Take Time to Get Outside

We live in an almost constant state of stress, and this was true before the pandemic added a new layer and level. In the words of the late comedienne Gilda Radnor, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” There is nothing new in our need to deal with too much pushing in on us. One of the best methods of managing stress is taking time out of usual environments and, if possible, into nature.

The Romantic poet. William Wordsworth wrote this sonnet around 1802.

The World Is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Apparently even back then, “getting and spending” was a preoccupation,” and we were already out of touch with nature. “We are out of tune” – then and now.

Getting out is about moving at the pace of your choice.  It’s taking the time to see the world around you. It’s about greeting people as you go. And it’s about thinking– literally — outside the box that is the place you work.

We need to make getting out a priority in our lives. No matter our work and life schedule, we benefit from choosing a way to destress. The caveat is the choosing because what we mostly see is where there is too much to complete, too many errands to run – and doing errands is not getting out.

So, with all you have to and need to do, how can you get out? Ryan Tahmaseb proposes 7 Ways to Get Outside More Often. Hopefully, one or more of these will work for you, and the benefits are enormous.

  1. Schedule a walk – Until this becomes a habit, you need to put it on your to-do list. Plan the time.  Will you do it at lunch?  If so, you will come back energized and are likely not to experience the afternoon slump. Does the timing of your free period work better?  Or maybe it’s after you get home and before starting dinner – or even after dinner. Whatever works, schedule it. Tahmaseb suggests, consider going with a friend.  You will hold each other accountable. Think about what best fits you and your life.  Set yourself up for success.
  2. Take Phone Calls Outside – This can be a great addition to any personal calls you make.  It’s not my favorite idea since your mind is preoccupied with whatever is happening on the phone, which may be stressful, but you are breathing outside air and that helps. It may encourage you to get off the phone faster and since you’re already outside – stay a little longer.
  3. Move Small Meetings Outside – This may not be an available option but is worth considering to see if it’s an option.  The meeting is likely to go better. Suggest it to your principal or a committee chair. 
  4. Eat Outside – You can eat your lunch, and then go for a walk.  Burn off the calories.  You may enroll any lunch companions to join you. Before long you might have a cadre of walkers. Even just sitting in the sun for that time with a book will lighten your stress.
  5. Try Walking Meetings – If it’s no more than 3 or 4 people, this may be a possibility. You can record your notes as you go.  It is worth trying and it may stimulate creative approaches to the discussion. Or make meetings go faster!
  6. Bring Your Work Outside – If you can’t afford to give up the work you do during your free period, do it outside. The work will feel easier.  You will breathe better.  And you may find, as I do, the creative juices flow when you are outside.
  7. Just Take a Short Break – Step outside for a few minutes.  If you are attuned to it, you will be aware of the change in your mindset.  If you can’t eat outside, try to finish lunch a little early and take those minutes to yourself.

There is no doubt that changing your environment can change your outlook and being outside can almost instantly change your mood. Watch for the birds, notice the clouds. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Do what you can to get into the habit of going outside now.  It will be easier to continue it when winter comes. You will be healthier and less stressed if you do.

Taking Charge of Your Life

“You’re not the boss of me,” is what kids say when they don’t like being told what to do. While it may not be something we’d say as an adult, it is important to be aware of when we are allowing too many people to tell us what to do and direct our lives.

To make others happy, we often say yes to things we don’t have time for, or which don’t support our priorities. Then when we’re asked to do something for an administrator or which we want to do, we’re stressed because there’s already too much on our plates. How often do we say yes because we’re worried about what others will think if we say no – and what’s the cost to us when we do it?

Why do we worry so much about what other people think of us?  If we are living our lives based on our values and principles, our actions and choices speak for themselves. Those who judge us should not matter. But somehow, they do. It can make us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. Or keeps us from setting boundaries because the opinion people have of us matter more than our wants and needs.

In The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People ThinkGregg Vanourek says, “Life is too precious and short to let others determine our path.”  People pleasing is a trap many of us fall into. He offers eight tips to prevent what he refers to as “the downward spiral.”

