Happiness is…

No one is happy all the time, but if you can’t recall recent moments of happiness, you are harming yourself as well as your ability to be a leader. The harm to yourself comes from the chemicals your brain produces when you are stressed or angry compared to those produced when you are happy. Your body needs the benefits of those endorphins to get you through your busy days.

The harm to your leadership ability results from how you present yourself to the world because, in addition to the negative feelings, your face shows it when you are sad, angry, or stressed. No one enjoys spending much time around people who are often unhappy or upset.

The good news is you don’t need large doses of happiness. Even fleeting pleasures can boost your mindset and last for quite a while. The challenge is to identify – and then capture – them in the moment. When something drags you down, if you continue finding these happiness-promoting instances, you will feel happy overall. And that happiness will be seen even through a KN95 mask.

In his in depth blog What Leads to Happiness? Greg Vanourek lists 20 ways you can bring more happiness into your life. Here are his first 10:

  1. Regular exercise and physical activity –. You don’t have to train for a marathon or spend hours exercising. Just include 10-15 minutes a day on your to do list. And especially for those of us currently in winter, do what you can to spend a few of those minutes out in the sun when it appears. Research suggests getting out into the fresh air has an immediate positive effect
  2. Acts of kindness, service, and generosity – The getting is in the giving. When you help others, there is a boost to your sense of self. Take time to notice the small and many opportunities where you can give to others but make sure not to do this at the expense of your own needs and boundaries. Don’t turn giving into a burden or a drain
  3. Purpose and meaning – Knowing that your actions are producing something of value and making a difference is a cause for happiness. Know and notice your “why” when you engage in any activity, including those connected to your job.
  4. Relationships with others – Humans are social beings. As the pandemic proved, it harms us when we can’t interact with others. Don’t let your tasks and responsibilities keep you from spending time with the people you care about and who care about you. You offer support for each other as needed, and it just feels good to be with them. Vanourek says ‘According to many researchers, strong social relationships are the most important contributor to enduring happiness for most people”
  5. Goals and aspirations – This is related to #3. If you know where you are going – and why you want to go there is joy in the journey. As you achieve the small steps, your sense of accomplishment makes you happy.
  6. Authentic expression of self – Be true to who you are. It saves a lot of energy-draining effort. Being a people-pleaser or focusing on what other people think diminishes you and your happiness.
  7. Anticipation – An upcoming anniversary, graduation, or other event in your life adds pleasure. Savor it. If necessary, look to put something on your schedule that you can look forward to.
  8. Gratitude – Recognizing what you have in your life and being thankful for can keep you from focusing on the negatives. Taking a moment to be grateful can give you a happiness boost in the midst of a gray day.
  9. Experience – While something is happening, take time to notice and enjoy it. Do what you can to stay in the moment. Appreciating enjoyable times whether it’s dining out, seeing a ball game, or being with a friend boosts your happiness.
  10. Learning and developing – Mastering a new task or learning something new makes you feel good about your accomplishments. Consider ways you can share your new knowledge for even more happiness.

Happiness is many things. It’s not the huge events that are responsible for making us happy on an everyday basis. It’s the small moments that can make all the difference once we tune into them. When you can take the time for joy and notice what is already good in your life, your happiness will shine and others will enjoy being in its presence.

You Aren’t Listening

Did you ever have someone call you out because you weren’t listening to them? Have you ever said that to anyone? You can’t have a successful communication if one party isn’t listening. We know this and recognize the importance of active listening, yet all too often our conversations go astray as we or the other party tune out.

We (or the person we’re talking to) tune out when our thoughts go elsewhere. We also tune out when we are trying to make our point and override what the other person is saying.  This typically happens if we have decided we are not being heard. In the process, we block what is being said to us in an attempt to reinforce our perspective.

The result is the communication doesn’t work. Whatever the purpose of the conversation, it isn’t achieved. Worse, we may need to repair any damage we have done to a relationship we are building if we have left the other person angry or annoyed.   

Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn identify three conditions needed by an effective communicator in their blog post, Leadership: Listening to Others in Volatile Times. The three requirements are:

  • Focus – Keep the conversation focused on the speaker, even if you’ve gone to them for something. Either they need the help or they have what you need.
  • Openness – Be willing to listen. Don’t make up your mind before hearing what the person has to say.
  • Willingness – This is the tough one. You need to be prepared to change your mind or your actions based on what the other person says.  You cannot get here without being focused and open.

Knowing these three conditions doesn’t mean we put them into practice.  There are barriers we construct that keep us from being successful at active listening. Williamson and Blackburn list these five. If you notice these barriers coming up you need to return to practicing the three requirements.

