Procrastination – Good, Bad and Ugly

We have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and still we procrastinate. Why do we let ourselves waste time and get off track? Despite resolutions to focus on the tasks at hand, somehow, we find something to divert us. How can we change this and when should we?

First off, there is a good side to procrastination. Our brains need rest. If we have been tackling a complex or a boring job, when it’s through we need to pause and give our brains a chance to shift. Additionally, we need different types of thinking depending on the task. That said, the pause shouldn’t last an hour. Once we go to our procrastination of choice, we tend to linger there too long. Time gets sucked away and we are upset with ourselves.

Procrastination becomes “ugly” when we use it to avoid a task. Instead of diving in and taking a break when we complete it or come to a natural resting spot, we put off starting. By the time we get to it, we are annoyed with ourselves and are not bringing our best to the job.

How can you manage procrastination so you can use it in good ways and avoid the bad and ugly ones? Amanda Pressner Kreuser presents 5 Easy Tricks to Beat Procrastination You Should Start Today. Here’s the list, along with my adaptations for our world.

  1. Be realistic about your bandwidth. There’s always too much to do. When facing the stress or overwhelm of a big project, you are apt to try clearing your deck of the little tasks, but these don’t move you forward and your deadlines loom closer, adding to your stress. Instead, prioritize the larger tasks based on your availability and look for ways to do the smaller things at a later time. If at all possible, delegate so that you can still enjoy checking things off without having to do them yourself. For example, if you feel pressed to get a cart load of books shelved, make a sign suggesting students look over these recent returns for  a suggestion of what to read next.
  2. Break up large projects or deadlines into small tasks. The old advice works best. Chunk the project up into workable tasks. This way you get a sense of accomplishment as tasks are completed, and your project gets done on time, or even early. An added benefit is that you have a chance to review what you have done as you tackle each new part making it more likely that you’ll find ways to improve and streamline your plan. If you use my telescoping (visualizing the full project), microscoping (focusing on what needs to be done now), and periscoping (popping up every now and then to be sure you are aware of upcoming tasks as deadlines), you will stay on track and keep stress levels down.
  3. Put time blocking into action. Our brains need a pause. Kreuser says studies show we need a break after 90 minutes. Don’t fight against this. Instead, plug this into you schedule, then set a timer and stay on task until you reach that pause point and stop. If you are on a roll, make yourself a note that will help you get you back to where you were when you stopped. What to do during the pause? Moving is one good choice, reading for pleasure could be another. But whatever you do, set a timer for however long you plan to take. This way you won’t fall into the bad aspects of procrastination.
  4. Eliminate distractions — or at least put them on pause. This one is tough. In the library people are always coming in, and you must do what you can to respond. Eliminate the ones you can such as keeping your phone on mute so you are not tempted to respond to it. If you are working from home, let partners and children know when you’re busy. Tell them when you will be ready to talk and ask them to wait until them. If you have a door you can close, post a sign for when you will be “available.”
  5. Reward yourself in small ways. We are naturally motivated by positive reinforcement so make a plan for this with each successful milestone. Take the reward you earned. Do a Wordle or other computer game. Physical activity is always a good change after doing a mental task. Take a walk. Plan a trip to your favorite coffee shop. Then set up the next task and the next reward.

Caveat emptor. Don’t expect this to work every day. Some days you end up going down the procrastination rabbit hole. Somedays will have more unexpected interruptions than others. You are human. Be compassionate. But the better you are at learning to manage procrastination the less stressed you will be, and we all need that.

Managing Frustration

You know the feeling. The internet is down just as you are setting up for a lesson. You had the item in your hand, put it down some place, and now you can’t find it. The secretary called to say the principal can’t make the meeting you had scheduled to discuss a project after you spend days preparing.

You just want to scream.

Worse, as frustration and anger fill your mind it becomes almost impossible to figure out what to do next. Now, with so much waiting to get done, you are frozen in your tracks. Your self-talk is turned up to a litany of negative phrases. This is too hard. Why am I even trying? No one cares. It goes on.

So here you are again. The new challenge is to get past the emotional turmoil as quickly as possible and tackle the tasks at hand. John Mattone in How Leaders Can Control Their Frustrations with Team Members, offers sound advice to the business world. Much of what he says applies to us as well. It all goes back to managing our emotional response to whatever has triggered the frustration.