  1. Acquire more self-awarenessWhat is your heart and mind telling you to do? Your inner voice when you are not letting it criticize you, knows the truth. When you hear your thoughts say “no, I can’t” don’t say “sure, no problem.”
  2. Develop clear and compelling personal purposes, values, and vision – You have them for your library. You need them for your life. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish in your life and be remembered for? Write these down if it helps and refer to them before taking on anything new – in or out of work.
  3. Cultivate self-acceptance – Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a good friend who is dealing with whatever is happening in your life. You certainly wouldn’t criticize or only point out what they’re doing wrong. Self-compassion goes a long way when setting healthy boundaries.
  4. Take time before saying yes – New tasks always take more time than predicted. Before saying yes, go through tips one and two. Be aware of what you can do and if the new requet first with your purpose, values, and vision. If it doesn’t, say no. (For help with this – you can read my blog post on this topic.)
  5. Gain perspective – How important is their opinion in the overall scheme of things? In the long run, will it matter? In the moment, it can feel very important, but when you stop and think (see point #4), you’ll likely realize you’re reacting out habit and not out of an active choice to do something that works for you.
  6. Experiment with experiencing disapproval – Vanourek suggests mentally picturing what would happen if others disapproved of your choice or action. Does it feel less right because of them?  Or do you see how the choice represented who you are? It’s important to separate feelings about others from the feelings we want to have about our decisions.
  7. Notice how people may respect us for setting boundaries – A favorite phrase of mine is, “If you act like a doormat, people step on you.” It goes well with, “We teach people how to treat us.”  When you are clear about what you will and won’t do, your communication carries that message and is invariably respected. And people are less likely to comeback and step on your again in the future.
  8. Imagine and pursue the freedom on the other side of this mental block – In the moment, it’s hard to keep a boundary, but think about how you will feel after. It will likely feel as though a weight has been lifted. There is a huge difference between what we do for others because it’s who we are and what we believe in, and what we do because we fear the criticism or judgement of others.

It’s important that we take responsibility for our choices and not let the responses of others be our primary motivation for making those choices. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have more of the life and career you want. You’ll be known for saying yes with clarity and you’ll be doing more of what you want. There will be mistakes and successes, but they will be truly yours.

Weigh Your Words

image by Oko Swan O’Murphy via Canva

Words have heft and weight, and in our hectic world we sometimes toss them around without considering their power – including their power to wound.  An inconsiderate response can do lasting damage. An off-hand remark can crush a student. The wrong response to a teacher can close the possibilities of collaboration you have been working towards. You didn’t mean to do it, but the harm was done. On the flip-side, the right response can strengthen existing relationships and start new ones.

We typically (and unintentionally) do damage when we are busy and respond without thinking. Being aware of phrases that might harm relationships and what to say instead can help avoid these situations. Gwen Moran suggests These 7 Phrases Can Help You Sound More Powerful at Work. They will also keep relationships moving forward.

  1. Here’s What I Can Do – “No” cuts conversation off. There are always alternates you can propose. You can’t and shouldn’t always say, “Yes”, but there are alternatives.  Moran reminds us we need to set boundaries. It’s good for others to know you have a lot of work and many priorities. At the same time, you don’t want to cause a teacher to think it doesn’t pay to ask for your help because you are so busy.
  2. I’ll Find Out – This one is part of our work so it may come more naturally. As a profession, we are great at finding out and rarely just say, “I don’t know.” A quick response because we were too busy or distracted to listen carefully to the request will do more harm than letting someone know you will follow up. Try to give a date or time by when you plan to get back to them – and do so.
  3. Can You … – Asking for help is a good thing. Moran cautions you not to preface the request with, “I know how busy you are …”   You don’t want to suggest you see your request as a burden. Also, you can request that they do something before you add your support. “Can you narrow down your search before I….” “Can you give me a list of topics you want covered….” And when someone does you a favor, they feel positive about themselves – which can improve your relationship. After, don’t forget to thank them. Handwritten notes are great for this.
  4. Let’s Solve This – I love this phrase. It creates a collaborative situation which more naturally strengthens relationships. Working together you get to understand the other person’s needs better. The knowledge will help you in targeting your future communication to their wants and needs.
  5. I’m Glad You Like It – It’s hard for many of us to accept praise but minimizing it by saying it was no big deal or deflecting to how someone else contributed takes away from what the other person said. Accept compliments gracefully and graciously. Assess if it’s a good time to get feedback by asking, “What do you think worked?” as well as “How could I have done it better?” or “What do you think I should do next time?”  In the convivial atmosphere of a conversation, you can get a helpful response and build for the future.
  6. I Want to Help – Whether it’s a teacher or a student who is distraught, “Calm down” never works. It typically aggravates the situation which, in turn, weakens a relationship. Saying you want to help or asking what you can do allows the person to focus on what you are saying and that help is available. Helping them articulate what they need further strengths your relationship by showing them you are someone who can be trusting in stressful situations.
  7. I’m Happy I Was Able to Help – Moran says this goes beyond saying “You’re welcome.”  That phrase is an automatic response to a thanks. By bringing in your happiness, you pave the way for further opportunities to work together and reinforce the collaboration and connection that occurred.

