On Being a Powerful Evaluator by Elizabeth DiLuzio

Happy weekend! My name is Elizabeth DiLuzio, AEA365 Curator + Contributor and Manager of Evaluation + Strategy at Good Shepherd Services.

As evaluators, we aim to use our talents to leave the world in a better place than the way we found it. Times are tough, though, and the confluence of our political climate, the economy, our public health, and the relentless racism and acts of violence can leave even those with the most resilient of spirits feeling discouraged and powerless. That’s why today I want to share with you a pearl of wisdom I recently learned.

This pearl of wisdom comes from the Stoic philosophers and is called the Dichotomy of Control. It divides all events into one of two categories: the things we can control and things we can’t. The Stoics then posit that, in order to be our most happy, free, prosperous and powerful, we must be meticulous in investing our time and energy only in those things which we can control.

That leaves a majority of events in the second category: things we cannot control. For these types of events, the Stoics have two recommendations: you can divert your attention away so as to preserve your energy, or you can identify an aspect of the event over which you do have control. For example, it was easy for me to feel angry and hopeless when I heard the news about Jacob Blake. In order to not get stuck in that place, the Stoics would encourage me to focus on those things I can control: raising my voice in protest, doing what I can to ensure my partner – a Black man – feels as safe as possible, and working with him to give his son the tools he needs to navigate society.

How does this help us as evaluators? In our line of work, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or burned out in the face of constraints around budget, time, resources, or support. Not only that, our role is most often that of facilitator and teacher. We are not the funders and do not have the power to make the rules. Nor are we the people who implement the programs, making the daily decisions about what does and does not happen. We don’t have control over how people perceive or receive us. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about an event or dynamic, stop and identify what it is you wish you had control over. Take a moment to mourn, and then let it go. Instead, ask yourself what aspect of this event or dynamic you do have control over. It might be the way you choose to show up, the way you decide to feel, or the goals you set for yourself. Taking the time to explore our thoughts and beliefs, and making adjustments as necessary, can provide the shift in energy we need to move forward with optimism and grace.

Rad Resource: William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life is an excellent way to learn more about this and other tools for living from the Stoic philosophers.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “On Being a Powerful Evaluator by Elizabeth DiLuzio”

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for sharing this information!

    It is so relevant, in our current time, regarding our political climate and the ever changing environment surrounding of COVID-19. I’m currently finishing a ‘Program Inquiry and Evaluation’ course, in a graduate program, which has me considering evaluation in various forms. When considering program evaluations and ourselves as evaluators I have learnt so much these past few months and feel your sharing of Stoic philosophers, called the Dichotomy of Control, is so applicable.

    You mentioned that the Dichotomy of Control is separated into two categories: the things we can control and things we can’t. From this, it was said that in order to be free and prosperous people need to focus energy on the things they can’t control. Entering the 2020/21 school year, as a high school educator, I think this is more relevant than ever as an evaluator to be adaptable in the face of change and things we can’t control.

    COVID-19 has brought a great amount of uncertainty to our communities and school environment. The “traditional” classroom as we know it can no longer exist in our current climate. As a teacher and evaluator we do not have say in how the school will be run and this has left many feeling confused and overwhelmed. Rather than focusing on this uncertainty and feeling turmoil, my hope is that teachers can look inwards towards their own classrooms and begin to take control of the things they first saw no control over. This could allow them to create a plan and procedure as to how they will run their teaching day in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable. Also, by embracing the things they can’t control they can rework the uncertainty to have a positive outcome for both themselves and students. As you said, “taking the time to explore our thoughts and beliefs, and making adjustments as necessary, can provide the shift in energy we need to move forward with optimism and grace.”

    1. Elizabeth DiLuzio

      Hi Victoria. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad the post resonated with you. It’s difficult to walk the line between validating feelings and focusing on moving forward productively, both with ourselves and others. I think as long as we all have the language around both sides, we can move forward with clarity and purpose (and grace!). Wishing you well in this next phase of reality. Please keep in touch.

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