  1. Indifference – For some reason, we think the speaker or their issue is not important.  They may be someone who always has an opinion, and we are tired of dealing with them. It could be a student who regularly brings up something that interferes with the direction you are taking the lesson.  The other party will eventually notice from body language, incorrect answers or other slips that you were not listening.
  2. Assumptions – This happens when we judge other people and categorize them based on our implicit biases.  Although getting to know them can change these perceptions, tuning someone out based on these assumptions hampers building relationship and affects how we are perceived in turn. You are missing an opportunity to connect and get to know someone who could be a true ally if given the chance.
  3. Distractions – Our days are filled with them. You hear your phone vibrate and stop listening to the speaker. Other people in the library have part of your attention, or the project you were managing before this conversation is still on your mind. In these instances, you are out of the conversation and have gone somewhere else. Allowing yourself to be distracted telegraphs the message that the other party and their issue isn’t important.  
  4. Hurrying – The other barriers – in addition to our overloaded schedules – frequently has us trying to hurry a conversation, not allowing the other person the time they need or deserve. Who has time?  We are like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. If you find yourself thinking, “get to the point,” you aren’t listening and you may miss an important piece of information. You’ve definitely missed a chance to connect.
  5. Information Overload – As librarians we are often guilty of doing this to others.  They come in with a question. We find the answer and keep going with related information and more detail than the person asked for or needed.  Given the likelihood of distractions and hurrying, less is more. When approaching your principal with a proposal, don’t give all the details. Hit the major bullet points and let the other person know you have more information if they need or want.

In conclusion, Williamson and Blackburn list 10 behaviors to promote active listening, many of which I’ve written about before:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Use positive body language.
  3. Restate or affirm what the other person is saying
  4. Ask clarifying questions to help you understand.
  5. Wait to share your comments until they finish.
  6. Pause and allow silence if appropriate.
  7. Be fully present and avoid distractions.
  8. Keep an open mind.
  9. React to the content, not the person.
  10. If you take note, explain why, so they don’t think you are ignoring them.

Leaders must be good listeners to be successful communicators. Check in with yourself if your mind wanders and get back to focus, openness, and willingness. Soon, you’ll be actively listening to and engaged with the person speaking with you.

Reach for Your Leadership Vision

I often write and speak on the importance of knowing your Mission and Vision. Missions focus on what you do. It’s your purpose or your “perspiration.” Visions are your “inspirations” and “aspirations.” They are where you would love to have happen. Both grow from your core values, your philosophy. And you can’t reach your school library Vision unless you have one for yourself as a leader. Without that self-Vision, it is difficult to step out of your comfort zone and the take risks leadership requires.

In Think Deeply About the Leader You Aspire to Be, Art Petty suggests you “mine for early influences and marry them to future aspirations to develop a clear picture of your desired leadership self.” Connecting what you’ve seen and done with what you want can guide you in constructing your leadership Vision using the following four steps:

  1. Start by exploring your leadership inspirations – Look inwardly and widely. Consider the values you hold. What are you passionate about? Who are the people you admire in librarianship and elsewhere? Why do you admire them? Petty suggests you look at the behavior of those people. If they had a direct contact in your life, how did they reach out to you? I became active in school librarianship and began writing because of the people who reached out. Their trust and belief encouraged me to leave my comfort zone.
  2. Spend time reflecting on your best self – Think of those moments when you were proud of something you did as a leader. You may have put together a difficult project or you gave a workshop for teachers, and they were all engaged and participating. Consider what you did to make those instances happen. What aspects of yourself as a person did you draw on? Think of the values that motivated your behavior and/or achievement. Look to the moments when you were proud of yourself and your behavior. It may have been how you connected a reluctant reader to the perfect book. Perhaps you turned a confrontation into the start of a relationship.
  3. Your Leadership AspirationsImagine this was your last year at your current position. You’re either moving on or retiring. What would you hope your students would say about their library experience? How about teachers and administrators? Take time to think about the legacy you want to leave, the impact you want to have, as a librarian and a leader and from that, pull out the pieces you want to include in your Leadership Vision.
  4. What’s most important to you as a leader? Petty recommends answering the following questions:
  • What do I care most about doing and achieving as a leader?
  • How will I guide, teach, and coach?
  • How will I support creating great results through others?
  • How do I want to affect those I come in contact with along the way?

My Leadership Vision is “School Librarians are recognized everywhere as vital leaders.” I know it will never be universal, but I always work to be a force for change. It inspires all I do.

Taking the time to see yourself as a leader and the impact your leadership will have on your library can inspire and should inspire you. Reach high and fearlessly create your own leadership Vision.  

First Impressions

It’s an automatic response. We see someone or something and we make an assessment. With people, it encompasses our biases about everything. We notice skin color, weight, height, clothing, and a host of other outward signs. And while we are having that instant reaction, the other party is doing the same. Fortunately, there are things we can do to make strong and accurate first impressions that will support our success and create a strong foundation for new relationships.

