when you're in charge and you don't know what to do

2018-1201 OBT_Blog Post_in-charge_2.jpg

Sometimes your creative life affects your family life affects your work life which affects your creative life which affects family life which affects your work life.

I like making art by springboarding on contributions and thoughts and perspectives from real live people. It’s my favorite way to create.

So I’ve been inspired lately by my husband’s work with educators in design thinking and systems thinking for solutions to tricky issues. Much like theater devising, this stuff requires a strong leader, a willingness to let other people’s contributions shape the outcome, and an kind of thrill at being in the process without knowing what the performance is going to look like.

We’ve been talking about this in bits and pieces in between lunch-making and holiday planning and taking the trash out. You know what I mean.

So, there we were a few mornings ago, sitting around the breakfast table. Our kiddo was crying. She couldn’t go to school. She couldn’t eat breakfast. Her belly felt bad. She just couldn’t do it.

It wouldn’t have been so bad for her to miss a day. But both the grown-ups in this house had work commitments that were harder to break than usual. All through breakfast, I struggled.

It was getting later and later, and our kiddo hates being late.

Not only that, but I actually knew she was having a sub that day. Were we going to drag her there crying, only to find out when she walked in that she had a sub? Was it nervous belly like I thought, or was she coming down with something? Could I rearrange my work stuff somehow?

Shit. What should we—the parents, the leaders of this team—decide?

I wonder if those design thinking/theater making conversations had an effect on what we did.

We did not decide. We collaborated. We went with complete honesty.

I said, “Let’s talk about this for real. We’re going to be totally honest with you.”

I told her she would be having a sub today. (Much distress.)

I told her we would need to leave the house in two minutes, or she would be arriving late. (More distress.)

I told her there were three options that could work for all of us, and she could choose whichever one she wanted, and we would go with it. (Slightly calmer.)

These were her three options:

1: She could decide that she usually feels better after she gets to school (true) and she hates being late (also true), so she would give it a try. She could throw on her coat, skip toothbrushing, grab her backpack, and we’d get to school on time.

2: She could decide that she usually feels better after she gets to school (true) and she hates being rushed (also true), so she would give it a try, AND she would decide to be late. She could finish a little breakfast more slowly for her belly, get her teeth brushed, and have a relaxed drive to school.

3: She could decide that she really didn’t feel well enough to go to school. She could stay home and rest while I worked from home. I would not be able to play with her, so she would need to entertain herself all day. I would make sure she had snacks and lunch and all that.

She was tear-less as she considered. Pause for considering.

Then: “Can there be another option? Could I go to school late and also not go to afterschool today?” (She does one day a week of afterschool, and this was that day.)

“You mean, I’d pick you up at regular time, and you’d come home and rest while I finish my work?”



She decided for herself. She stuck to it all the way into the classroom, and she stuck to it later that day, too. Her belly didn’t hurt anymore.

The grown-ups breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not because she chose to go to school—though that was very helpful—but because we learned something that could help our kiddo. We could let go of control a little bit, and let her help make the decision. I’ll be damned if she didn’t come up with a more complete idea than we came up with on our own.

You don’t have to know all the answers. Even if you’re “in charge.” At home, at work, in rehearsal, in your holiday planning, with your extended family, with your in-laws.

And if you need to be reminded of that—in any or all of these areas—you are not alone.

(Sometime I’ll tell you how this week, the nonprofit team I lead came up with some fixes for our issues I never would have come up with on my own.)