Build Your Confidence

Leaders are risk-takers. You can’t make changes or achieve your Vision unless you take risks. But risks imply the possibility of failure. (Did you get a sinking feeling in your stomach?) In order to take on the challenge of stepping out of our comfort zones and taking risks, we need to build our confidence. As with learning anything new, it starts with baby step. Just like exercising, the hardest step is lacing up your sneakers—or in this case, determining to build your confidence and take risks.

In Build Confidence in Yourself and Your Leadership, Gregg Vanourek lists the various benefits of confidence (including improving health and boosting attractiveness and creativity!) and goes on to list these steps for developing self-confidence:

Focus more on areas of our capability and achievement, and less on areas of weakness and struggle—What are you good at? You may be crafty and/or have artistic ability. Use it to decorate a wall outside the library to call attention to it. Do you write well? Try a newsletter. Are you great at tech? Offer an after-school teach-in on a new resource for students or staff.

Set and meet goals that lead to personal and professional accomplishments– If you have big goals (and most of us do), look for the small ones that will get you there. You don’t have to conquer the world on your first forays. Look at your Mission and Vision. What small goal can showcase your Mission and/or get you closer to your Vision?

Switch off negative self-talk, self-criticism, and limiting beliefs—More than any actual circumstance, this is what stops us most of the time. We judge ourselves much more harshly than we would anyone else. Noticing this negative inner dialogue can help us take risks and build confidence.

Swap in positive thoughts for negative ones—Once you’ve taken steps to switch off the negative self-talk, go one step further by talking to yourself as though you were speaking to a friend. Look to previous successes, positive feedback, and glowing responses.

Face our fears and, in the process, build a sense of agency and capability–What is the worst that can go wrong? Whatever you think that might be, you will recover, learn, and be wiser the next time. You can use the experience to bolster your creativity.

Stop the unhealthy practice of comparing ourselves to othersNever compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. Typically, we focus on their strengths and don’t notice that, like you, they have weaknesses, too. (And you never know when they may see your strengths and compare themselves to you.)

Continue learning, growing, developing, and building new capacities—Work on areas of weaknesses, but also build your strengths. Our world and our profession are constantly evolving. Grow with it.

Engage in consistent self-care practicesYou can’t feel confident if you feel drained and exhausted. Make yourself a priority. You have heard this before. Knowing that increased confidence is a byproduct may make you more willing to take care of yourself.

Speak up for ourselves (self-advocacy)—This can be challenging, but it’s a necessary part of leadership. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s for your program. Look for ways to showcase and promote it to as wide an audience as you can.

Stop thinking in terms of fixed traits (e.g., “I’ve always been bad at math” or “I’m not a confident person”)—Have you ever thought “I am not a leader”? Let go of this belief. You are if you are willing to be. And your students, teachers, and program need you to be a leader.

Think about a time when we felt high confidence and ask how we’d act if we were feeling that way now—You have been successful in the past. How did you feel? You are still that person. Tap into that feeling, remember that energy, and use it going forward.

We know that failure is part of the learning process. We teach that to our students. Yet, when it comes to our own behaviors, we stop short. All we see is the possibility (probability) of making mistakes. Confidence is a combination of mindset and efficacy–the knowledge that you have the ability and the resources needed to complete a task or goal. Have confidence in your knowledge and resources and go for your goals!

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Get Your Motivation Back

Finally, it’s summer break. Time to recover and rejuvenate. And to get your motivation back. You need the time to recover, but summer will slip away before you know it. First, take the time to relax, and then set a date to get yourself ready for the fall so you can bring your passion back to your job.

Need some ideas to spark your motivation? Eric Barker gives some great advice in his article How to Stop Being Lazy and Get More Done – 5 Expert Secrets. While being stressed and exhausted is more our issue than being lazy, his tips will work to help us get on track for a successful school year. Here are his 5 with my usual comments:

  1. Define Goals Properly – Barker recommends four steps to get clear on your goals.

Frame goals as an “end” not a means –By identifying what we want to get, we don’t focus on the boring, “don’t feel like it” steps. We want our goals to excite us, not feel like an added burden.

Keep goals abstract – Rather than focusing on the “How” something is going to get done (more inline with SMART goals), think about your “Why” as you write them.