Words spoken aloud or in text are fundamental to our communication. Communication is a tool for building relationship. Relationships are part of our leadership skills, and leadership is necessary for advocacy. Because words have power to harm or help, they can erode all we are trying to build when we speak carelessly. Bullies use them consciously to hurt. Implicit bias has been unconscious but no less wounding. Despite our knowledge, sometimes we speak without considering what the receiver of our message hears. Before you speak, take stock of where you are, especially if you’re feeling rushed or stressed, and pause before you respond. It can make a big difference.

Focus and Procrastination

Photo by Antonio Guillem via Canva

There is always something that needs to get done but too often something pulls our focus. Before we know it, we’ve lost too much time and haven’t made the progress we want. Is there a way to make the two work together?

Sometimes procrastination can help and other times, not so much. When we choose to answer a phone call or an email as a way to not work on a task, it can be hard to get focused again. Then there are the times when you’re stuck during a project. You take a break. Perhaps go for a walk or even play a game of solitaire (my two favorites). When you return to work, somehow you have figured out what you need to do next. The procrastination became an aid not a deterrent.

What’s the difference? Usually it’s your attitude or mindset towards what you are doing. Are you taking the break intentionally or to avoid something? When you are not eager to dig into the task at hand, staying focused can be a challenge. You are more likely to succumb to the negative aspects of procrastination. The short break you give yourself stretches out. By the time you get back to work, more time has passed than you realized. Then we typically beat ourselves up for taking the break. You probably will get it done, but without the enthusiasm that produces your best work.

As part of a blog post on How to Remove Distractors from Your Workday, Naphtali Hoff shares six techniques to help you manage internally driven distractors from your day:

  1. Set Daily Goals – This is familiar advice. My suggestion is to limit the number of goals to two tasks. You can have more on your to-do list but keep your focus on one or two priorities. If you get to anything else, it’s a bonus.
  2. Set Deadlines – Most of your tasks probably have inherent deadlines, but it helps to be specific. Set a time by when you will finish the day’s top priority items. Having a “by when” will help you achieve it as you have a goal you are working toward.
  3. Break Project into Manageable Chunks – Big projects are intimidating. My method is to telescope, microscope, and periscope (see my blog post on this here). Use Telescope to identify by when the project must be completed. (Set your own internal deadline for before that date since life happens.) Microscope by determine a sequence of steps, including daily ones. Focus only on the one you need to complete today. Every so often, pop up your Periscope to see what is coming up. Do you need to alter your daily schedule?
  4. Practice Mindfulness – Meditation is not procrastination. Use all your tools to keep your outlook positive. Record your successes. Praise yourself for accomplishments. Hoff says, “practicing mindfulness meditation is associated with improvement in sustaining focus and attention.” When you feel good about yourself, it’s much easier to get work done – and stay focused at it.
  5. Set a Timer – This allows for what might be called “planned procrastination”. It’s like a workout for a specified period of time. How long do you want to work before taking a break?  Your body needs to move, your thoughts may need to focus elsewhere for a little while. It’s healthier if you get up each hour for a few minutes. After a second hour, you might plan a longer break – to take that walk or play that game. But set a timer for that, too.
  6. Switch Tasks – Sometimes you hit a brick wall. While some form of procrastination to refresh your brain cells might work, consider switching to task #2 on your to-do list. Some may find that doing this needs some transition time, but as long as you know you’re making this change, you’ll start the next task sooner.