First Mattone discusses the importance between Reacting vs. Responding – When you react, you let other people or situations take control. A leader needs to keep that from happening. is instinctive. Responding is proactive and puts you back in control. Look at the obstacle that has caused the frustration. Is it a permanent situation or is it temporary? If it is permanent, work on alternate means of achieving your ultimate goal. If it is merely a postponement, consider how you might make good use of the unexpected time.

In order to respond rather than react, it’s important to be aware of:

  • Emotional Control –When emotions are ruling you, your cognitive thinking isn’t functioning. It’s not about ignoring or denying your frustration or the connected emotions, it is, as Mattone says, being aware of the emotions and not letting them rule you which is “proof that a leader has mastered self-awareness and is emotionally intelligent.” When frustration rises, pause. The age-old advice for anger is to count to ten. A pause is vital. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge the emotion. That will reduce it immediately. Then, once you’re thinking clearer, begin the process of how you are going to handle the situation.
  • Understanding Emotions – Emotions are an important part of our lives, giving us feedback as to what is working and what is not. When positive emotions are present, your self-talk is encouraging and you acknowledges your ability to make things work. You are also more supportive and positive with the people around you. The sooner you understand your emotions, the sooner you can respond (not react) and work effectively with those around you.
  • Preparing for High Stress Situations – They are going to happen, and they’re rarely (unfortunately) predictable. Accepting and anticipating the inevitability of these situations will help you to respond rather than react. Accepting means when one occurs you say to yourself, “here it is again.”  Not in high emotion, but with understanding. Anticipating means you have identified potential obstacle that may interfere with your plans and/or work flow so that when it happens, you’re as ready as possible.

The better you are at dealing with the frustrations inherent on your job and in your life, the more people will see you as the calm in a storm. It allows others to see you as a leader. And hopefully will lead to fewer frustrations in the future.

The Curious Importance of Curiosity

From the moment of our birth, we are curious. It is how our brain has programmed us to survive. Babies touch, explore, and taste to learn and understand their environment. Toddlers interminably ask questions. But too often, in the quest for grades and good scores on high-stakes tests, the urge to satisfy curiosity is overwhelmed by the need to produce the right answer. Albert Einstein famously said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” And knowing the right answer is not a preparation for life.

Correct answers say you know what has been done before. Innovation and growth come from thoughtful questions, and not questions which can be answered with a Google search or by asking Alexa. In fact, they might never be answered, but the pursuit will bring new knowledge and understanding – and perhaps more questions.

How can we apply this in our work as librarians and to ourselves? In our super busy lives, our own curiosity has been diminished. Who has time to go down a research rabbit hole (curiouser and curiouser, indeed) to explore a topic of interest? And yet, curiosity is how we continue to learn and grow. It feeds us intellectually in a way food does intellectually.

To satisfy our curiosity, Diana Kander suggests we cultivate Deliberate Curiosity. Being deliberate connotes focus and mindfulness. She proposes 3 Questions CEOs Should Ask to Practice Deliberate Curiosity. Answering these questions can speed up our growth and help us achieve our goals. You may not think of yourself as a CEO, but when it comes your library, your role as the one guiding and standing for the Vision and Mission makes you just that. Kander asks us to consider:

  1. What are your blind spots? We have become more aware of having blind spots as we look at our implicit biases, but we have many more places where Kander says there are “gaps in how we see the world.”  If you’re curious where yours are, try asking for feedback. Frame your questions to give you honest, worthwhile answers. Don’t ask teachers if your collaborative lesson went well. Ask what you could have done better, what they learned, or where they struggled. Ask students which part of the lesson they liked – and which they didn’t.
  2. How will you know what’s not working? Kander refers to the advice often given to authors to “kill your darlings,” and labels projects that yield far less than the effort that goes into them as “zombies.” Do you have a favorite unit or project you look forward to every year? When was the last time you revisited it? If it takes a lot of time but isn’t giving you the results you need, it could be a zombie. Your administrator assesses you each year, but you need to do a self-assessment. Have you fully integrated EDI into your program? Do your programs support your Mission statement? Do stakeholders know what ethical principles are foundational to your program? How well are you communicating with all stakeholders? Answering these kinds of questions will help you get curious about what is and isn’t working.
  3. How do you create accountability? We have become far too accustomed to doing things alone. As the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  You need a mentor, or, better yet, mentors, a professional learning network (PLN) and other supportive resources. Get curious about where you can reach out and talk to leaders. Think of the people in your life you trust. You’ll want even more than feedback from them. You want to bounce ideas off them and hear their suggestions. And you want them to hold you to your goals once you set them. They’ll also help you get curious and creative about how to improve by asking what is missing that needs to be included or what is new that should be and hasn’t been incorporated. Schedule regular time with these mentors. It doesn’t have to be long, and it could be monthly or done with a check in of some type. The important thing is to be accountable to them – and yourself.

