Stutzman: Quality, not quantity, is the better way to help community

This week I had to make a decision that was fairly difficult to make. It wasn’t a life changing decision by any means but nonetheless, it was tough. I had to say “no” to something good.

I was very excited when I was asked to join the board for the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. Few people are aware of the vast impact this organization has on the growth and development of our region and I was thrilled to join the team and help further their mission. When I received my very thick board packet in the mail I read every page. At the time, I was pregnant with our son. I anticipated that the few months surrounding his birth would keep me busy but after a while I would have no problem rolling another responsibility into the mixture of my life.

The September board meeting occurred when I was home on bed rest before the baby was born. Then the baby was born and went through a period of serious illness and I missed another meeting. Then the next board meeting popped up on my calendar after a full day of back to back meetings and late nights with a sick baby and hours spent on the laptop finishing a work project.

Being a full-time working mom of two is tough. Being a full-time working mom of two with a husband who travels out of town for work, who also volunteers, and has made a pledge to her children that they will not spend more time with a baby-sitter than they do with family proves to be a difficult, hectic balancing act.

So when another meeting was to be missed and I received a letter reminding me of the guidelines that board members must not miss a certain number of meetings I knew it was time to do the right thing. I knew I could have used excuses to cover my absence from the meetings but that wasn’t fair to the organization or myself. I have a busy life and more absences would inevitably occur.

When I made the pledge to first and foremost, be the best mom I can be, it meant I would have to make tough decisions to balance my life. Pursuing projects for personal development and volunteering time to give back to the community are two things that are of critical importance to me and behaviors that are important to model for my children. However, when I find myself spread too thin I need to step back and look at the big picture. What matters most now?

When my days on earth are done it won’t matter how many things I’ve done. It won’t matter if I’ve presented to 705 audiences, or wrote five books, or volunteered 300,000 hours, or sat on 35 boards of directors. What will matter is the quality of my impact.

When you’re spread too thin your ability to impact is weakened. If you cut a penny in half you don’t have two pennies to spend; all you have is a broken penny. Your mere presence doesn’t change the world. The amount of energy you put into it does. What will matter when I am gone is the value I have shared through my interactions. How many interactions doesn’t matter; how rich each interaction is does.

I believe that when you aim to do something it should be done with 100 percent of your energy. Anything less is substandard. When you stretch too far you lose your ability to influence at 100 percent. Could I have stayed on the board? I’m sure I could have. But when I can’t possibly give it my all without cloning myself I have to remember that I’m not in a contest to be anybody’s hero by racking up activity bullet points to put on a resume. That behavior is completely self-serving and does not make a positive impact in a way that really makes a difference in the world.

So I’m OK with my decision to say “no” to something good. The Foundation has allowed me to step down but still participate as a member of their marketing committee. It is a gesture that will allow me to give back in a way that adds value to their efforts while still allowing me time to maintain allegiance to my number one priority of being a mother who is present in her children’s lives.

Are you giving 100 percent? Are there some things you should say no to in order to make a more meaningful impact somewhere else? Think about how much more value you can add overall if you invest wisely. It’s OK to say yes to quality and no when quantity levels get too high.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.