Know how your mind and body behave. Identify what is happening when you lose focus or when you’re having trouble getting focused. How long can you work full-out at something before your focus begins to dwindle? Remember that you can welcome, allow, and even plan for procrastination as a tool in accomplishing tasks. When you do this – the time spent procrastinating is less likely to take over your day.

Lessons Moving Forward

We have gone through what has been an exceedingly challenging year and survived. There are scars, and there are lessons. The scars are a tribute to our resilience and will always be with us. The lessons need to be as well. What life lessons helped sustain you and others in the last year and a half?

One of my big lessons was the need for scheduled connections. In my pre-pandemic hectic life, I reached out to family and friends as the mood struck and time was available. Now these important people are on a schedule and/or on my to-do list. I don’t see them as work, of course, but I don’t trust myself to be consistent without reminders. I am too likely to get caught up in the returned busy-ness and forget. I don’t want to lose the connections that were deepened.

As we relax over the summer and make plans for the year ahead, this is a good time to take stock of what we learned or what we’d like to make sure to keep in the future. I found LaRay Quy’s article The Best Advice People Can Give Their Younger Selves touches on seven recommendations to help us:

  1. Make plans but write them in pencil – You need a direction, but you also must be prepared to change it as the situation demands. Being flexible was key in the last fifteen months and that will not change. If you are traveling on a highway, accidents and construction can force you to detour. Life’s journey is no different. Sometimes the detour allows you to see and experience what you might have overlooked. Sometimes it slows you up, but you still saw something new. That’s life. Or as Ursula LeGuin said in Left Hand of Darkness, “It’s always good to have an end to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.”
  2. Read better books – We read –we are librarians. Have you been denying yourselves the pleasure because of too much work?  We need our reading to help us grow. It’s not necessarily significant texts. It’s new authors who present a different perspective.  I have found important insights in romantic fiction. The genre is not what’s important. The author and their message is.
  3. Invest in friendships – As my opening example shows, we need friendships and connection in our lives. We need our old friends and need to make new ones. Quy notes we attract people like us. Focus on your positives and your friendship circle will be enlarged by equally positive people. Find people who want to grow and learn as you do.
  4. Know when to leave – This is true in relationships and in work. Reflect on the relationships in your life. Are there some that are draining? You don’t need people who only take. Some jobs are toxic as well. I left one, and it changed my life for the better. Don’t stay in bad situations because you fear losing tenure. If you are good, you will get tenure in the next position – and you’ll have a situation where you can thrive.
  5. Forget about following your passion – Here is where I disagree with Quy, but it’s mainly a question of definitions. She says passion is fleeting and self-serving, and it’s better to follow your purpose. I emphatically support following your purpose. But my purpose has become my passion, and it has been my passion for many years. Take time to look at what you’re passionate about and see how that weaves into your purpose – the connections you find will surprise you.
  6. Solve harder problems – It’s easy to continue doing what we have always been doing, but growth comes from leaving your comfort zone. This is where you truly live your purpose. Take it onto a larger stage. Volunteer for a committee with your state school library association. If you already do that, move to the national level. Scary?  Yes, but as you grow, you become better at your job. Your new knowledge will affect how you present yourself and boost your confidence. The result – your colleagues and administrators will recognize you as a leader.
  7.  Forgive first – This may seem like an odd piece of advice for this list, but anger and resentments weigh you down. It gives the other party power over you. You don’t have to forget, but recognize the issue is in the past. You don’t want it in your future. And don’t forget to forgive yourself.

I would add two more to Quy’s lists; Being Aware of Others, and Gratitude. I am far more conscious of the many people on the fringes of my life whose work makes my life possible. Delivery drivers, sanitation workers, the employees of my local supermarkets, and health care providers are among the many people who make my days easier. I am more aware then ever of the work they do and I am very grateful.

It’s time to reflect and plan. As expected, our post-pandemic world is a changed place. We need to envision how we will be in our new normal, and that means integrating the lessons we learned. What would you put on your list to help you move forward?

