Tired of It All

Is it me or is February the fourteen month of 2020? We have been carrying so much for so long, but even with vaccines being distributed and administered, the pandemic marches on. When does it end? When can we put the burden down? The longer it goes on, the longer we have to push out the deadline for returning to “normal”, the harder it is.

We and everyone around us are continually exhausted. Lisa Kohn tells those in the business world How to Keep Leading When It Starts Getting “Old.” Some of her ideas are not new, but the reminder is helpful as we continue to lead despite the exhaustion.

Keep a Sense of Humor – Laughter is the best medicine is not just a maxim, it’s a fact. It changes the body chemistry for the better. Our need for laughter is possibly one reason for all the jokes and cartoons on Facebook and other social media. Sometimes it’s the black humor reminiscent of the Korean War set sitcom M*A*S*H, but it makes us laugh, and it eases some of the exhaustion. Laughter is also contagious. It brings out the best in other people. Then they can be more light-hearted and able to bring humor and new focus to the situation. 

Keep Things in Perspective – Tiredness leads to a mindset focused on negative absolutes. “This is never going to end.” “I will never have my library back again.” “Everybody is too stressed to work with me on a project.” Having these thoughts too often in the course of the day adds to a sense of hopelessness, contributing to exhaustion. The truth is not everything is in bad shape. Which leads to –

Look for What’s Good – Where has the pandemic given you new opportunities? What new contacts have you made? Find things that make you happy. What puts a smile on your face? It can be the smallest thing that helps you to balance out the barrage of negative news. I am sometimes stopped in my tracks while watching a bird find food in the snow. It may take more looking than usual, but the good is there.

Up the Self-Care – We are drained by continual stressful situations that trigger the fight/flight/flee mode. Self-care is an important means of combatting this. If you are having trouble giving yourself the time, you need to restore and rejuvenate (or at least step back a bit), put it on your to-do list. Remember, self-care is emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Have you tapped into all those areas to ensure you are taking care of yourself? Doing this for yourself will help you notice when those around you need more too.

Connect with Others – However You Can – We are social creatures, and the change and decrease in our interactions has been hard on everyone (even introverts!). Reach out to people professionally and personally. Like self-care, this can be part of your to-do list—something to look forward to. When I started making these calls, I thought I was doing it for them, but I have seen how much it brings to me. Have you noticed how many people are sending good morning messages via social media these days? It’s just one more way to get some of the human connection we need.

Acknowledge It’s Getting Old – No question about it. It’s a case of been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it. Being honest about your feelings strengthens your bonds with others and allows them to be honest about where they may be struggling. Acknowledging the situation reinforces that we are all in this together, and together we will get through it.

Plan for the Future –Planning for the future, even knowing that it will not be the same as what was, is an important and positive act. It is also a part of self-care. Allow yourself see beyond the challenges of the present. It doesn’t matter what the future actually turns out to be. The act of thinking about it gives free rein to ideas that you might be able to incorporate into whatever happens. In the meantime, you will have given yourself the gift of dreaming.

One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic has been how long it’s lasted coupled with not knowing how much longer it’s going to go on. Adapting and readapting is draining when you don’t know where the finish line is – or it keeps getting moved. Adding some of these ideas to your plans will hopefully help you, your program – and even your family – get through it all a little easier. And a little easier would be a lot welcome.

ON LIBRARIES: Being Resilient

The last nine to ten months have presented most of us with unprecedented levels of stress. As each month passes it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain our energy and motivation. Resilience is necessary for survival, and with so many counting on us it’s vital that we develop ours as much as we can. A few weeks ago I blogged on this topic. I think it deserves reviewing, especially as we move into the holidays.

Merriam-Webster defines resilience as:

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

While the second definition is the one that most logically applies, the first has a strong connection as well.  I certainly feel my body has been compressed by being emotionally battered on nearly every level. Whether it’s news reports, social media, or hearing from friends and family, life can seem bleak with only the hope of a vaccine soon-to-come that seems a light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite all the negatives, it is my belief you can always find some positives in difficult situations and times.  Building resilience won’t make problems disappear, but it will help you manage them. By working on becoming more resilient, we develop or add skills and capacities we can use even when we emerge from the overpowering presence of COVID-19.

The Mayo Clinic offers six techniques on the subject in Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardship. I like the word “endure.”  It’s a reminder that we are in an ongoing cycle.  No matter how good we are today, we must get up tomorrow and do it again.  You might find their tips familiar, but it’s important to keep them in mind so you keep working at resilience.

Get connected – Isolation is damaging to mental health and therefore resilience.  Zoom meetings in and of themselves are not enough of a connection.  Your PLN on social media can be an outlet to talk about challenges and get supportive feedback.  Having an opportunity to help someone else who is struggling will also bolster your own resilience.

Take time to make phone calls. It is not as good as speaking to someone face-to-face, but it brings you closer because it’s one-to-one.  If you need to, schedule the calls to ensure you make the connection.  Reach out to family, friends, and colleagues who live alone.  The stress is likely heavier on them.

