Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Communicating my way through eighth grade graduation

I did not expect to receive a lot of compliments yesterday.

Four months of planning culminated in last night's eighth grade graduation, which I co-chaired with two friends, and it was the kind of task that garners its share of gripes. This isn't a criticism of my fellow eighth grade parents; it's just the reality of planning a somewhat complicated event that involves 97 kids. 

There were parents who thought the beach trip should be to an actual beach. (Fair enough, but the man-made swimming pond is only ten minutes away, whereas the beach would have meant at least an hour in traffic in each direction.) There were disagreements about the theme of the eighth grade dance and the location of the eighth grade class trip. There were even a couple of issues about appropriate refreshments. 

And there were differing points of view from the moment we started the planning process back in February about whether the graduation ceremony should be held inside or outside, and then more disagreements about how many tickets each family should receive if it had to be held inside the auditorium.

However, there was also plenty of enthusiasm, class spirit, and energetic volunteerism. Nearly every one of the 97 families involved helped out at some time or other during graduation season, whether by designing invitations, chaperoning dances, baking snacks for the reception, creating a slide show, or doing countless other tasks along the way.

Still, when the day came, I didn't expect compliments. I expected frazzled rushing around as small details required attention and unanticipated oversights cropped up. 

But it wasn't the number of compliments that was so touching to me; it was their content. Because across the board, people said to me by spoken word, text message or email, "You communicated it all so well."

You see, it's an open secret that communicating by written word is one of my very few skills. I am not someone with a wide diversity of talents. But attempting to impart ideas clearly is both my vocation and my lifeblood; it's how I make a living and it's how I live. So it meant the world to me that it was that very skill that my fellow parents cited yesterday. "Thanks for providing us with so much information," someone wrote. "You've made this all really easy by explaining it so well," said another email.

This isn't about bragging on my part. There's so much I'm not all that good at, and that's what other volunteers and my co-chairs did. I'm not good at arranging flowers or decorating for a dance or figuring out the quantity of paper goods needed for a reception for 600. I'm also not good at inspiring a group of excited eighth graders to behave well while waiting for their graduation ceremony to begin or getting them to stop talking and listen to the photographer's instructions.

So other parents did those jobs. All I really did was send out emails, and it's true that there are now nearly 200 parents in Carlisle who never want to see my name in their in-box again. It turns out graduation requires a lot of emails.

But hearing that they found my communications ultimately more useful than irritating was genuinely important to me. I'm a big believer in core competencies, the idea that it makes sense in a lot of cases for entities -- whether businesses or individuals -- to figure out what they do well and concentrate on doing that, rather than trying to develop other talents or abilities.

But in this one case, I stopped apologizing that I didn't know how to arrange flowers or set up beach volleyball games. Instead, I sent out emails, and to my surprise, people thanked me for them.

Years ago, I was giving my husband what I thought was a useful and critical piece of information when he implored "Could you please just stop explaining things?" He gets tired sometimes of my need to communicate and perhaps occasionally over-communicate. And he's probably right. Some things may not require quite as much explanation as I tend to give them.

And yet at times I feel like it's all I really do well, whether useful or not. Yesterday, after four months of planning, I felt richly rewarded when numerous people told me that for the most part it was, in fact, useful. I explained things and they benefited from it. It's a small thing to be proud of, but yesterday it made the whole graduation undertaking seem entirely worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, Flavi. Beautifully said (which I know is the point :). You do write so very, very well and clearly. I have always appreciated this about you, and delight in the fact that others do too.