Monday, September 26, 2011

No Book Club Leader Is an Island

In my last post in this series I shared the initial e-mail I sent out to potential book club members outlining a "book enthusiasts club." From the beginning I said that I would handle administration, but I also said that I would choose the readings. This was fine at first because 1) I had a backlog of readings already chosen for this purpose, and 2) I was always ready to foist my reading recommendations on others. (I'm known in the book club as "the raver.") But I quickly encountered the enemy that always dogs the steps of the overambitious: burnout.

I didn't choose only to administer the club and choose the readings. I was also making the treats for the meetings, a responsibility that was soon delegated.

***A brief aside: I always hated group work in high school. Most of my classmates, in my mind, were not careful or trustworthy enough for me to entrust my grade to them, so I often did more than my share of the work. Sometimes this was for the best, as my judgments were correct. Other times I'm sure that I did unnecessary tasks and probably hurt feelings in the process. This is something I still have to battle, as I'm a fairly independent worker and prefer to do things myself to ensure that they are done to my standards. It's hard to sign off on something that I didn't do completely. Yes, it's true what they said in high school, and I should have paid attention when my teachers said it: "this [group work] is what the real world is like; we're preparing you for the real world." Of course, in junior high my teachers also said that my work wouldn't be accepted in high school unless I wrote in cursive, so I guess the lesson here is to weigh what your teachers say.***

So, my overzealous self did almost everything, which, as I'm sure you saw from a mile away, is a recipe for disaster. ("Lord, tell her to come and help me!") At the club, things ran fairly smoothly, but toward the end of the first year, I wasn't sure I could keep things going on my own. I had told the group throughout that first year that anyone who had a reading could let me know and I would relinquish my leading duties for a meeting to accommodate it, but very few took me up on this offer. (This, I'm sure, was also my fault: I wasn't open about the burnout that was very near, nor did I appear interested in other readings, nor did I solicit them outright.)

To recap: at the end of the first year, I had chosen almost all of the readings, prepared about half of the treats, and e-mailed reminders, copied readings, or otherwise handled the administration of the group. At this point, I was almost sure I was going to give it up for good and let someone else do it. I took a long break over the holiday to decide what to do with the now larger-commitment-than-I-wanted book club.

At the back of my mind was also the dream to start a more traditional book club at homeone where we would discuss full-length books in grueling detailbut I knew I couldn't do both. And this dream forced me into a difficult decision, but one that was the best for the work book club: start a discussion rotation.

At first when I announced the idea, I expected pushback or people dropping the group altogether. As we've seen with the recent Netflix debacle, give people too mucheven when that amount is unreasonableand when you take some of it away, they will lash out sevenfold. So I eased into this territory by asking for people to sign up for readings by still occupying half or a little over half of the slots. I said, "Feel free to cross out my name wherever it appears if there's not enough room."

That first time around, I ended up choosing all of the readings I signed up for and maybe a few more, but others realized that it wasn't as scary to lead a discussion as they had once thought. (Alternate theory: they realized the other discussion leaders were more interesting than I am.) In any case, the next time I passed around the sign-up sheet, more slots were filled up. Consistently, more and more slots have been chosen, to the point that this latest session, I am only leading the discussion once.

I learned that no book club leader is an island, and it's often better to open things up as others will fill in the gaps if it's something they value. And if it's not something they value, maybe it's time to end it anyway.

In my next post, I'll talk about all the advantages that came about when I opened the group to allow others to lead our discussions.

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