Don’t let your curiosity wither. Be deliberate at including it in your life and your program. Combine curiosity with knowledge and see how your program thrives.

Creating an Advisory Board

As a school librarian you are accustomed to getting the job done on your own. There is rarely a clerk or even volunteers. And now you have to keep in mind the growing movement to ban LGBTQ+ and race-related books while upholding the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. This is the time for lateral thinking. If you haven’t done so as yet, consider creating an advisory board. Common in corporations, they are a rarity among school librarians but can be a huge benefit in the current changing climate.

First, get approval from your principal to set up the board. Let them know you’re doing this not only to help the library, but to help the administration and school should there be an issue. (This is a good time to check your negotiating skills). When looking for members, you want them to represent diverse perspectives. Teachers, students, parents, and public librarians are obvious potential members as are administrators (this may be a condition of having the board) and even local business owners. 

Next, keep your board a manageable size. Five to six members are a good number. Small boards will get more done as members can easily see why they are each important. It’s also easier to get a mutually agreeable meeting time and if you need a vote, a consensus is simpler as well.

In CEOs Make or Break the Value of Advisory Boards, Larry Robertson presents the business world’s three “pivotal questions.” Libraries can use the same three as you set up and maintain your advisory board.

  1. What’s the Role? – Before you can fill the advisory board, you will need to know what they will advise on. Yes, you want their input and views on issues/topics affecting the school library, but what are the specifics of this? Perhaps you want to discuss the possibility of a diversity audit and what to do with the results. You could solicit views on how the library can best communicate with different audiences. Another possibility is looking at policies such as fines, payment for lost books, use of cell phones, eating in the library, or other practices that have been in place without re-evaluation.

The longer the list you can make before starting, the better feel you will have for how to proceed. The list will also guide you in whom you want to serve on the advisory board. You might include the list when you present the idea for the board to your principal.

  • What’s the Commitment? – You are asking busy people to volunteer their valuable time. How much? How often? There’s also your time investment as well. You can’t expect people to take on an extra responsibility if you aren’t doing the same. Will there be regularly scheduled meetings? Will they be after school? Evenings? Weekends? The decision will affect who can make the commitment. Those asked will need to know how often these meeting will occur and how long they will they last. Will there be follow-up tasks?

In addition to how much time will be involved, you also need to be clear about the location of any meetings. Are you going to use Zoom or a similar platform? Do you want to hold some meeting in person? If so, is the school a possibility or do you need another place? Being clear on this will help people say yes when you ask them.

  • What’s the Relevance? – You identified the Advisory Board’s “what” in listing the roles and tasks it would undertake. You and Board members need to know the “why” as well. In other words, the Board needs a Mission Statement, and you should develop this together . It’s the ideal way to start your first meeting. It will bring the members together as a unit and increase their understanding of what they are here to do. Have sample mission statements to help. Here is one from a public radio station. Try to keep the Mission Statement under 50 words. Then you can easily include it in follow-up communications.

As time goes on, let members know about any changes or projects that have resulted from their work. They need to know they are having an effect on the program. At year’s end, thank them all for their contributions. Some members will be leaving. Encourage them to find their own replacements. When a new year and new members start, Robertson suggests reviewing the three questions. It will get the new people up to speed.

Beyond these questions from the business world, I would add one more. What do Board members need to know about the library? Even those who think they know a lot about libraries are probably not aware of the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. They may not know about the policies your school has in place and what your job really is.  Use the first meeting to share this or send out information before the meeting and discuss the material during that meeting.

In addition to having the Board bring their perspectives so that you don’t overlook diverse members of the educational and larger community, creating an Advisory Board builds library advocates. When they learn about the library, becoming involved in its practices, and have a stake in its success, they become your supporters. As this school year wraps up, think about what it might take to start an Advisory Board for the fall and the benefits to you and your library.