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is a way of creating connection. Any librarian who has read to a class of rapt students has felt the power and magic of a good story. You have transported them to another place and into the life of someone else. Although not as obvious, telling your story also has the power to move your listeners. The ability to tell the right story at the right time is an often-overlooked skill in building relationships. Relationships are personal, and stories can make personal connections happen. They can also help your administrators understand the vital role you and the library play in the success of the school and its students.

There is vulnerability in telling your stories even if you’re not sharing intimate details of your life. But when you offer a truth about your life, you offer an opportunity to build trust, which is the foundation of relationships. You don’t truly have a relationship with someone unless there is a level of trust.

I once had a conversation with a very well-known library leader whose position had been terminated. Although he had secured another place, he was worried about how he would fare. I told him I had just changed districts after 22 years in the same place and had felt as he did, only to discover that I was more valued in my new school. I further shared that I had grown in my old job in ways I didn’t realize. I did not recognize my own value, but the new district did. Six months later, I saw him again. He shared that his experience mirrored mine. We made a personal connection through story.

On another occasion, I told a librarian of what a failure I was in the early part of my career and mentioned some of the turning points. She told me later how much she appreciated hearing it. She had been having some self-doubts and saw me as someone who never failed in my journey to leadership. I became more human in her eyes. The connection was made.

When giving a presentation, stories are a way to connect with your audience. As Jeff Davenport says in Why Should I Tell a Story?, stories engage listeners. Hammering people with data may seem to give them what they want, but the story connects them to you and your message. It touches emotions, and emotions guide our decisions more than we like to believe. It gives them a reason to listen.

This is not to say you shouldn’t bring in data but consider using story to share it. Davenport observes that talking about a situation and how it was handled gives directions to listeners far better than a list of instructions or numbers. For example, telling a story about working with a student who struggled and their triumph after first failing will resonate. When you follow up with the research studies, the audience is in a place to receive it.

According to Davenport, you can and should also use story to describe the future. Your Vision Statement is a look into what the library might be. Share the vision as a story. Think about starting it with something like, “Imagine what it would be like if…”

When sharing with teachers, principals, and parents, finding ways to use story brings them closer to your purpose. Consider using pictures and videos to enhance your story, creating vivid images of a potential future. As they are watching, share stories that emphasize the benefits to students and teachers. The story of your Vision will help move them from their current (and potentially dated) mental and emotional image of what a school library is and help move them into considering what is possible. The story you share can guide them there.

No one knows the power of story better than librarians. We use it to captivate students; we teach them how to use it to draw a teacher into the work they create. We can use it ourselves not only in developing the one-on-one relationships that strengthen our programs and enhance collaboration, but to increase the interest and support of the library’s key stakeholders. The next time you need to talk to teachers, your principal, or others – start by telling them a story. They’ll keep listening to find out how it ends.

How Membership Became Leadership

I write this as I am attending the virtual 2021 ALA Annual Conference. I am eagerly looking forward to the AASL conference in October to be held in Salt Lake City in person, and come December, I will be going to my state school library association meeting. I’ve been involved with these organizations for over 40 years, and they have impacted my career immeasurably. Without these organization, I wouldn’t have become a leader.

I recognize many of you have chosen not to join ALA or even your state association. I would like to share some highlights of my journey through these professional organizations and what I have gained from them in hopes that you will consider changing your mind and being a voice for libraries in your state and beyond.

My first years as school librarian I was barely aware we had professional associations. I was new and alone. When I returned to the workforce after my children were in school, I met a professor who was checking on the student doing field experience work in my library. She told me I had to join my state association.  I did, it was the best decision I made for my career.

My first state conference opened my eyes to the possibilities of this community. At the time the association was working with the State Librarian on guidelines for school libraries. I joined one of the subcommittees. Within a few years I was on the board and eventually became president.

In 1979, I attended my first national ALA conference, conveniently held New York City which allowed me to commute each day. The size of it was almost overwhelming, but by attending AASL programs I met other school librarians, began to feel at home, and was soon serving on AASL Committees.

