Joan Broerman (RAE Southern Breeze)
You’ve loved being an RA. You still do. However, sometimes, when your duties for an upcoming regional event run smack dab into a family vacation or your editor wants an immediate response, you feel s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. It’s certainly praiseworthy here to note that you will get all the above accomplished. It’s who you are. You raise your hand and respond, “I can do that!” even if you have no idea how—yet.
However, you wonder: “What if I could tackle my RA to-do lists later? Or not at all?”
At our summer conference this year (2017), I asked RAE’s, “How did YOU know? When did you realize it was time to step down?” I promised anonymity so I will not quote but summarize.
As spelled out in the Handbook, an RA is asked to serve a minimum of 3 years. An RA who plans to serve three years with great zest and then step down and back into full time writer shoes has a time frame and an exit plan.
Relocation from one town to another, or another state, or even another country, forces an exit plan. Happily, SCBWI is like a Welcome Wagon for creators of kids’ books. Members find each other and fit in. If the new town doesn’t have an SCBWI presence, a former RA will establish one. This could lead to being an RA. Again.
Other RA’s do not have a time frame or an exit plan. For them, a decision looms, way out there in the Future. The job is too much fun to think about ending it. What happens to challenge an RA’s enthusiasm? (Other RT members can look for themselves in this, too.)
The task you love isn’t fun anymore. It becomes a weight sitting on your shoulders. You may have loved writing thank-you notes after a conference. It gave you a chance to re-live the most heart-swelling moments, when your committee members worked together seamlessly or the faculty turned your event into the “best ever.”
The switch is subtle. You don’t know when it happened, but suddenly, you find “write thank you notes” on your to-do list, and you feel like your feet are stuck in concrete mix that’s hardening.
You catch yourself talking to yourself. You re-live all the things that went wrong and ask yourself aloud why you chose a certain volunteer or why you picked a topic you knew would cause disruption or why, why, how, how…until you drive yourself crazy. Almost.
Sometimes circumstances seem to conspire to wear an RA out. Your conference is cancelled due to weather. Your regional treasury takes a beating. Stress escalates. Your most hard-working volunteer or the one you depend upon the most must step away or move out of town just before the greatest work must begin to launch a successful event. More stress.
WHY NOT STEP DOWN?
At this point, what keeps an RA from stepping down? Two concerns emerged as major.
Concern for the Future of the Region
A change in leadership is a shake-up. Can a region withstand this? Can your region continue serving its current members and maintain its growth, both in depth of programs and number of members?
Some solved this by adding a Co-RA or an ARA to share the work. This can lengthen the RA’s term of service, but it might also be a first step in training for the next RA.
A well trained pool of talent is a plus for any organization. For small regions, a pool may not be possible. For larger regions, individuals could be so entrenched in one role that the RA lacks back-up. It’s never too early to view a region from these angles. This could help you create a reasonable stepping down time frame for yourself and your region, whether you need to implement it now or later.
Yes, we ourselves. A story:
“What’s the best part of these conferences?” New York RA Vicky Shiefman asked many years ago as we gathered in a coffee shop in Los Angeles one day pre-conference. With no hesitation, the answer was, “Us.” No one “gets” an RA like another RA. We didn’t want to lose our connection with each other.
Vicky told Sue Alexander she needed to spend less time as an RA and more time as a writer, BUT she didn’t want to lose contact with other RA’s. Sue discussed this with Lin and Steve. A concern grew into a new level of leadership, Regional Advisor Emerita.
Requirements and perks are associated with appointment to the RAE level. Ten years is the minimum term of service to qualify, but the designation is not automatic. Requirements and perks are spelled out in the Handbook.
Do perks make a difference when an RA is struggling with the idea of stepping down? Some said the thought of perks gave them the energy to push through difficult times, especially in the eighth and ninth years. But more said it wasn’t the potential perks – which they appreciated — but the status of RAE. This makes a statement. It continues connection.
At some point stepping down must be based on you and your own energy and scheduling. If you stay another year or enough years to be considered for RAE status, what is the cost to your health, family, and career (both writing and day job)?
Would it help to talk with others about stepping down before you decide? Other RA’s “get” you. So do RAE’s. We’re all good listeners. Call on us.
A founder of Southern Breeze, Joan was 1998 Member of the Year. Writing middle grade novels is her current focus. She thinks the best part of being an RAE is the other RAE’s.