Know How to Negotiate

You go to your principal with a great project in mind. They turned you down. What do you do next? If you are like many, you shrug your shoulders, tear up your plan, and complain to other librarians about how the administration doesn’t support libraries. There is another way. In these situations, “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” It may mean “not that way” or “not yet.” To turn the “no” into a “yes,” you need to know how to negotiate. This means being aware of what you want, why you want it, and how it will benefit not only your library but others as well.

Two examples from my past illustrate this point. Working in a district where they spent as little as possible on education, I wanted to purchase what was then the latest in technology – a CD tower that allowed multiple access to several databases now available digitally. The cost was about $20,000. Rather than submit it in my budget where it would be turned down immediately, I went to my Superintendent. I explained to her why the purchase was important and proposed I cut from other places in my budget to make up for the cost. I also highlighted benefits to students. I got the tower and didn’t have to make up all the money from cuts because the Superintendent knew if I purchased it, I would use it.

In the second case, in a different district, a new Superintendent visiting the library envisioned a major renovation project. I was on board with that and contacted a vendor I had seen at a conference. In 24 hours, I had a projected quote. It was much higher than the Superintendent expected. I went back to the vendor letting them know my challenges if they wanted to work with me. One day later, I had a proposal for the project with the costs to be spread over three years. The renovation went forward, and the Superintendent saw me as a valuable person on the team who could get things done.

Knowing how to negotiate pays. Before putting yourself into this situation, check with a mentor, your PLN or favorite social media group for support and encouragement from your peers. They understand the challenges and needs you face. Greg Williams gives the following practical advice to Negotiate Better: How to Increase Your Leadership Skills:

  • Plan for negotiation – You plan for the project, but you also need to plan your “Ask.” Williams says these are the needed steps:
    • What-if scenarios – Life happens. You see that the principal is not in the best of moods. Or they are busy and want you to meet with the assistant principal. Pushing through with how you planned your presentation of the project won’t work. Reschedule or use an alternate approach depending on what you think would work best. But be prepared.
    • Know when to make offers and counteroffers – In both my scenarios, understanding the parameters of others was necessary so we could make compromises. Be open to suggestions;p know what you are and aren’t prepared to give up.
    • Control emotions – Keep a positive mindset throughout. You don’t want to show frustration or anger. Show that you can handle it if you’re turned down. Remember – “no” can be temporary but being negative can leave a lasting impression.
    • Control the environment – The time and day of your meeting matters. You don’t want to do it on a Monday when the week’s crises are beginning, and you may not want a Friday afternoon when thoughts are on the weekend. Summer is my favorite time when administrators are creating their plans for the coming year, but Thursday after school can be another good choice.
    • The value of reading body language in negotiations – It’s like a “tell” in poker. Watch for attitude changes showing interest or impatience. Williams suggests you notice hand gestures, voice tonality and intonation, and shifting physical position. By being attuned to these silent communications, you can adjust what and how you continue with your presentation.

When it’s over, make time to reflect and review what happened. Did you get what you wanted or most of it? Think about what worked and what you could have done better. How has this negotiation affected your principal’s perception of you as a librarian and a leader? And when negotiation gets you what you wanted – don’t forget to celebrate.

Quiet Your Inner Critic

Of all the people with whom we communicate with each day, the one we speak to the most is ourselves. And all too often we are not kind. We say to ourselves things we would never say to anyone else. And we certainly wouldn’t be saying it so often. Yet, each day the barrage continues, and it takes a toll.

A result of this negative self-talk is a decrease in our ability to believe in ourselves. When something new comes up, we step back, sure if we take on this challenge, we will mess it up. Our inner critic blocks our path to leadership, adds to our stress, and it leads to feelings of overwhelm and burnout.

But how can we turn off, or at least turn down, the critic that lives inside us? It’s not as if we seek it out. It speaks up almost without us being aware of it. And there is the core of the answer. Being aware of your self-critic is the first step.