Make every day meaningful – Many have noted how the days blur, one into the next. Try to distinguish the days and look for things that might add something special. It doesn’t need take long. It could be that call you make, making a special dessert or other treat, or having dinner delivered.

Keep track of what you accomplished.  You don’t want your achievements to dissolve in the blur of days.  Record them digitally or on paper in a “success journal.”  It will remind you of how much you got done.  If you record professional successes, you can use it to update your principal on what you have been doing.

Learn from experience – You have faced tough times in the past. At the time it seemed insurmountable. How did you get through it? What skills and practices helped you? Who supported and encouraged you? The Mayo Clinic recommends journaling as a reminder of how you succeeded then.  For me, the mantra, “I will get through this.  I always have” is empowering.  Find a way that works for you to keep those previous successes in mind.

Remain hopeful – I have a painting in my office that says “There is always hope.” It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem entitled “Hope.” The first stanza is often in my head these days,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Hope never stops, and we need to hold onto hope.  Nothing stays the same.  This will change. That is my hope – and belief.

Take care of yourself – You know this.  You heard it countless times before the pandemic, and it’s been repeated even more since.  But knowing something and acting on it are two different things.  It’s easy to postpone self-care.  Don’t. Practice the care you know works for you – or try something you’ve been thinking about.

Be pro-active – This is about not ignoring the challenges and problems around you. When you can identify them, you can make a plan and take action. Action helps build resilience. This also means recognizing and accepting when you are struggling so you can seek the help you need. 

And how does all of this connect with your role as a librarian? We all know that we can’t be there for others in a lasting way until we take care of ourselves. If you make some or all of these ideas a part of your life, you’ll feel your resilience – and your ability to recover your size and shape – strengthen. Know that you won’t have the same strength every day. Some days will get to you. When they do, go back to the tools that work when you’re ready and remember there is always hope.

ON LIBRARIES: The Opportunities of Interesting Times

The quote “May you live in interesting times”, which supposedly has a Chinese origin, can be taken two ways. Is it a blessing or a curse? It all depends on how you see interesting times. For some the constant uncertainty is debilitating. Others see new possibilities. The difference is in how you respond, and your reaction is a choice even if you don’t notice making a conscious one.

Either you need to find a way to be proactive and choose to steer in a positive direction, or you’ll end up being reactive and allow the situation to steer you. Both can be exhausting, but with one you’ll likely be more energized and positive.

To actively steer your ship (read: be a leader), you need to be willing to carve out time to analyze your situation and develop a strategy which involves evaluating your assets, strengths and weaknesses, and learning from past behaviors and choices. Once you do this, you must commit to taking action.

In How to Turn Disaster Into Discovery — A Key to ResiliencyEileen McDargh proposes theses six questions to guide you into “intelligent optimism” which in turn will let you find the opportunities in these interesting times:

  1. What has become clear to you in the last few months? You should be able to come up with a number of items. What have you learned about relationships (professional and personal)?  What was true before the pandemic that is still true now?  How has your Mission Statement held up in the face of COVID-19?  How well do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Is this something you’d like to improve?  What’s making you feel successful?  Don’t forget to notice these.
  2. Where are you spending energy without getting the desired results? This is an important question. Are you still locked in tasks that belong to the past and don’t further your aims? The opposite question is equally important. Which use of your energy has been producing positive results? Your plate is very full. It is time to eliminate or minimize time spent on things that don’t move you forward. As we learn from the Pareto Principle or the Law of 80/20, 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But sometimes 80% of the work only brings 20% of the results. It’s time to take a closer look at efforts and results.
  3. If you could start from scratch, how would you redesign your job, this business? This isn’t a question we normally think about, but since normal has taken a vacation, it’s worth considering. You have the opportunity to rethink how the library can function better, reach more students, and be a greater partner to teachers and administrators. Look for how the library can lead the way now and in whatever future is coming. The physical space is part of this envisioning, but so is the digital — and emotional—one. What can be done to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all?  What is your role in this new ecosystem?
  4. What have you uncovered about your personal life that needs to be encouraged? Have you, like many, made more time for friends and relatives. Are you Zooming and calling them on a regular schedule?  How have your interactions at home changed? For the better?  What are you doing for yourself? It’s become very apparent in the last six months how important supportive relationships are. Continue to seek out and nourish these.
  5. How can we grow together as a supportive unit and what do you need from me? I love this question. It is essential that we build relationships and community. This question should be uppermost in your mind as you speak and deal with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. As the ALA initiative says, “Libraries transform communities.” How are you building and transforming yours? And as a bonus, this question may also work well at the dinner table or with your online/virtual social groups.
  6. What are the small steps you can create to work in a more collaborative way? This is where the other questions have been leading us. Here is where you create a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs regular steps – of any size – to take you where you want to go.

Get started now to chart your future. Every few months stop and review these questions to see what new information you can use. Leaders need to know themselves and use that knowledge to plan for the future. When you do that, you can make these interesting times a growth opportunity.