In her article, Make a Good First Impression: Expert Tips for Showing Up at Your Best, Shonna Waters writes: “First impressions last. Whether they are accurate or not, it normally takes a long time and concerted effort to change a first impression. Because they are largely subconscious, first impressions are very persistent. Even in the face of contrary evidence.  Because of our implicit biases and cognitive biases, we see the world and other people through our own set of filters and make decisions based on them. All of your relationships are affected by the first impression that you make.” So how can you make first impressions work for you? Waters top suggestions are:

  • Make eye contact – Before you say anything, making eye contact sends a message of trustworthiness while giving you the opportunity to notice your own reactions and (possibly inaccurate) impressions of the other person. Waters says eye contact indicates you are listening and engaged. At the same time, notice if the other person has returned the eye contact. Are they open to listening to you or just waiting for the conversation to end as fast as possible? This is important information that can help you to know how to continue the conversation.
  • Smile – A genuine smile puts people at ease and creates connection. You want the smile to reach your eyes, or it looks phony (yes, wearing masks makes this harder, but we’re getting used to it.). If you’re nervous, try thinking positive thoughts. This will help your brain activate a real smile.
  • Dress for the occasion – How you look makes an impression, so be aware of what the situation calls for and how you can convey your awareness by your clothes. Dressing appropriately sends a subtle message that you value this interchange. Dressing for success is always wise. And for job interviews, the advice of “dress for the job you want to have” holds true. Remember to be mindful of what you might be doing as part of the day. Comfortable shoes go a long way for an extended interview or presentation.
  • Be a good communicator – Listen more than talk. Pause before answering a question. Restate it to ensure you understand what is being asked. This allows people to notice your communication skills. And remember to really listen—hear what is not being said. Whether asking a principal to support a new program or going for a job interview, we tend to hear the parts we want to hear. Did the principal understand what you meant by digital literacy or were they not aware of all the aspects you meant? When the principal said their library was the heart of the school, what did they actually mean by that?

Outside of face-to-face interactions, remember your library also makes a first impression. It’s a good practice to pause occasionally before walking in and taking in the room as though you were seeing it for the first time. What message is it sending? Is it the one you want? If not, how can you change it? If it is, how can you strengthen it?

We can’t monitor or control all the first impressions we make. There are too many. But if you can stay aware of the ones that are important, you’ll be able to support your success by starting new relationships on the right foot.

The Story of 2022

Stories are a constant part of our lives. As librarians, we read them to others and to ourselves. We also tell ourselves stories, consciously or otherwise, about who we are, how we are doing, and what we are capable of. They can also help us to plan for what’s ahead – no matter how unpredictable that might be. So—what story do you want to tell about 2022?

Start by asking yourself a few more questions. What do you want to see for your library program? For your professional life? For your personal life? As the of-quoted Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Even though life takes us off our original course, goals can help us to reorient when this happens.

Now that you have answered those questions (or ones like it), think of what steps you need to take, what plan of action is needed to achieve those results. Yes, life put roadblocks, speed bumps and unexpected turns in your way, but knowing your goal allows you to adapt and modify as needed. As a bonus, you build resilience as you go.

Elana Aguilar’s post The Resilient Educator/ How Year-End Reflection Fosters Resilience gave me the idea for this blog. In it she writes about having a word for the year. Aguilar says it should, “encapsulate your hopes or commitments.” I’m going to go through this process with you so you can see where you might start. I decided my word for 2022 is Discovery. No matter what happens, I will come to the end of the year knowing more about myself, and how I can be better at what matters to me and be a better person.

In creating your story of 2022, Aguilar advises reflecting on the past year. Among the questions she proposes you ask yourself are:

  • What happened? – So much has occurred it isn’t easy to recall it all. Your first response is likely to be all the negative events, nationally, professionally, and personally. As you continue to remember and reflect, the good things begin to emerge.

For me this includes almost completing a new book, teaching online courses at Montana State, and making new friends. I also had the opportunity to see family again after 2020’s isolation.

  • What did I feel? – Sorting this out can be more challenging than reviewing what happened. Your emotions have undoubtedly gone from some deep lows to some triumphant highs – and back down again. We have been on an emotional roller coaster.

As you identify your feelings for the various events, go one step further. How did you react? Did the negative ones send you deeper into despair or did you summon the courage to find a way to push through? Did you surprise yourself with what you were able to accomplish?

What about those triumphant feelings?  Did you celebrate and congratulate yourself for achieving them?  Never forget you earned those moments.

I’ve been stressed at different times writing this book because it’s for an expanded audience, but I’m excited to reach new librarians. Teaching a new course at a new school required a slower start than I’m used to, but I had the opportunity to expand my cultural awareness. Seeing family? Priceless.

  • What did I learn? –  This is the most important question of all. If you don’t have a take-away, the experience, positive or negative, is wasted. Everything that happens to us is an opportunity to grow. It’s something we often ask our students after a lesson.

Every lesson we learn builds our resilience. They widen our perspective on the world and remind us of our strength. Knowing what we have achieved, whether dealing with challenges or achieving successes serves as a reminder that when faced with new obstacles, we have what it takes to deal with it.

As a new year begins with all the uncertainties it always carries, take the time to reflect. Where are you now? Where do you want to go? What Story of 2022 do you want to tell?