Over time, I discovered to my amazement that I could walk up to a leader, ask a question, and get an answer as though I were equally important. In their eyes, I was. They became my friends as did others. Some of them became national leaders, others didn’t. But they are all part of my personal network that continues to grow on and off social media.

In the process of attending conferences and being on committees, my vocabulary evolved and my confidence grew. I could speak knowledgeably on library and education issues. I became aware of trends and “what’s next.” When I had conversations with my principal, my knowledge base showed. I was able to discuss issues that were coming to the table. As a result, I was seen as an asset. My requests were not always granted, but they were taken seriously. And eventually I was the leader other librarians asked questions of.

While I belong to other national associations, ALA/AASL is my home. It is the only national association whose prime focus is on libraries and librarians. It has given us our ethical center with the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics. AASL gives us our National School Library Standards as well as the standards portal with a host of  growing resources to incorporate them (some free, some for purchase).

The websites for ALA and its divisions, including AASL are huge. Members or not, you can find information and resources on Advocacy, Legislation, Intellectual Freedom, Equity and Diversity, and much more. The Washington Office works constantly to further our agenda. The Office for Intellectual Freedom has resources and is a support if and when material in your library is challenged.

We are stronger together. ALA works to promote school libraries and librarians in tandem with AASL. The letter sent to President Biden before his inauguration is just one example. AASL also works with the state library associations. Our state library associations perform the same services as AASL on a smaller level and tailored to more local needs. Conferences have programs showcasing best practices and give you the opportunity to see new vendors and talk with the ones you use. It’s personal.

Yes, membership costs money, but to me the value and what I receive is more than worth it. Do I agree with all their positions? No. But, as a member, I can work to promote change. Do I want them to focus on my issues more? Of course, and AASL has a structure that allows school librarians to respond to those issues which affect our community.

Not surprisingly ALA/AASL are hurting financially. Membership is shrinking as librarian positions have disappeared. They need our support as much as we need theirs. I would not have the career or become the librarian I did without ALA and AASL. As we are the voices for the libraries in our schools these organizations are our voice on a bigger scale. Every librarian who joins allows these organizations to continue to advocate for us even as it helps them become better professionals. I’m not aware of the organizations for librarians in other countries, but I hope you’ll search out those that can support your success.

If you’ve never visited the ALA website, I hope you’ll take some time during these summer months to do so. If you’ve never joined at the local or state level, I hope you’ll consider it (and look for some funding to help if you need). And if ALA or AASL has made a difference in your career, I hope you’ll share your story with other librarians. It’s an ecosystem that needs all of us acting together to send a common strong message about the values of libraries.

Knowing When to Say No

With all the talk about self-care, the need to say “No” has not been discussed much. Yet knowing when and how to say “No” may be the one of the most important skills for keeping yourself mentally and physically heathy. You cannot keep giving and doing and then adding to it. Even more important is being able to make that “No” stick, without caving in and saying, “Ok, I will do it.”

The first secret it to know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. This starts by going back to your Mission to get a perspective on what the additional responsibility will entail. Will taking it on advance your Mission or take you away from it? If the task/project/offer doesn’t move you toward your goals, then the answer should be ‘no.’ There will be times when the person asking is someone you can’t say no, which is when it’s time for the second secret.

Sometimes you have to find a way to negotiate. This allows you to set boundaries and gives you some control. The Eblin Group offers Ten Things to Say Beyond Yes organized into three categories of responses: Yes, but…, Learn more, and No, but….

Yes, but…

  • With these conditions – You don’t have to use the word “conditions,” just itemize them. This lets the other person know your boundaries but show you are still prepared to take on the task. It also sends a message that your other work has importance as well. “I can do this if, I can get help with…”
  • Not now – When you say this, you control the timeline. Suggest a date when you will attend to it then follow up with confirmation. This shows your willingness to participate and be a team member while keeping your priorities.
  • Not me – Use this when you know someone who is better suited to the task. You are possibly putting them in the same position you currently are (depending on their priorities and workload), so be sure they’re a good substitution for you.

