Stretching Too Thin: Failure in Leadership

Last year, when I helped to organize the November Mentor Leadership Panel titled Finding Balance in Leadership: Work and Wellness, I reached out of Giri Puligandla, the Director of Planning and Research at Homeward Trust Edmonton and a PLLC mentor. I distinctly remember his hesitancy to join the panel — in his words, “I’m not sure I’m the best example of work/life balance!”

 

In many ways, I felt similarly to Giri did. Like many students at PLLC, I’m an extremely ambitious person who rarely feels the need to schedule “down-time” spent doing anything that won’t advance my career goals. At that time, I was an executive on two student organizations, the chair of a working group that I had founded, and a volunteer with three additional organizations. On top of all that, I was studying for my LSAT. Budgeting time to watch TV, go on a run, or even spend time with friends seemed frivolous and wasteful.

 

As Giri explained at the panel, balance is necessary for some people, but not for everyone. I agree with this sentiment. I enjoy being busy, and begin to feel sluggish and depressed whenever I have too much time on my hands. As a result, I’ve overloaded myself with work, volunteer, and extra-curricular activities in addition to my course load over the past three years of my degree. This decision has made me feel happy and fulfilled.

 

For my summer stretch experience, I was given the opportunity to work with the Government of Alberta as a sustainability ambassador. In this position, I was tasked with visiting over 60 municipalities across Alberta and ensuring that these communities were on par with provincial and federal sustainability frameworks. I was thrilled to have been hired for such a competitive position, and I was excited to start working this strenuous project.

 

The experience, however, turned out to be very different from what I expected. I worked over 80 hours a week and was only given two days off in the month of May. I was away from home far more than I expected to be, and for the first time in my life, I began to feel extreme burn out. I also began to develop severe mental health problems that seriously hindered my ability to work. Eventually, I made the decision to quit the position (after completing well over 200 hours).

 

The decision to quit my stretch experience took an immense toll on the way that I saw myself. I have never labeled myself as a “quitter,” and I take pride in seeing projects through to the end. I realized that, for the first time, I had stretched myself too thin. The cost was not only my own physical and mental health, but the success of the project I was assigned.

 

I am disappointed in myself for not being able to complete my stretch experience. But I’ve learned from mentors like Dr. Ferguson-Pell that failure can be positive. This summer, I’ve began to spend more time reflecting on myself and doing things that bring balance into my life. It’s been challenging to change the paradigm that I saw myself and the world through, but ultimately, it’s given me a far greater understanding of myself and appreciation of the application of leadership.

 

-Kate McInnes

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