Set “approach” goals, not “avoidance goals – Keep it positive. Don’t focus on the negatives, such as not doing something. Be aware of the outcome you’re working towards. Bonus points for being clear about how this aligns with your Mission and Vision.

Make goals intrinsic, not extrinsic – Don’t make this about what you think you should be doing. What is it you want to be doing? What excites your passion? Creating a goal from this adds to your ongoing motivation.

2. Set a Target – This is where you can be specific. By when will you start? When do you want to finish? What are some of your target numbers – students reached, modules completed, teacher collaborations. Be clear on the steps you wish to accomplish. And as an additional recommendation, make the steps small so you get lots of wins along the way. The goal and a target together support your motivation.

3. Monitor Your Progress – Keep track of all the targets you achieve. It spurs you on. This is why I keep a Success Journal next to my computer. You can create a spreadsheet, keep a log, reward yourself. Whatever works, so you see the steps you’re taking.

4. Beware the Long Middle – Life is a marathon and so are goals for the school year. As the days go by, it can get harder to keep pushing through, and this is where you can lose that motivation. Every so often, pause and note how much you have accomplished. Barker recommends you “shorten the middle.” If you’ve been tracking progress monthly, switch to weekly. If weekly, switch to daily. The extra boost will help. When you are past the midpoint, look ahead and note how close you are to your goal.

5. Think about Your Future Self – This is an important shift that allows you to look at the bigger picture. Baker writes that thinking about our future results allows us to make better choices in the present. Reflect on the difference between how you’ll feel about yourself if you keep putting off the hard work rather than going for something you are passionate about.

Wherever you are on your summer break, this is a short reminder that you can have fun and still be productive. And when the school year does begin again, these five tips can keep you going. Recovery is important. But set a date to get motivated for fall. Put it on your calendar. Set an alarm. The important thing is get started.

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.

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?

ON LIBRARIES: Turning Hope Into Action

The posts and comments are familiar and often repeated. We are exhausted.  It’s been going on too long.  We hoped it would be over by now. A note of despair has entered our lives. The old normal will never be back. I’m hearing and reading more absolute terms being used such as the “never” in the previous sentence.  Or “always” as in, “it’s always going to be this way.”  We need to be careful of thoughts like that. It is a mindset that feeds despair and drains us of something vital – hope.

Our world has always been filled with “ills and diseases,” but hope is there as well. As Emily Dickinson has said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”  Perhaps we need to give the tune words. Hope is vital to our well-being.  We need to nourish it. Instead of thinking of hope as wish, take steps that will bring it to life.

In a long post on 3 Things the Most Resilient People Do Every Day, Eric Barker proposes a simple approach for creating hope.  His idea is to “Fill the Gap” with the formula:

Goals + Agency + Pathways = Hope.

Only three steps, but it takes work  – and time – to correct our negative mindsets.

Goals – Always a powerful place to start.  You write them for your library and for your lessons. Perhaps you write them for personal achievements.  But to use goals for creating hope is a bit different.

If you are accustomed to writing SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), how can this work for Hope? Baker says begin the process by starting a sentence with “I want …”  But then make it more specific.  For example, if you start with “I want to build a relationship with my principal,” drill down to “I will research my principal online, and regularly send them a link to something that interests them along with new achievements from the library.”

What goal might foster hope?  Perhaps if you notice yourself using never and always too often, you can set a goal of “I will decrease (don’t try to eliminate) absolutes in my language by changing the wording after I use them.”

Agency – This is the action step.  Agency is what gets and keeps you moving. It’s related to persistence and perseverance.

As I have seen in WW (formerly Weight Watchers), it’s easy for people to leave the program when they experience a setback.  Agency means you make a choice to continue even when it gets difficult.  If you think you quit, share your goal with a friend.  That tends to cause you to be more accountable.

And to keep yourself going, don’t beat yourself up when you have a bad day and fail to follow one of the steps towards your goal.  That way leads to defeatism and abandoning what you want to achieve (and an absolute “See, I’m never going to get this right”).  Instead, focus on previous successes you have had after experiencing a setback. You have done it before, and you can do it again. This is part of the process not an end to it.