In a recent article on Edutopia, Kailyn Fullerton presents the following  7 Ways to Identify and Overcome Self-Criticism:

  1. Understand the negativity bias -Fullerton explains it’s natural. All animals are hard-wired to identify threats, humans included. Unfortunately, we do this even when the situation isn’t dire and as such, look for – and find – all the things going wrong at any given moment. By being aware of this bias, we can notice when it’s not serving us, when it’s not true, and even when others are doing it by having their focus solely on what they think is wrong.  
  2. Monitor your inner voice –What are those negative phrases that play in a loop in your head? Fullerton says these self-critical statements often repeat themselves and suggests identifying your “top ten.”  The “shoulda,” “coulda,” “woulda”s” are always up there, along with “I always,” and  “I never.” Absolutes in a statement are usually a warning. Putting this negative self talk to a “truth test” will help remind you see where the critic is lying.
  3. Set realistic expectations – Having high expectations isn’t a problem as long as you accept the learning and growing process that goes with it. Otherwise, you give your inner critic a space for those negative phrases (back to Monitor Your Inner Voice). Remember, too, that depending on the importance of the task, excellent and “good enough” can be sufficient. Learning takes time, and you can’t rush it.
  4. Create realistic goals – Don’t set yourself up for failure. Is what you want to do likely to happen given all the interruptions you face or do you need more time? Don’t forget the “A” in a SMART goal. If it’s not reasonably achievable, don’t make it goal however much you want to get it. Find a way to break it into something smaller. You can also try the W-O-O-P (Wish-Outcome-Obstacles-Plan) method for creating goals recommended by Fullerton which allows you to acknowledge the things that will get in your way and how to manage them..
  5. Find the helpers – Who can you turn to? Rather than beating yourself up or venting too often and sounding negative, look for supporters. Let those you have a good relationship with knew you are trying to find a solution to some challenges. If you don’t have a mentor, look for one or turn to library-related social media. Someone has already experienced this and will be glad to offer advice and support.
  6. Give yourself a break – If you criticize yourself, you can also be kind. Create a practice of self-compassion. Tell yourself supportive things. My favorite reminder is, “I have done tough stuff before and faced difficult challenges, I will do so again”. The advice is old but true, “Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone else.” Acknowledge how difficult something is, recognize that this is part of the process, part of being human, and then say something kind to yourself. “I am taking on a big goal. I knew this would be hard but worth it. I am learning and getting closer to my goal every day.” It’s a worthwhile shift and you’ll feel your emotions and energy lift.
  7. Look for the good – Mute that inner critic by loading up with self-congratulatory thoughts.  This counteracts the negativity bias. Do it just for yourself. Make note of your successes. Savor compliments you get. Keep track of them. Create a Success Journal (this is the action that works for me). It’s so easy to overlook what went well. Moments of joy and positivity can make a difference.

Your inner critic is not going to become silent. Note that the title of the article was “Quiet Your Inner Critic” not eliminate it. As Fullerton says, your inner critic is natural and, sadly, well developed. Notice it, release it, find supportive truths, and be kind to yourself and others.

Achieve Your Goals

I often cite Yogi Berra’s quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” It’s goals which help us identify our direction and give us a focus for what we do. Goals motivate us to go forward, raise our awareness of procrastination, and give us a sense of achievement.

Except when they don’t.

Setting goals isn’t the hard part – reaching them is. So many goals, whether personal or professional, are set with great enthusiasm. But we don’t always get what we aim for. The result is we feel defeated. We lose faith in our ability to make changes. Rather than blame ourselves for not achieving our goals, we need to look at what may have gone wrong in our approach.

A post on Dialogue Works entitled “Have You Ever Eaten a Bicycle? offers 11 steps for achieving your goals. The title refers to the author’s college roommate attempted to eat a bicycle – one teaspoon at a time. Here are the steps along with my reflections.

