Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Last year, I agreed to do Task X (imagine, say, editing a newsletter for alums) for the department until I go to Asia in the spring; I agreed on condition that I wouldn't do Task X when I got back. I did Task X a couple of years ago, and the results were well received.

It is a truth universally acknowledged in my department that I'm less wonderful than most at doing X (imagine editing). This truth is fairly painful at times, but there it is.

So, today I got asked if I would do Task X again next year, to give the (Leslie) person responsible for overseeing Task X another year to find another Xer. And Leslie is one who makes no bones about letting me know that I'm inadequate. But, apparently, the (painful to me) irony of asking me to do Task X when Leslie him/herself is obviously much more capable is lost on Leslie him/herself.

Apparently, only one other person in the department is willing to do Task X, and when s/he does it, despite his/her obvious skills at X, Task X doesn't turn out well.

I want to suggest that Leslie put out a general request for someone to take over Task X, but I realize that the one other person would jump at the opportunity, and the results would be as ugly as before. Despite my weakness at Xing, the results seem largely positive when I do Task X.

Pluses and minuses:

Task X is, in itself, not onerous or unpleasant, but it's not my favorite either.

But, Task X means I don't have time for Task Y, and Task Y is far more important to me. But, Leslie doesn't care about Task Y; it's someone else's responsibility.

And, I resent Leslie for asking me to do Task X yet again when s/he knows I feel that Task Y is more important and central to my work.

I resent Leslie asking me when s/he's made it clear she thinks I'm less than competent (but still more capable of actually getting Task X done).

At the same time, I know that Leslie respects my abilities to get Task X done successfully despite his/her sense of my incompetence at X.

I don't think Leslie would go out of his/her way to do me favors or disfavors with his/her connections either way. On the other hand, I may be wrong about that.

Task X is important in the large picture, and needs to be done by someone. So either someone new steps up, the unsuccessful person does it (to the detriment of all), or I do it again.

I don't know what to do.

Because of my lousiness at X, I really don't feel like there's anyone in my department with whom I can talk this over and get good/wise advice.


  1. Is there any reason why Leslie can't find another X'er during the semester you're gone?

    I'd ordinarily say suck it up and do it, but the key point is not just that you like Y better, but that it's actually meaningful to your work. Given that, I'd say try to hook someone else into doing X (perhaps corner other likely victims privately?).

  2. Seems as though the major criterion so far for doing Task X is willingness to do Task X, with a secondary criterion being how well Task X turns out when you do it. Is there no person in your department who seems genuinely suited to doing Task X? (Am trying, and failing, to imagine what Task X could be.)

    Oh! And how is the language acquisition going so far?

  3. I'm with meansomething -- maybe you can find someone (i.e. not leave it open to volunteers) who will do task X?

    Then go to that person and wheedle/bully/guilt that person into doing task X? (This is called academic politics!) Sort of doing an end-run around Leslie and this other person, as it were?

    I'd try that.

    If that's not possible, can you try doing a deal with Leslie? Go to Leslie and say, I can do task X, but this will leave me with no time for Y, which I absolutely have to get done, so you'll have to find someone to do task Z, to compensate...

  4. Eh...task z, being, of course, one of the things you are doing now that you hate the most. Pick carefully!

  5. If Leslie doesn't like the way you do Task X, I think it's his/her responsibility to find someone s/he does like, not your responsibility to suffer through her/his annoyance with you. That is: I get that office politics mean everyone has to do something they don't want to for the greater good of the office, and so *you* can't just say "I don't wanna!" But I think it equally applies to Leslie, and *s/he* needs to do what s/he doesn't want to, which is find some other solution besides you or the less-competent person.
    At least that's what I think in response to the gloss you've given. I may be missing some details that make that unreasonable. :-)

  6. Just say no. Politely, but firmly, no. If the task is that important to the department, then it should be important to someone other than you. If you're the only person who cares that the job get done (or gets done well), then it is not important to the department.

    If you really do want to do it, then say yes but there must be substantial giveback not just from Leslie but from the entire department. I would suggest time and support for task Z and complete control over task X, no interference from Leslie, and a lifetime "get out of X free" card.

    But I have very little patience for the "you suck at this but do it anyway" approach...

  7. I'm with the just say no crowd on this.

  8. I agree. Leslie needs to find a different Xer.