Pathways – You have to have a plan.  As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  Barker says to visualize the path, and by that he doesn’t mean dream.  That might be how you start, but you must take action and move along the path in specific ways to get to your goal.

Your opening steps are probably obvious. You are going to outline textually or visually how you are going to reach the end.  The opening is easy.  The middle is where things tend not to go as planned (and where agency helps).  You are on your way.  If things veer off course, you need to find an alternative or create a new plan.  It happens.  Just remember what I said in Agency, “you have succeeded before and you will succeed again.”

These three pieces together – a goal, the agency to stick with it, and a path to follow – can lead to an increase in hope. According to the Greek legend, Pandora was given a box with all the world’s ills and diseases. She opened it, letting them all out. When the box was shut, only hope remained inside. I like to believe she opened the box once more and let it out. The uncertainty of our time, not knowing what will happen next, and fear tend to keep us in despair. By giving yourself a direction you want to go – something with more certainty – will bring hope.  And that hope will make you feel more positive about today, tomorrow, and the days beyond.

ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.

ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Why

Being a school librarian is a demanding job.  We love it – until we don’t.  Too many added tasks.  Too little appreciation.  Fear of being eliminated.  All these contribute to losing our passion for what I think is the greatest job in the world.  Don’t let outside forces drain the love you have for being a librarian.  When times get tough, having a limited view of our purpose can cause us to give up.  You need to identify your “Why.” When you make this connection you’ll be able to tap into your passion and even bad days will go better.

I first learned about “Why” in Weight Watchers.  Everyone joins to lose weight.  That’s obvious.  Some people have more specific or focused reasons such as wanting to lose weight for a special event such as a wedding.  They achieve that limited goal being at or close to their desired weight for the event. Then what?  They go back to their old ways of eating and the weight comes back with interest. Or they find a bigger Why and keep going.

When I first joined fourteen years ago, I wanted to look better in clothes and pictures. What’s kept me going all this time, my bigger Why, is my continuing good health and being able to enjoy the foods I like and not put on pounds.  I don’t have to be perfect, and my Why keeps me on track.

So, when it comes to your work, what is your Why?  It is not the same thing as your Mission.  Your Mission is your purpose for being a librarian, but it’s not why you are doing it.

For example, here are two well-crafted Mission Statements:

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become lifelong users of information and also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.
  • The Mission of the Blank School Media Center Program is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.

Is that Why you became a librarian or is that what you are committed to doing because of why you became a librarian?  Why speaks to the purpose for your life.

My Why is tied to who I am as a person.  I want to reflect back to people (students and teachers and everyone I connect with) the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it in their lives so they see and believe it. I can carry out much of that in a library with either of those two Mission Statements – or many other equally good statements.  But when overwhelmed or having administration block my ability to carry out my Mission Statement, rather than feeling hopeless, I can go to my Why.

In a post on Goalcast, Scarlett Erin says, “Your ‘Why’ Matters” and gives 10 benefits for knowing your purpose in life.

  1. It helps you stay focused: Just as your library Mission Statement does, this gives you a larger and more personal perspective on what really matters.
  2. It makes you feel passionate about your goal: It’s more than doing a great job; it’s about making a difference.
  3. It gives your life clarity: Knowledge is power. When you know yourself, it’s easy to make choices.
  4. It makes you feel gratified: When you see you made a difference, you automatically feel great.
  5. It helps you live a value-based life: You recognize and embrace the values that represent who you are.
  6. It makes you live with integrity: When you know who you are and what matters to you, you realize these are core values that can’t be compromised. You can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to requests more easily by staying aligned with your values.
  7. It encourages trust: Because you are confident with who you are, you are more open to others.
  8. It infuses an element of grace in your life: Your life is smoother, with fewer trips and stutters, because you act from a deeper place, aligned with what matters to you.
  9. It helps you find a flow in life: Fears are easier to manage because you trust yourself and accept whatever happens you can stay grounded and centered.
  10. It makes life even more fun: You are more likely to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening as it occurs.

During your break as you are taking time, I hope, to do the things you love and that fill you up (see last weeks blog on this), I hope you also take time to reflect and determine what your Why is. Having fun and being relaxed is the best time to connect with and be aware of the things that most matter to you.