  1. Start where you are – Sometimes the way we write our goals sets us up for failure. Be realistic about your starting point in connection with where you want to go. If teachers aren’t collaborating with you, don’t start with a goal for getting an entire grade or department to work with you before the year is over. Find the best first step.
  2. Strive for 1% improvement – A small goal with regular progress is better than an overwhelming large goal that leaves you feeling defeated. Having one teacher collaborate with you who has never done so before is an achievement. Succeeding with one give you the motivation to reach for a second.
  3. Create a specific plan – It’s the “S” in a SMART goal. Without the specifics, it’s hard to find your starting point. Using the collaboration assignment, a goal to work collaboratively with a grade level is too general. Instead, identify a teacher you are friendly with and a unit you know that teacher will be doing. Start specific and build from there.
  4. Be consistent – Related to “strive for 1%, if you can’t be consistent in the steps toward your goal, then it may be time to change the goal (and go back to 1-3 for that). When working consistently, be aware of the steps and timeline of your plan. The plan is your “How,” the timeline is the “when” in your goal. Without a timeline, you are always starting tomorrow.
  5. Expect setbacks – Not only expect – accept them. It is rare when a plan goes exactly as outlined. Be prepared to adjust. For example, if the teacher is absent on the day you planned to initiate the conversation, you will need to go back a step and set up a new date. The date changed, not the goal.
  6. Forgive the fail– This is critical. Beating yourself up is an excuse not to keep trying. The article stresses, “You are not your performance.” Failing isn’t missing the target. Failing is not staying committed to the goal. Learn from what happened to tweak your plan.
  7. Keep moving – The author’s roommate didn’t stop after the first bite. Expand your plan and build on your success. Where can you reach out next? What’s the next 1%?
  8. Make adjustments – Different from “expecting setbacks,” this asks us to look at our results when they aren’t what we want. Is there something we’re doing or saying that is causing us to miss the mark? (Look for an upcoming book on successful communication I am doing for Libraries Unlimited.) Becoming attuned to how people react to you – and your reaction to them affects whether you will reach them with your plan.
  9. Build support – Mentors are great. Do you know another librarian who frequently collaborates with teachers? Ask for their help. Have them explain how they established their connection. Use social media as another source of advice. You can also look for someone with the same goal and work to support and encourage each other.
  10. Don’t compare – Only compare with yourself. Measure your success and progress against how far you’ve come, not based on how someone else looks as though they are doing. You don’t know the other person’s entire situation. I have a friend who says, “Don’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside.”
  11. Celebrate your successes – Each step accomplished deserves a personal acknowledgement of your achievement. Each 1%, consistent step, failure released, and adjustment made deserves recognition. Don’t wait for the big finish – although you definitely need to celebrate that. Keep yourself motivated by noticing your wins along the way.

Four months into the year and most of the way through the school year, it can be hard to remember the goals we started with, but by remembering where we want to go, making a plan, and taking the action to get closer, our goals are within reach.

Finding Happiness

I blogged about Happiness back in January but since I’ve noticed happiness and unhappiness are the subject of many blogs and posts, I thought it worthwhile to look at it again with another perspective. So many people have happiness as a goal. In the United States, the “pursuit of happiness” is listed right after life and liberty. But is that how you wish to invest your time and effort? Is it a worthy goal?

While there are many things that make me happy, the underlying sense of happiness I feel most of the time comes from having a life of purpose and meaning. It comes from making my choices based on my priorities, purpose, and passion and living that with others.

My priorities are my family, myself (self-care), and my profession. My purpose is to show librarians they are leaders and build more librarian leaders. My passion is promoting the value of school librarians and the work they do.

Guided by these three P’s, I know what new tasks I will undertake and which ones I will refuse. Yes, I still wind up with a lot on my plate. And sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s all doing stuff I love. And it brings me happiness.

LaRae Quy agrees. She suggests we focus on living “a eudaemonic life…purposeful, full of meaning” and offers the following 4 Reasons Why a Good Life Is More Important than Happiness:

  1. Fewer Regrets – Your life may not have turned out the way you thought it would. You may be miles away from where you started. If you’re feeling unsure, Quy suggests you check your inner compass, and find “the individual purpose in your lives.” It may take time to discover, but it’s time well spent.

Think about what you are doing and how it fits with your life’s purpose, the change you want to contribute to with your time, talents, and efforts. Monetary compensation is rarely great if you are in education, but knowing you make a difference in others’ lives may connect with your purpose. And if you are not recognized for your contribution, then work on enlightening them.

  • Noble Sacrifices – If you are school librarian, you obviously sought more than financial rewards. Obstacles and difficulties are a part of life. As Quy points out, “If something is important to us, we will endure the pain to make it happen.” And through those challenging times we learn and grow.

You are making a noble sacrifice when you go that extra mile – or mile and a half—for someone else or for a program you believe in. It happens when you volunteer for your state school library association, or anytime you voluntarily step out of your comfort zone. And you will get more than you give.

  • Significant Relationships – Quy asks us to look at the important people in your life. Do their values match yours? The old expression, “tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is a good reminder. It’s not the purpose of someone else to make you happy, but they shouldn’t be draining you of your happiness.

