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2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad

Every day I pick up my mail, and every day I end up recycling anywhere from 80-100 percent of it, officially labeling it “junk mail.” But once a quarter, mixed in this blizzard of mail, comes not one but 2 magazines: the alumni magazines of the 2 universities I attended (Wayne State University and Arizona State University).

Now I have nothing against alumni magazines. These 2 are very well produced and well written. But let’s face it, alumni magazines are all pretty much the same. Faculty research studies, shout outs to published faculty members, sports updates, class updates, and alumni death notices. Typically I flip through, stopping briefly to see if anyone I know is listed in the class updates section or (God forbid!) the alumni death notices. Then into the recycling bin the magazine goes.

Recently, however, I found myself paging through ASU’s alumni magazine “ASU Thrive” while spending a little time on “The Throne.” One headline caught my eye: “3 Essential Skills for a Great Career and Life.”

Now, who doesn’t want a great career and life? No one more than someone who caregives an elderly loved one with a challenging personality. I sat and wondered, could a great career, great life, and caregiving coexist? I decided to find out.

The first 2 skills listed by writer May Busch – setting boundaries and saying “no” – were no surprise. I am always advocating for people – especially those who provide care for an elderly loved one with a challenging personality – to set boundaries. And of course setting those boundaries sooner or later involves saying “no.”

The third skill was a little more intriguing. Manage up. What does that mean?

According to Busch, in the working world, managing up means proactively managing your relationship with your boss and shaping his or her perception of your work. She talks about pushing back when someone makes an unreasonable request, influencing outcomes, and anticipating needs.

So, I thought, how could I apply this as I manage the care needs of my elderly mother? I think I do a pretty good job of pushing back on the unreasonable requests from my mom (and the home care agency!) as well as anticipating needs.

But influencing outcomes? That’s another story. How do you influence outcomes when everyone is running on their own track and you’re just along for the ride? The caregiving schedule blows up when one helper quits and another goes on vacation. You happen to be in the laundry room and notice that the 158-load bottle of liquid detergent is down to a few drops because no one during loads 58 to 1 bothered to make a note of it. The home health nurse informs you that you will have to do a bandage change 5 out of 7 days she is not there.

I try to influence outcomes by keeping in regular, face-to-face contact with the home care agency and working to create a pleasant “work” environment for the helpers. I try to influence outcomes by writing customized, detailed instructions contained in a massive binder. I try to influence outcomes by scanning the refrigerator and cupboards regularly for depleted food items and even checking the laundry room (occasionally!). I try to influence outcomes by monitoring my mom’s health closely and proactively addressing any health concerns.

And, still, I often feel like I’m just along for the ride.

I love the concept of managing up. But that implies control. And with my word of the year being “Release,” I think I’m supposed to be releasing control.

So rather than try to influence outcomes – manage up - maybe I just need to learn to enjoy the ride! Or even better, jump off once in a while and take a different route.

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