July 10, 2013

My Long Distance Relationship

by Hannah Bebbington

Hannah Bebbington '14 is a Starr Fellow working for the Better World by Design conference.

Things were just heating up. We were past the awkward, get-to-know-you phase and our relationship was settling into a comfortable and familiar pattern. There were long nights spent bouncing ideas off each other, Sunday morning brunches with Providence advisors, and endless texts. We were moving forward in tangible ways together. I could watch how we interacted and feel the way they responded when I offered a new idea or thought. They called for advice, called to brag, called to cry, and called to chat.

And then, I moved to New York. I’m now 180 miles south, separated by walls of concrete skyscrapers and long stretches of highway. My day job is so busy that I’m lucky to squeeze in a call before I rush off in the morning and a “Google hangout” when I get home (I also check my email inbox obsessively throughout the day).

Who is this lover that I so ache for? It’s A Better World by Design’s planning committee of 17 Brown and RISD students. This relationship certainly didn’t magically appear- it was strategically cultivated from the start. Alex (my co-chair) and I will tell you that we have spent hours on hours brainstorming about the most effective way to run meetings, about subcommittee dynamics, about one committee member’s stress about school, or about what social event we will throw for the committee. It is team with a capital T because we felt so strongly that this was a necessity to plan the conference. The strong bond between our committee members allows for creative brainstorming, healthy and balanced workloads, and unfailing dedication to the common goal.

So now what? I have always felt that my strength as a leader and capability as a project manager is deeply rooted in the personal connections I have forged with my team- how do I maintain this from afar? It has certainly taken a large dosage of “letting go.” I can no longer be aware of each and every project happening, each and every success and failure. Like any long distance relationship, your lives diverge.  Your relationship is forced to change.

But unlike most long distance relationships, mine has actually fostered greater trust in my committee members. On my a weekly call with the content team, they lean into the video as we talk through the presenter kit welcome letter or joke with each other about a funny phone conversation they had with a speaker. It is instances like these that prove my team will more than maintain the great team environment we had and maintain the work momentum there was in May.  I am now more the parent who cries as their kindergartener runs outside to play without so much as a glance backwards. My team is more than capable and it is only with this distance that I have come to fully recognize that, step back, and appreciate it. But knowing this, I now have to reevaluate where my leadership plays a role. I no longer sit in on meetings with them or pass them on the way to class- giving me 5 minutes to check in. I now have to be more dedicated about the time we have together, more direct about what needs to happen, and more open to projects being completed without my input. I will still miss my “long distance relationship” over the rest of the summer, but the distance will only strengthen our tie.



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