The One Thing vs. The Whole Thing

Guest appearance at Lipscomb. I was invited by Dr. Jimmy McCollum, who serves on The Tennessean's Advisory Board.

“I’m a journalist. I work at The Tennessean. I’m in charge of The Tennessean’s websites.”

This is how I’d answer questions like, “And what do you do?”

A strong community brand had become my own personal identity, and the rest of the things that could have made me a better, richer person were neglected at the expense of my professional goals.

I was promoted quickly from reporter to lower and mid-level editing jobs. I had an aptitude for bridging the content and money sides of our business, and for understanding how consumers use the stuff we create and deliver. They put me in charge of online.

I didn’t delegate well, though. I was always in the office longer than my employees. I told myself I was a “servant leader”, that my role was to support my team – to do the things no one else wanted to do on top of all the things I was supposed to do – so they could be more awesome. That approach worked alright for a while – my employees were happy and did some great stuff that made us all shine. But I burned out and felt resentful.

My team needed a leader, not a servant. An inspiration, not a mom.

The irony was I was a better delegator in other parts of my life than I was in my work life.

I delegated party planning. I delegated nights out, weekends and holidays. Asked – no, expected – someone else to do it. I delegated meals. I delegated vacation planning, girls nights, date nights. I delegated friendships and my marriage. Most sadly: I delegated parenting.

Our culture puts a premium on our professions, and indeed I value mine a great deal. But I have taken to answering the question a bit differently these days.

What do you do?

“I handle digital stuff for The Tennessean. I love it, and I am passionate about what we do and where we’re headed next. I will tell you all about it if that’s what you would like to discuss.

But also… I run. I ride a bike. I have a 10-year-0ld daughter who is the coolest freakin kid you’ll ever meet. I garden. I write – this blog, in my journal, a couple of books I’ll maybe try to publish one day. I go out a lot – to shows, to restaurants, to bars, to my friends’ houses, to random happenings, whatever.  I throw all kinds of these things myself. I know a lot of really interesting people and I make sure they show up. I drag my kid around all over town. I grew up in Nashville; I know – weird, right?”

Cocktail party / charity event with girlfriends. Earlier that day, I ran a half marathon.

Naturally, the less I obsess about work, the better work I do. The better person I am. Chickens, eggs… who knows which one begets the other, really.

A new friend asked if I thought of myself as “driven”. Before I could answer, he inadvertently made my day by saying: “You seem pretty chill to me.”

Some are tenaciously focused toward a singular, spectacular goal, and they make it.

But I know my life got a lot better when I started thinking about the Whole Thing instead of the One Thing.


6 thoughts on “The One Thing vs. The Whole Thing

  1. Pingback: 340 Tracks and Counting | Knight Stivender's life in full

    • I’ll be very honest and specific, because I think a lot of people have this problem and the candor will help.

      I was scared that if I didn’t work as many hours, I wouldn’t be as “good” an employee / boss / professional / whatever, and I’d somehow fail my family: Let down my parents, fail to provide for my own household, etc.

      But when I went through my divorce, and we were working out our custody situation, I realized I really could not afford to keep working as much. It just wasn’t going to work anymore from a logistical perspective.

      It took about six or nine months before I noticed I was actually doing a better job than I’d been doing before.

      It reminded me of a time when my daughter was a newborn and I worked from home twice a week; I was very efficient because I HAD to be. That’s true in this case, too, but it’s more than juggling a lot of things in a condensed timeframe. I am more connected to how the community works, to what presses people’s buttons, to how my staff works and what presses their buttons, to what inspires and frustrates us all – because I’m more connected to my OWN life.

      Apologies for the super long response, and I sincerely hope you don’t have to go through a divorce to find balance in your own life. But I think it’s true that practical dilemmas are often what will drive real change in passionate people.

    • Mom – I get a lot of “me” from “you”. You have no idea how flattering it is to think that I might give you something to think about. (And thanks for letting me off the hook on the parenting thing. Maybe you’re right. She’s pretty awesome.)

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