Dig, if you will, this picture…of me and my cheese plate engaged in some bliss:
The photo was taken six months ago in a wine bar during a social gathering for the Local Yuppies, the creative class / talent development organization of which I was then vice president. There were about 30 people in attendance, but only two board members, and the absence of the president made me the ranking officer. Since I was under pressure to take over as president for the 2016-17 fiscal year, it was a chance to see how I would run the organization.
I had gotten to the wine bar early, ostensibly to make sure everything ran smoothly, but mostly because I was excited about my new daily planner and wanted some alone time: just me, my planner, a glass of wine, and, most importantly, some food. I was starving.
Alas, at least three other people decided to be early, so I had to start performing my duties the moment I got there. I ordered my wine and food as quickly as I could, then set about networking, a word of yuppie origin that loosely translates as “talking to people.”
I eventually found a tall chair and sat with a new attendee while sipping Pinot Grigio. My cheese plate arrived and it was huge. For $10, I got a smorgasbord. The woman delivering it to my table asked if I want honey or hummus. “Can I have both?” I asked, and she said of course. This in addition to the cheeses, bread slices, crackers, fruits, chocolate deserts, and scone. A scone. The cheese plate included an entire fucking scone.
At the same time I was managing my hunger, I was also managing Local Yuppie business, greeting people and posing for photos. I scolded a few book club members for not showing up to that contentious May meeting. At one point, I had to go to the front of the room, leaving my table companion with the suggestion to eat whatever she liked off my plate.
In my travels to the front of the bar, a distance of about 20 feet with about that many people in the vicinity, two separate individuals stopped me to ask me about the cheese plate. See, our social venues usually (but not always) provide free appetizers to pair with the drinks we are buying. However, since this social had been planned at the last minute, there would be no free nibbles that night. Upon seeing the giant plate of food at the table of the acting president, it was perfectly reasonable for some members to assume it was a shared plate.
So I shared. I told people it was my food, but there was plenty of it and they were welcome to pick off the plate. Over the course of the evening, I watched my apple slices, an entire cluster of grapes, three out of four bread slices, and one of my chocolate desserts disappear from my plate. One girl sat down in front of me and ate that entire fucking scone while telling me how awesome she was and how she would run things if she were in charge. I finally interrupted her to crumble off a corner of the scone, just so I could find out how it tasted.
It was around this time, watching my food go travelling off my plate whilst dispensing career advice and volunteer opportunities, that I had this exact epiphany:
Yes, apparently I am the mom. And my kids were hungry. So I fed them.
All this time, I’ve been wondering what the organization could do for me. In two years, I have hired only one writer through the LY network, the original reason I joined the organization. I don’t see it advancing my own career either, partly because publishing isn’t really a growth industry around here, and partly because I’m 30-something and more advanced in my career than most if not all of the LYs. Some of them are barely out of college. But it does raise questions about mentorship and paying it forward and how I can truly develop some leadership skills, instead of shrugging off the chance to take charge because I don’t like responsibility. We’re all adults here, yes, but some of us are more grown than others: when the waitress took my empty plate away, I noticed not a single person other than me had ordered food.
With service to any organization, the rewards aren’t always immediate or even visible. It’s November now, the new fiscal year, and I did wind up being president of the Local Yuppies. I’ve avoided the word “leadership” since high school, so it’s odd learning to steer a ship again. Today, I went to lunch with one of our new board members to make plans for the holiday charity season. She said she didn’t often get asked to lunch and appreciated the invitation.
Then she paid for my food.