ON LIBRARIES: It’s Always Your Choice

You’ve heard it before – life is a series of ups and downs, and there’s no getting away from the fact that some days are really crappy.  Things happen to us that are beyond our control, not in our plans, or not what we wanted at all.  Sometimes little things, and other times, very big ones. You can’t control that. All you can control is how you react and respond.

Last year around this time, I had to have emergency surgery. I was in the hospital for five days followed by five more days in rehab.  At the time I was in the middle of teaching an online course and revising one for the summer session. I could have quit. I could have dumped the course in the lap of my program head.  Instead, I chose to find a way to act responsibly and take responsibility.  I chose to give my very best.  My students were alerted to my situation.  I was able to keep up with them via my phone and waited to grade their papers until I returned home.

In doing this, I felt empowered.  I was getting a handle on what was wrong. Despite what happened, I could take control of my responses. In addition to making my current commitments work, I scrupulously followed the directions of the doctors and nurses because I wanted to get better as fast as possible, for my sake, the sake of my students, and to honor a commitment I had made to do a keynote address in Wyoming at the end of July.

I know a great librarian whose job was terminated for reasons that had nothing to do with her work.  She was angry and frustrated.  But she didn’t quit. She went back to the classroom and was a great teacher, using her skills as a librarian in her new situation. All the while she kept up with librarianship and kept an eye out for a library job opening.  Today, she is back in the library probably better than ever.

In an online post, Sue Fowler asks Do You Have a Credo? She talks of a friend who had a life-threatening event happen, and it caused him to shift his motivational mindset. He incorporated five choices into his daily life, and they are worth considering even without a serious illness.

  • I choose to always act with a purpose: There is a reason for why you do anything whether it’s going to work or making a dinner choice.  What is it that motivated you?  This is about being mindful rather than having our decisions run as an undercurrent without thought.
  • I choose to write a daily gratitude list: Many people have written on the power of an “attitude of gratitude”. I note two things for which I am grateful each day. It reminds me that no matter what else is happening in my life, I am fortunate.
  • I choose to send thank-you cards or emails: Acknowledging the support and accomplishments of others is empowering for both the sender and the receiver. I know I receive one, it gives me a lift, so this is something I am going to look to do more often.
  • I choose to stop complaining: It’s really a waste of time as it accomplished nothing. Better to spend the time focusing on how to make changes. What we focus on expands. Complaining brings us – and the people around us – down.
  • I choose to learn something new each day: As a librarian, this is as natural as breathing. We have so many resources – including our students – from which to choose. For me, it’s another way of staying young and finding life exciting.

Fowler suggests you create your own credo, offering three guiding ideas:

  • I create choice
  • I create connection
  • I create competence

Whether you choose Fowler’s three suggestions or her friends five choices, creating a credo can help you put a positive spin on your life and allow you recognize that you can’t control life, but you can control how you deal with it.  And how you deal with it, defines who you are as a leader.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Raise Your Emotional Intelligence

Caring is central to the philosophy of the library program which seeks to make the library a warm, welcoming space for all.  A library mirrors the personality of the librarian. If you want to create that space, you must always be welcoming. How well we manage our own emotions and how we perceive the emotions of others affect our success as librarians and the success of our programs.  We need to be able to “read” the person we are talking with, so we know if they are paying attention, are truly interested, or are taking offense.  That knowledge allows us to make adjustments in what we say so that our message is heard.

That is just one example of how Emotional Intelligence (EI) impacts us. Businesses today recognize that, more often than not, “soft skills” are more important than hard skills.  It is far easier to train someone in the tasks and responsibilities associated with a job than it is to develop their relationship skills.  And many corporations will hire someone with good soft skills over another candidate who has greater expertise.

In her article What Are Soft Skills? Alison Doyle explains that soft skills “the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others.” The social cues and communication she speaks of are part of EI.

I knew a librarian with several years of experience who was proud of being a graduate of a pre-eminent library school. However, she didn’t particularly like students and did only what was required.  By contrast, a clerk working in that library who was studying to be a librarian was genuinely interested in students and would extend herself to help them and teachers.  As you can imagine, teachers and students gravitated towards the clerk, even though the librarian knew so much more.

The “higher” your EI, the more likely you are to be successful.  But is there a way to raise you EI? I found an unlikely helpful source.  A GQ article offered suggestions since many men today are feeling uncertain of the messages they are sending out into a post #metoo world, and it’s affecting their careers.

The GQ staff spoke with Daniel Tolson who proposed 10 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence.  Here are his tips, followed by my ‘tweaks’ showing how this plays out in our world:

  1. Ask an honest, trusted friend or advisor to help you consider if your perceptions of yourself are realistic from a different perspective. The challenge here is for you to be able to state your perception of yourself and then having the courage to ask someone if it’s accurate.
  2. Practice self-restraint by listening first, pausing and then responding. Active listening is a difficult skill for many of us.  The pause before answering will help you become more accustomed to listening better.
  3. Summarize frustrations you may experience and determine triggers. Frustrations are part of our lives, but if you allow these feelings too much room, you send off negative vibes which others pick up.  Remember, the person you’re talking to has their own frustrations. Think, “We are all in this together.  How can I help?”
  4. Define what motivates you and what you most enjoy doing with your time. A reminder again to write a Mission if you haven’t done so and read it daily if you have. You might even consider creating a vision board if visual cues help you to stay focused and inspired.
  5. Think on paper! Identify your comfort zones and define your obstacles in writing. In medicine, they say “an accurate diagnosis is 50% of the cure.” Those who journal find it as effective as meditation and perhaps more so as it can presents a direction to follow along with a deeper awareness of our thought processes.
  6. Be aware of the message your body language is communicating. Whatever you are thinking, your body is saying. Watch for crossed arms, pulling back and not making eye contact.
  7. Implement strategies to make an excellent first impression. Try walking into your library as though it were the first time.  What does it say?  What does your website say? What about your typical dress?  Look for ways to send positive non-verbal messages.
  8. After a negative interaction or misunderstanding, accept responsibility and find ways to make amends. The faster you deal with it, the sooner it can be fixed.
  9. Allow others to take the lead role so you can learn from their leadership style. This is a great way to have an unknowing leader mentor you.  Is your principal viewed as a leader? How does s/he communicate that?  Is there a teacher who is regarded as a leader? Why and what can you learn from that?
  10. Whenever you experience stress, stop and ask yourself this question: “Knowing what I now know, what would I do differently?” Once you have the answer, resolve to make that change immediately.  You will make errors in your EI judgment. When it happens, examine what led you down the wrong path. What would have been a better approach or reaction?

I know this list can seem daunting if it’s not something you’ve done, but look at the ideas on this list which you think could benefit you. Pick one or two that seem most helpful to you.  Practice them for at least a week.  Did your interactions with other improve?  Slowly add additional tips and take note of the results. Better relationships and more connection – in and out of your library – is always a valuable thing.