Learn more

  • Tell me more–You might even open with this. You can’t make a decision unless you know what’s involved and why it’s important. This also gives you time to think about your choice and no rush a response. Also recognize that jobs always involve more than they seem They are like icebergs.
  • Why now instead of later? – This gives you the information as to whether you can use the second “Yes, but” response. It also tells you how critical is to get the job done.
  • What about some alternatives that don’t require as much?–Get the other party to also think about the best way to manage the task. Find out if there are other options available to make the job happen.
  • What else would work or help instead? –  This gets both of you thinking out of the box. Maybe there’s a way to bring in more people or take a fresh approach. It also stops the “do what’s always been done” cycle.

No, but…

  • Here’s what I can do – On the one hand, you know the task is taking you away from your Mission. On the other hand, you still want to be cooperative. After you have Learned More, you can define how much you are willing to give. (If you are saying this to an administrator, instead of starting with, “No, but…” try ‘How about if I….”)
  • What if we tried this instead – Offer a solution that works for both of you. I once had a principal ask me to cover a gym class because there was no substitute available. I suggested the class meet in the library and research what was available on sports, exercise, etc. I had to work fast to make it a quick project with a purpose, but the principal and the kids liked it.
  • I wish you the best–If you must say no, be courteous and clear, “I am sorry I can’t help you with this. Maybe some other time.” We always want to leave a situation open to relationship building and future collaborations. Sometimes ‘no’ is only ‘no, for now.’

At some point – and probably when you least want to say ‘yes’ – you will be asked to do something more. Be prepared. Review your Mission so it’s firm in your mind and be ready to respond with something other than a ‘yes’ that will deplete you. You do have choices, and ‘no’ can be one of them.

How High is Your Emotional Intelligence?

If ever a year (in reality, more than a year) tested our Emotional Intelligence (EI), this year was it. EI rests on being aware of emotions and how they play out in your life and that of others.  Having a high EI improves our communication and strengthens our relationships and the result is we are more successful.

The four main components of EI are:

  1. Self-Awareness,
  2. Self-Management,
  3. Social Awareness, and
  4. Relationship Skills. 

Responsible Decision Making, which results from these four, is sometime included as a fifth component, and you may find Empathy and Motivation included as well.

Self-Awareness means you know who and how you are. In addition to your library Mission, you have a personal purpose and know your core values. You recognize when you are having an emotional reaction to something said or seen and are aware of (and still learning about) your implicit biases.

Self-Management rests on self-awareness. What do you do when you recognize your negative emotions are engaged? Those who self-manage change their mindset to avoid what might turn into a confrontation or prevent a morning mishap from influencing the rest of the day.

Social Awareness means you can identify the emotions of others. You recognize when they are angry or upset.  As a result, you can be empathetic and keep emotions from boiling over. When in a group, you know how to “read a room.”

Relationship Skills are key to your success.  Librarianship is a relationship business.  If we don’t build relationships, we are out of business. You can’t build relationships without having the first three components of EI. We must always be looking for ways to connect, collaborate and create. Good relationships with students, teachers and administrators are required to achieve our Mission and Vision.

With these components in mind, John R. Stoker in Emotional Intelligence Begins with Self-Awareness poses ten question to assess the level of your EI and how to raise it where needed.

  1. What part of my behavior do I not see? Since it’s impossible to answer this alone, Stoker suggests you ask someone you trust. Be open to what they tell you (remember, it’s feedback – not criticism) using your self-awareness skills.
  2. Do you know who or what sets you off? Some people automatically cause our bodies to stiffen as we prepare for emotional combat.  Who does that to you?  More importantly, “Why?” The answer will help to anticipate and moderate your reaction.
  3. Are your relationships growing and deepening, or are they diminishing and contracting? If your relationships aren’t growing, you are losing support for your program. What is the cause? You may need to reach out again to others to figure this out.  
  4. Do people seek you out as a sounding board or for advice and support?  This is a good indicator that speaks to your relationship building skills as well as your social awareness and empathy. Do they come back for more?
  5. Do people volunteer to give you feedback? It takes a high degree of trust to offer feedback when not asked for it. Stoker notes this shows you are approachable.
  6. Do you seek feedback from others on what you could do to improve? Asking what you can do better increases your chance of getting honest, if possibly uncomfortable, feedback. Just as you help others, remember this is necessary if you are to improve. It also is an opportunity to build relationships.
  7. Do you express appreciation to others?  Thank-you’s are always good.  Even better is to let someone know you saw and admired something they did. Did a teacher manage a difficult situation with a student?  Let them know you learned something from it.
  8. Do you let your past history dictate how you treat others? Similar to #2, this is a reminder to keep an open mind. Use the past as a learning tool, not a prediction tool. A negative anticipation will guarantee a negative result.
  9. Are your interactions with others yielding the results that you want? How have you interacted with other?  You can’t change them, but if you identify your challenges with EI and make needed shifts, your dealings with them will improve.
  10. What similar situations repeatedly show up?  You are the common factor in all your interactions. Start with Self-Awareness and move through the other components of EI to see how you and your reactions have contributed to those situations.

