, but that was still a lot of responsibility for a tiny-human).

In college, this leadership evolved into organizing group projects (because let’s face it, no one wants to do it) and unfortunately, on occasion, helping friends who were experiencing more serious health-related crises.

The summer before my third-year began, I felt like the queen of the world. My resume had finally started stacking up, my LinkedIn page was gaining more and more viewers and I was even receiving job offers for after college, a prospect which both terrified and excited me. All of that changed when the fire nation attacked. However, as August rolled around, I found myself thrown into two large leadership roles rather unexpectedly: Director of the Pioneer and Project Lead for The Homeless Entrepreneur: From Suitcase to Briefcase.

The Pioneer and HackCville have been significant parts of my college career. Over the past two years, I have learned the in’s and out’s, do’s and don’t’s of both organizations, gaining valuable media experience and even more valuable friends along the way. As Director, however, my role in the publication was about to change. No longer would I be able to focus on myself and the content I was creating. I was now responsible for 20 other producers, coordinating with clients, taking care of administrative tasks and representing the publication. As Rihanna would say, my role went from “zero to 60 in 3.5.”

As if this transition wasn’t stressful enough, I decided to add an additional job into the mix. When I received the email from the head of the Media Studies department saying that someone in the Cville community was looking for videographers for a project, The Homeless Entrepreneur, I couldn’t resist. The email detailed how I would be working alongside people from NPR; my work would be seen by people at CNBC. It was all too good to be true and too amazing to pass up. I immediately sent Becky Blanton, the founder of The Homeless Entrepreneur, an email with my resume and samples of my work, detailing my experience over the course of my email which I totally wasn’t writing in the middle of a class lecture….

I received a call from her not one hour later congratulating me on becoming the new Project Lead. I would be responsible for four or five other producers, as well as a three person music team I would be responsible of assembling. My very first video was a profile on one of the program’s students, and, as Becky promised, was seen by people at CNBC. And, they liked it. They wanted more. This is what launched me into a miserable spiral that became the majority of the first semester of my third-year.

On October 1, I was working three jobs (the one not mentioned was for my leasing office’s marketing department), attending school as a full-time student and simply trying to keep my head above water. I was working 40-50 hours a week between the three jobs, leaving close to no time for school work. I fell behind more quickly than I care to admit. I began skipping more and more morning classes in an attempt to catch up on the sleep I had lost the night before. I was pulling all-nighters once, if not twice, a week.

By October 14, my body was starting to feel the stress. I was sick all the time. I was living off of coffee, causing unwelcome jitters and nausea. I had no time for socializing, and when I did I was so stressed about missing a deadline I would inevitably leave early. I even admit to spontaneously bursting into tears a couple times, luckily only once in public.

“You need to delegate more.” If I had a dollar for every time one of my friends or co-workers told me that over the course of six weeks, I would drop out of school and live on my own personal island with my newly found trophy husband and piles of money. Delegating. I was doing that wasn’t I? Letting my producers for The Pioneer handle their own schedules and projects with minimal interjection? Asking producers to help with sponsored content so I could handle managerial tasks? I figured I was doing better than leaders before me and therefore concluded I was fine. What more delegation could I do without coming off as a complete slacker?

“You’re like me,” Becky told me on the phone one day. “You always want to do things yourself so you know you get them done and done right.And she was right. But, that isn’t the point of a leader, is it? It isn’t to take everything upon yourself while leaving your team in the dust, is it?

I realized this during the third weekend of October. I decided to take back control of my life. I talked with my boss at the leasing office and he allowed me to take the rest of the semester off. I stepped back on The Homeless Entrepreneur and assigned more things to my other producers to film and edit. My role in The Pioneer stayed relatively the same. But, by decreasing the work load on the other two fronts, I was able to catch up on school work long over due and do some analysis of where each of my teams was.

I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn in terms of being a leader. But, over the past few months, I have come to learn some crucial things:

  • It’s okay to ask for help.

If you’re drowning in work, don’t just sit there and be miserable. Delegate it out to others who have less going on. If they respect and appreciate you, they’ll likely take it on no problem.

  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Now, obviously this is easier said than done. But, it’s important to step back and do a serious analysis of your life before you take on extra things. What are your grades like? How many hours a week are you working already? How are you feeling? Are you stressed? Tired? Wishing you didn’t eat that extra cookie and just want to hit the gym? Well, all of that brings me to my last thing:

  • Take care of yourself.

Again, easier said than done in college, but it’s something that is constantly overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life. If you’ve been working all day, take a break and go on a walk up and down the block. Watch that half hour episode of How I Met Your Mother as a break. Drink a massive bottle of water. Have something to eat that isn’t fried, frozen to be microwaved, or take-out. Spend that extra dollar to go buy an avocado, a head of lettuce and some chicken to whip up a quick salad (I swear it will take you a half-hour or less). Listen to what your body needs. If you’re tired, sleep. Hungry? Eat. Don’t ignore your body’s basic needs because you “don’t have time right now.”

College is hard. Being an adult is hard. And saying ‘no’ is hard, too. But, I promise the “real-world” and plethora of job opportunities will still be waiting for you after you graduate. People always say that “these will be the best four years of your life.” Don’t waste it being unhappy, sick and stressed. Step back so you can step up.

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About The Pioneer + HackCville

The Pioneer is the publication of HackCville. All of our producers are either current students or graduates of HackCville’s media education programs.

Our producers develop skills in modern media production through publishing stories about creative, civic, and entrepreneurial innovators in the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville community. Learn more →

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