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May 22, 2014
The Real Issue
Calling and Professional Overlap
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My calling overlaps with my profession. I am happy to use my professional skills for my calling, but I don't think people realize how much time it takes for me to do things.

Ward members are constantly asking me to "just do something simple" or "whip up a little something" last minute. It doesn't work like that -- these projects take a lot of time. And I am not willing to do things halfway. This is my profession, and I don't want my name associated with poor quality work.

The result is that I end up working overtime to complete church projects and then resenting the burden it puts on me and my family. Like I said, I'm happy to use my skills for my calling, but this has got to stop.



You will be happy to know that your problem is not related to the overlap of your calling and your profession. Your problem is that you are being asked to do big projects on short notice. The fact that the projects reflect on your professional reputation compounds the problem, in a sense, but even if you had a job in an unrelated field, you would still have this problem of last-minute requests.

All callings require a scramble from time to time. Talks, lessons, meals and activities must sometimes be prepared on short notice. But it is unfair when short notice is all you ever get, which appears to be the case here. If short notice is not an inherent part of the calling (you are not tasked with solving emergency welfare problems, for example), your frustration is understandable.

You probably can't solve this problem completely or quickly, but there are a few things you can do to try to manage it.

I suggest a three-pronged approach: educate, anticipate and say no.

First, educate. People often wrongly assume that lessons, posters, activities and the like turn out well because the person doing them is naturally talented. It is more often the case, however, that the person is good at the projects because he has worked hard on many of them over the years and has worked hard on this one, as well.

In your case, your ward members might assume that these projects are easy for you because they turn out so well. The truth is that the projects turn out well because you have worked hard.

You, then, can educate the people you work with in your calling. They will not know how long these projects take unless you tell them.

So the next time someone calls you and asks for, say, a PowerPoint presentation on the Young Women values, you can say, "Okay. I'd be happy to. A presentation like that, with all of the quotes and pictures you want included, is going to take me about six hours to prepare. I can have it ready by next Thursday as long as you don't change any of the content."

Your tone should be the same one your stylist uses when she's looking at her appointment book, trying to fit you in.

The purpose is not to get the person to rescind the request. You are, as you say, perfectly willing to do these projects. Rather, your purpose is to educate the person about how long the project will take, and about the delay that will result if he changes the content or requirements of the project.

Second, anticipate. You may be able to anticipate the projects you will be asked to do. If you do spreadsheets of ward statistics for the bishopric, for example, you might anticipate an assignment at the end of each quarter.

So, if the end of the quarter is approaching, you could ask about it. "Bishop," you might say, "You usually ask me for a spreadsheet of our attendance numbers every quarter. Will you want one for this quarter, too?" The bishop will think you are terrific for asking, and you will have more time to prepare the report.

You can also approach directly the prime offenders who ask you to do things last minute. In a spirit of willingness to serve, tell them directly that you need more time to complete the projects they give you.

Explain that it was far too difficult for you to complete the last project in the time they gave you. Then tell them how much time you will need for the next project. Be as specific as you can: posters take four days, printed baptismal programs take two days, a missionary zone conference lunch takes two weeks.

Third, say no. There are times when even the most dedicated person simply cannot fulfill an assignment. If you lead the ward choir and the bishop asks you to prepare "O Divine Redeemer" for the next week's sacrament meeting, it might actually be impossible for you to comply.

"That is a beautiful piece of music," you could say. "I'd love the choir to perform it. The arrangement we have is extremely challenging, though. There's no way our choir could learn it in a week. And it would be impossible for Sister Darby to learn the accompaniment before next Sunday. It will probably take us about three months to prepare it for performance. Could I find something else from the hymnbook for next Sunday? Or we could sing something from the Easter program that we already know."

In this case, saying no is not a lame excuse to avoid effort. It is an honest assessment of your skills and ability to perform. But note that after you say no, you should offer an alternative of what you can do on short notice.

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