As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Emotional Intelligence is a soft skill, but it can quickly make a bigger difference than all the hard knowledge you bring to your job. 

Take My Advice – Maybe

Are you up to your eyeballs in guidance and recommendations? Have you had days where if one more well-meaning person gives you one more suggestion you might scream? Or are you frustrated because no matter how much expert advice you read or receive, you’re still exhausted and overwhelmed?

This is because no matter how good the advice, if it doesn’t fit with who you are, it won’t work. Even the experts offering guidance have days when they struggle to handle what is on their plates. Nobody is immune to this. There are days when I have trouble deciding what comes first. It is often accompanied by not finding things where I thought I put them, physically or digitally. I wonder how am I supposed to help librarians with time management, if I can’t do it. It reminds me of an old saying, “Take my advice. I’m not using it.” 

When I get to that place, I take a breath and remind myself everything will get done; it always does. I go away from my desk, or, better yet, take a walk. Physically removing myself from my office, I can get my brain functioning again and see what needs doing first. I return to my computer with a plan, and all falls into place.

That’s me. Does it sound like you? If it doesn’t, it won’t work for you. No matter where we look, there is no magic pill of advice you can put into action.

LaRae Quy says in The Most Common Well-Being Advice That Doesn’t Work, self-help “is hard work that must be done by you.” She discusses four common recommendations that are most often offered, explaining why they don’t work, and what you can do about it.

  1. Develop Good Morning Habits – All too often, this is the suggestion of the rich and famous who profit from being prominent this way. You may not be a morning person. You already have a morning routine. Quy notes the last thing you need is to add one more thing to your busy morning. Unless… it works for you. If journaling puts you in a positive frame of mind, do it. If not, don’t. That should be your guideline for anything you add to your life. And accept the fact that life happens and some days you can’t get to the things that work. Don’t beat yourself up for the days when you can’t get to your new well-being habit.
  • Digital Detox – It doesn’t take a genius to realize we are tied to our devices, and they overwhelm us. Realistically, most of us cannot cut out these connections. The smart way to handle the digital tsunami according to Quy is to set boundaries. If the thought of a digital detox adds to your stress, consider taking control by stepping away for a short time. Instead of trying getting rid of devices for set periods of time, Quy suggests every 20 minutes look at something that’s 20 feet away. The change in eye-focus and blink rate is restorative.
  • Deep breaths –Quy calls this her “favorite piece of bad advice.” Unless you’ve got the time to do this for an extended period, it probably won’t provide a sense of well-being. When you are stressed, your emotional brain is in control, the flight/freeze, fright part. Your thinking brain needs time to catch up, which is why the recommendation to take the deep breaths. However, Quy says it won’t work unless you also acknowledge the underlying emotion that caused the panic. Take a moment to notice what you’re feeling (anger, embarrassment, worry, fear, etc) in whatever way works for you. Then your thinking brain can step in an work it’s magic.
  • Declutter Your Workspace – The belief is the clutter confuses your brain and keeps you from being organized. The reality is, it depends on you. Only you know if seeing a cluttered workspace distracts and upsets you or if it doesn’t bother you at all. If it makes you anxious, declutter. If it energizes you or doesn’t bother you, leave it alone.

The bottom line is, you need to take care of yourself, but the best way to do that is to learn what works for you. You can read advice columns—and, hopefully, this blog – but use if for ideas that resonate with who and how you are. And remember, some days nothing works. On those days – I recommend chocolate.