Here is a recurring life problem I have not yet figured out how to handle: If you sign up to do something, but then you get the response last-minute and/or for something other than you thought you were agreeing to, but at this point backing out will cause other people some level of hassle---how do you deal with it gracefully? And by "gracefully" I mean "So that they fully realize it's their fault, not yours?"
Like, let's say several weeks ago you filled out a form saying you'd be happy to contribute an item to the Teacher Appreciation brunch, which the form doesn't give a date for. The form says someone will contact you to arrange what you'd like to bring. But then the first you hear back, it's "Great! Can you bring peeled, sliced, hard-boiled eggs and washed cut-up cauliflower for 45 people tomorrow morning? On trays, thanks!" And YOU'D been thinking that when you were contacted to see what you'd like to contribute, you'd say muffins; and you have no idea how much egg and cauliflower would be enough for 45 people, and you've never bought cauliflower in your life, and you can never get hard-boiled eggs to peel right, and you would have to drop today's plans to meet this request? WHAT DO YOU DO?
What I did was reply that I was sorry but I wouldn't be able to do that by the next day. I didn't give excuses or explanations, or get into what I would have chosen to contribute or how I felt about peeling eggs, I just said I wouldn't be able to---though I think "by tomorrow" implies the basic reason. And then I agitated and suffered, because I'm imagining that the person who contacted me will see this as "bailing," or wonder why I would sign up to do something I couldn't do. So I've been having all these imaginary conversations with that person, where I explain that the form didn't indicate that I'd just be ASSIGNED something, and also that I don't think one day's notice is reasonable, and also that hard-boiled eggs AND cut-up cauliflower seems like a lot to assign to just one person, and also that maybe it would be better to say how much food (e.g., "a dozen hard-boiled eggs and a head of cauliflower") rather than how many people, since probably MOST people aren't familiar with catering-type estimating, and also we don't know how many other foods are going to be there. ---Like that, but on and on because the other person is completely in my head so I get to deal with an endless stream of their imaginary unfair objections, accusations, and assumptions.
Anyway. It's the sort of thing I don't run into ALL that often, but nevertheless regularly over the years. When it happens repeatedly from the same source, I know to just stop signing up for things, or to clarify a few things at sign-up time. I stopped doing a writing job because it happened so consistently:
they'd ask if I was interested in writing on a topic; I'd respond yes;
and then I'd hear back three weeks later that they'd need a draft the
next morning, thanks! I felt like I had SAID yes so now I needed to
follow through---but that I WOULDN'T have said yes to THIS.
The problem is that it's usually less consistent/predictable than that, and it's usually coming from many separate sources---and/or else it's something I don't WANT to get out of, like contributing things to the kids' schools.
I guess the answer in general is that it would be a good idea to make some clarifying comments at sign-up time. For example, on school forms I could check the box saying I'll donate something, but then ignore the part about choosing something later and instead write "I can bring a dozen muffins" or whatever. That doesn't solve the problem of if they then contact me the night before (although I guess I could add something like "I'd need a couple days' notice") or if something else happens that I didn't realize would be an issue I'd need to anticipate---but thinking over the issues I run into most often, it seems like it would significantly reduce the problem.
Life-improving products, part 4 - (Continued from part 1, part 2, and part 3.) Stearns Youth Life Vest (photo from Amazon.com). I’d been too scared to take the kids to any body of water oth...