Some relationships are toxic. They are exhausting. You steel yourself for every conversation knowing they will be complaining or ranting about something. If they are not family or someone you work with, look for ways to end the relationship or add distance in it. By contrast, Quy cites a 75-year study showing that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

  • Clear Sense of Direction – Quy asks, “If you had a year to live, what would you do?” I think too many people would think first of their bucket list. My question is, “What you want your eulogy to say?”  We may or may not believe in the afterlife, but there is an “after life” when you are remembered.

A life focused on pursuing happiness won’t be remembered for long. You are touching lives today that will be affected many years into the future. And they will be passing down the wisdom they learned from you.

Take joy in life. Celebrate happy times and achievements. Just don’t make happiness the only goal. As the late Gilda Radnor in her Roseanne Roseannadanna persona famously said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Things happen. Keep your priorities, purpose, and passion close to you. You’ll be happier for it.

Life is a Marathon

More than two years after the beginning of the pandemic, thinking about masks, reaching for the hand sanitizer, getting vaccines and boosters has become our new normal, but we want it to be over. The reality, which we already know, is that it never will be over. And on the horizon are the next changes and new challenges. Life is truly a marathon, long and winding. All of it requiring our energy and attention. How well we do in this race depends on our mindset and willingness to learn so we are ready as we can be for what comes next.

In The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On, RapidStart Leadership further develops the familiar life-as-a-marathon example. When the pandemic started, we dug down to do what was necessary. But it lasted so much longer. And we are tired. We are now at what RapidStart calls the 18th mile, the true test of a marathoner. The beginning excitement (or, in our case, the willingness to take on the challenge) has faded, and we are faced with miles to go before the finish line. This is the true test of our resolve and our leadership.

Directed to the business world, RapidStart offers the following 7 steps – along with my tweaks and comments they are:

  1. Expect it – Anything long term hits this point. When you are a leader, you often are involved in complex, sometimes multi-year, projects. It’s around here where things start to go wrong and it’s harder to find the energy to invest. What strategies do you have in place to deal with this point? How about a mini celebration of the distance you have travelled?
  2. Put in the miles – Doing the work means continuing to learn what you need to do the new and old tasks. It also means once you’ve gone this far in the past, you can go further in the future. And as you go further, remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Look to the other “runners” for support. Make use of your PLN.
  3. Recognize when it comes – If you expect the stress and stumbling blocks, you will be better at recognizing it. Notice changes to your mindset and focus. When you are ready to call it a day before the day has begun, you know you have reached that point. Put your strategies into play.
  4. Pace wisely – Enthusiasm is great, but it can burn out quickly in the enormity of what you are facing. Likewise, starting out too fast can mean you have nothing in reserve. A fast start is fine, but don’t keep that pace. And when you’re flagging, what keeps your reserves up? Time for family and friends and time for yourself are musts. You can’t keep drawing water from the same well without it running dry at some point. Brain, body, and spirit all need to be refreshed regularly.
  5. Watch for the “reveal” – The 18th mile is where you see what you are made of — your commitment to your Mission and Vision. Your perseverance. The longer the project, the more likely the shine is going to come off and you’ll get to see the truth of this work and its impact. Who is still with you? Who’s dropped off? Assess how things are going. Where are there weaknesses that can use some extra support? Whether it’s a pandemic or a project, you are in this together.
  6. Go mental – The power of the brain over your attitude has long been noted. RapidStart says where runners count steps or sing songs, we should look to our why. When fatigue and doubt arise, revisit your vision for and the purpose of the project. There is more to come, but you can do it. You know it because you have already done so much. Review the many accomplishments and milestones you have achieved.
  7. Enjoy the journey – Or as RightStart says, “embrace the suck.” Not every part of the journey will be filled with joy, but these important projects are worth the time and effort. Going through this process, especially with collaborators, brings you all closer together, even (especially?) when it’s challenging.  Find ways to make time for fun and laugh when the situation gets tough, knowing it’s just one more step closer to the goal.

No matter what a project — or life — throws at you, don’t be stopped by the 18th mile. Keep the end (and your Vision) in sight, work with your team, and look forward to reaching that distant and important goal. Maybe we’ll even get a T-shirt at the end!

