Soggy mail

This morning I woke up before the alarm and went for a run before dawn. I checked my email and there were receipts from three families I didn't know, signing up for camp. I felt like a rock star, totally in control of my world.

Guess what? It didn't last. My phone was broken, preventing me from accessing voicemail. The AT&T rep. was great but kept calling when I was in an appointment. I started a project I couldn't finish. I was fifteen minutes late for a lesson because I lost track of time. A kid who was supposed to take a piano lesson refused to, and insisted on drums instead. There was a miscommunication about a teacher's schedule, requiring me to call several families and grovel. An afternoon camp wasn't running so smoothly, the teacher in charge having had little experience working with groups. Oops, I was supposed to make the plan earlier and instead spent the morning fixing my phone. Yikes!

As an entrepreneur, it's easy to get a God complex - you are the go-to person for everything if you don't delegate properly. As a teacher, you can end up in the same place if you aren't cultivating autonomy in your students from the get-go. And as a coach of leaders, you can dole out responsibility but find yourself micromanaging if you haven't shown your team the procedures they will carry out and the standards you expect.

So it's a triple-whammy for me, and today it was hard to reconcile my sense of responsibility with actually being able to keep it all together. The constant interruptions, the dozens of crises, the relentless need to watch the's all been a big challenge and I made lots of mistakes. I tried to keep the attitude of "it's all a learning experience" but after ten hours or so, I was pretty tired.

I did make it. My last lesson went from 6:30 - 7:00, and it was pleasant - a thirteen-year-old beginning guitar student. About ten minutes in, a woman walks by on the sidewalk, on the phone, dragging a roller suitcase. I watched a magazine and a letter fall out of her back onto the ground. I jumped up and banged on the window, pointing to the stuff that had fallen out. She just looked at me like I was crazy and continued walking and talking.

At this point I had a choice. I could run outside and save her mail, or I could focus on what I was doing - what I was being paid to do. Did this student deserve an interruption? No. My work with the student was my priority. The lesson continued.

Ten minutes later, a surprise rainstorm came up. I watched as the pieces of mail in the street got wet, and then got soaked. Again, I had an opportunity to save this woman's mail - maybe I could have dropped it in a mailbox and it would get to her again - and again, I let the opportunity pass me by in favor of doing my real work, serving this music student.

Tim Ferriss, in The Four-Hour Workweek, says "you must be willing to let small bad things happen" if you ever want to escape meaningless chores and interruptions and spend your time and energy doing what matters to you. This is really hard for me. The buck stops here, and when something goes wrong I feel the need to make it regardless of what I actually have control over, or whether it was even a big deal.

But at the end of the day (literally), it might be okay to just let the soggy mail sit there.