Word on the street is that I “don’t work well with some people.” Why this came up doesn’t really matter, especially since I don’t actually want to do the thing that a colleague recommended me for. (For what it’s worth, I think that I would do it very well, but having had some experience with administrative tasks in the past 10 years, I know that they do not energize me the way that regular faculty work energizes me, so all’s well that ends well.)
But this thing about how I am regarded was actually very interesting news for me to hear, because if you look at my record, I’ve accomplished a great deal, particularly since tenure, precisely because I’m really good at working with other people and with getting people to do work that they otherwise would not do. I’ve worked with a range of folks across my department, college, and university, and some of these folks themselves have reputations as being “difficult to work with,” and some of them have reputations as being “nice to work with.” It’s worth noting that some people who are “difficult to work with” are actually huge assets when trying to accomplish concrete goals, and some people who are “nice to work with” are a pain in the ass who never pull their weight, and vice versa. What matters to me is getting the work done, whatever the personalities that are involved. But apparently, we’re not talking about “work” even though that’s the word being used.
Really what we’re talking about is a difference in approaches to how to accomplish concrete goals. And my approach, as it has evolved since earning tenure and promotion and as it has evolved from doing some really treacherous college-wide and university-wide committee-work, has definitely shifted from one that was about wanting people to like me and wanting to keep people happy – no matter how much time and energy of mine that took – to wanting to accomplish things in the most efficient way possible – even if people don’t throw me a parade at the end of it.
The biggest reason for that shift is that even when I was running myself ragged to make everybody happy and make everybody like me not only did nobody throw me a parade but also lots of people still got mad at me. Also I was told – point blank, by (male) administrators – that my problems with my workload were of my own making and that I could not expect any support and in fact by asking for it I was being a bad little girl. “Some people just do more work than other people, Dr. Crazy.” “You need to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, Dr. Crazy.”
So you know what? I learned my lesson. After some reflection, I determined that I need to feel like I am productive in my job, and I need to feel like I’m doing so without sacrificing my own well-being, and those things matter a hell of a lot more than whether everybody “enjoys” how I get things done. As a result, I have reached the point where the following things are now true:
- I am vocal about who I would like to serve on committees that I chair, and I have refused to serve on committees based on who else will be serving on or chairing those committees. I do this not because I don’t “like” some people but because I don’t want to do service that wastes my time because others don’t pull their weight or because others get in the way of me achieving goals. I also choose service “opportunities” based on my interests and not because I’ve been guilted into doing so because of other people’s “needs.” Note: I still do more service than probably 75% of the people in my department.
- I have begun to introduce proposals through the appropriate department channels for ideas that I have without necessarily consulting with department administration or others or waiting for some kind of amorphous approval before I do so. The channels exist for a reason, anybody can use them, and people can vote my ideas up or down. Whatever. But I’ve learned if I wait for other people I’ll be waiting until I’m retired. Or I’ll be vilified for months although ultimately my idea will be approved. Both of those things are super awesome, I know, but I’ve decided if I’m going to be the Big Bad Bossy Crazy anyway, I might as well be the Big Bad Bossy Crazy in a way that takes as little of my time and energy as possible.
- I lack patience with free-wheeling “discussions” that have no end in sight, particularly when those discussions mostly involve people who do not contribute meaningfully to the work that needs to be done on a day-to-day basis. This has always been true, but I’m more likely to express it now, in the hope that I an Make. It. Stop. Sometimes it even works. Other times at least I feel like I didn’t go down without a fight, so I don’t seethe for days about it.
I’m sure there are more things, but I think those are the big three. Part of the reason that these qualities are so offensive is because of gender, I think, and also because I’m kind of a natural leader and I don’t have a position from which to lead with authority, nor have I had the benefit of administrators who will take my ideas and run with them, backing me up with their authority. What’s really happened over the past 4-5 years is that I’ve been put in a position where I end up the fall-guy for controversial (important) things while administrators sit back and let me have the target on my back.
And so now, here I am, a problem child. Ah well, I’ll take it. Let some of those people who play well with others do the heavy lifting. We’ll see how nicely they play at the end of it.