Lessons from Life

Life lessons are what you draw on when times are tough, and these are tough times.  What you have learned gives you the strength and courage and knowledge. It shows you what you are capable of. You faced difficulties before and survived – even triumphed. 

Frank Sonnenberg’s Facts of Life – Grown-up Version had me thinking of lessons I have learned over the years. For me, the ones that come immediately to mind are:

  • Family First – For a long time I said family was my first priority, but my choices didn’t reflect that. A part of me felt they would understand and be there when I had the time, but as time passed, I was sorry for what I was missing.  Now, my choices and stated priority match.
  • This Will Change –   This is a good mantra in good times and tough ones.  It reminds me to cherish and savor the good times – little as well as big. Life never goes in one direction. For every valley, there’s a hill. For every hill, a valley.
  • Be Grateful – It’s important to me to stop and notice – especially in those valley times – all that I have to appreciate. It not only keeps me from taking for granted what I have, but brings me joy in the moment.
  • Together Is Better Than Alone – Even if it won’t be done my way, it might be even better. I have come to see the wisdom of, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Together has proven to be better.
  • Relationship Before Tasks –Connecting or re-connecting with the person I am going to be working with on a project makes the task go smoother. And, as in the lesson above – helps us to go further.
  • Listen! – As someone who talks a lot, this is a lesson I am always learning. It’s hard to hold back when my experience or excitement has something to say, but when I focus on what the other person is saying, I can hear what is being said, what isn’t, and develop a stronger connection.

Sonnenberg lists fifteen lessons. See which ones resonate for you – which you have learned, and which you are still learning.

  1. Your mindset matters more than you think – I’ve written a lot about how a negative mindset affects every aspect of your life. Same is true of a positive one. At any moment, we have the power to choose.
  2. Your life is determined by the sum of your choices – And if a choice didn’t work out, then that’s the lesson to learn. Next time you’ll make a different one. The learning never ends.
  3. There’s a difference between motion and movement – This has to do with knowing where you want to go. A treadmill vs a walk to the store. Both are exercise, but different results. Are you going through the motions or are you creating movement? (Hint: Does it further your Mission and Vision?)
  4. Own your life – Taking responsibility for what we choose – the mistakes and the successes – is part of growth as adults. Also, be careful of places where you are giving away responsibility for things you should be doing for you.
  5. Be a good person. Everything else is secondary – It starts with the person in the mirror. Kindness to ourselves and others. Things are replaceable. People – including you – are not.
  6. Instant gratification does not guarantee lifelong happiness – There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with some instant gratification but don’t allow short term desires to get in the way of long-term goals.
  7. To-do lists can be unproductive – This is related to the motion vs. movement idea. We’ve all had busy days where nothing really gets done. Keep your priorities clear and create progress on them.
  8. Make your priorities a priority – As mentioned above, in your professional and personal lift, live your priorities. Your actions speak louder than your words, and your real priorities go beyond work.
  9. Everything worthwhile requires an element of sacrifice – You will have to give up something (probably an instant gratification moment) to have what you want. This is where knowing and living your priorities comes in.
  10. Determination is habit forming; so is quitting – Those sacrifices? They will add up to you living up to your word, keeping your commitments, and reaching your goals. This will define you as a leader and allow people to trust you.
  11. Make personal development a priority – Invest in yourself. This can also be personal as well as professional. Keep up with changes and pursue things that interest you. As I’ve written before – You are either growing or you are dying.
  12. View feedback as an opportunity – It’s part of the learning process. It’s information and helps you to know whether to keep going in the same direction or if it’s time for a course correction.
  13. It’s so easy to lose sight of the things you can’t see – And yet, it’s the ones you can’t see, like love, trust, and honor that are the most valuable.
  14. Money can’t buy respect – An old and true saying. It’s true of a job title as well. Earn the respect of those you work (and live) with by keeping your word, living your priorities, listening and engaging.
  15. Invest in relationships to avoid the time repairing themThis is so important, again in and out of work. Do what it takes to keep the trust (and respect) you earn. Professionally, we can never lose sight of the fact that we are in a relationship business. Without relationships, we are out of business.

There are lessons all around us and we’re always able – if we’re willing – to learn. From the good and the bad times, from the supportive administrators and the difficult ones, from the willing students and the demanding ones. Our priorities in and out of work and the choices we make around them will give us the movement we’re looking for. And remember – things will change.