ON LIBRARIES: When In Doubt

It takes a certain amount of courage to be a leader.  If you read this blog regularly or attend one of my workshops, you’ve heard me say leaders must take risks and move out of their comfort zone. That leads me to my question – do you doubt you have the kind of courage necessary?

For some of you, the idea of taking a risk is paralyzing.  It’s natural to want to keep your head down and continue doing what is working.  You may have some good reasons for not taking a chance.  Librarian positions have been drastically cut not only in this country but worldwide and those that remain are frequently overloaded. You may be covering more schools and lost any staff you had. There is no time to add anything to your schedule.

So the doubt creeps in.

If you take a risk and get it wrong, you could be putting your job on the line. At least that’s the story you tell yourself. Seeing this in print may remind you of a blog I did in 2015, The Stories We Tell Ourselves or the one I did last February, More Stories.  Since we all have a tendency to fall back into old habits, it bears repeating.

The self-doubt is tied to Imposter Syndrome which I have discussed in Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Option.   Imposter Syndrome is the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it. You don’t know enough.  You will fail. It may even be there when you succeed, telling you this was a onetime thing. There are probably a number of other negative things this voice is telling you and when you listen, it’s keeping you from taking that risk, from moving out of your comfort zone.

This week I have two articles which I think offer some great ways to move through self-doubt. I’ve added my comments and connections to our work for each one. First, Jeff Barton suggests four ways to help you get past self-doubt in Why Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Begin to Overcome It:

  1. Self-Reflection Make an honest self-reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. You do have strengths – quite a few, in fact. You might want to work on the weaknesses, but for that first step past self-doubt try a project or take on a task (run for an office, do a presentation) that focuses on and uses your strengths.
  2. Avoid Perfectionism –You will never get it all right. Any author can tell you they proof-read many times. So does their editor.  Then the book (or the blog) comes out, they immediately see an error.  Nothing I have ever done has been perfect.  Reach for excellence and for improving on what you’ve done before.
  3. Comparison to Others – We always see what others do better than us. This is related to focusing on our weaknesses. We don’t look at the corollary—what we do better than others. Our assumption is, if we do it well, others must also be doing it well.  We can’t really know if that’s true. In addition, you can’t know another person’s struggle or process. Comparing yourself is a waste of time and attention.
  4. Self-Compassion – Treat yourself as you treat others. You are kinder, gentler with others than you are to yourself.  We would never say to a friend or loved one many of the things we say to ourselves.

Petrea Hansen-Adamidis gives 5 Steps to Deal with Self-Doubt and Trust Yourself Again. Some of you may never have trusted yourself, but this is a big factor in dealing with self-doubt.

  1. Ground Yourself – The thought of taking risk is likely to have your brain whirling with the many negative comments you are saying about yourself making it hard to go beyond thinking of the potential risk. Notice the noise. Then focus by writing down the pros and cons of a project.  And ask yourself that classic question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  2. Balance the Negative – Find more ways to answer the negative self-talk with kindness. Keep a journal/log of your successes.  Include any positive comments you get from students, teachers, parents, administrators. Read through them before tackling something new.
  3. Take a Break – Step away from the problem/issue. Do something else. I walk. By the time I get back, I have come up with several ways to deal with it. You may want to knit, listen to a podcast, color, bake.  Get creative – and fun – with the ways you choose to step away from the challenge.
  4. Nurture Yourself – This is like self-compassion, but it can also mean healthy eating and getting enough sleep as I recommend last week in Positive Self-Care. When you aren’t tired and filled with junk food, you are in a better frame of mind which will mute much of the self-doubts. It’s also a way of acknowledging your own importance to yourself and others.
  5. Connect with Others – Who are your cheerleaders? We all have people in our lives who believe in us.  Talk to them. Let them give you a pep talk.  After all, you would do it for them.

Bestselling author Brené Brown, whose work on shame, self-doubt, and leadership is truly inspiring writes, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Give it a little thought. What’s your choice?

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ON LIBRARIES – Risk and Reward

Leaders take risks.  You are all aware of that, and that awareness leads to something we don’t like to talk about.  In 2015, I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves. I skipped a big one.

The story we tell ourselves is that if we take a risk we’ll embarrass ourselves so badly we won’t be able to face our colleagues and administrators.  It could even potentially cause us to lose our job. And that story is the secret reason why some librarians avoid taking on the challenge of leadership.

Fear of failure can be crippling.  It keeps you from growing.  Oddly enough, the converse is an equally big barrier—fear of success.  If you are successful, people will expect you to continue to do more.

And just like the other stories, it is only that —a story.  No one is suggesting you suddenly decide to campaign to redesign your library as a learning commons if you have never done anything to make your presence known in your building, but you do need to take some first steps.  You do need to build some “street cred” first.

Start small. Share your knowledge of new web and app resources by sending weekly emails to teachers describing just one, explaining how it could be used, and offering to provide one-on-one help for them to learn it.  Include your principal in the email. You may not get any takers at first, but eventually one will click with a teacher.  Slowly, teachers will begin to recognize the help you can give them.

There is no risk in doing that, but two important little goals have been achieved.  You have stepped out of your comfort zone, and teachers begin to take you into consideration when planning a unit. And those two accomplishments are the first building blocks of that very important “street cred.” Look for other no-risk or minimal risk ideas.

Try a book club.  If you don’t know how to do it, ask your library colleagues on your state association’s listserv or other places where librarians help each other. LM_NET is the big one, but there are many more.  Once you know what you are doing, speak with your administrator before putting it in place. Explain your goal for the program, how you plan to run it, and acknowledge there is no guarantee it will work but is worth a try.

If you launch the club, send updates on activities and accomplishments to your principal. Include videos of the kids discussing the books.  Now you have demonstrated your value to the administration.  And your reputation as a leader begins to grow.

Then it’s time to take a few bigger risks. Gardening projects have proved very successful at the elementary level.  There are connections to STEAM and the produce can be given to the cafeteria, to food banks, or a local shelter depending on what seems best for your community.

Other low- risk projects include starting Hour of Code or a Makerspace. For either of those ideas, you can get all the help you need in organizing it from other librarians. We are an incredibly supportive profession.

These early risks build your confidence and you can begin to look for other possibilities. Are you thinking of genre-fying your collection?  How about a Skype author visit?  What about a joint project with students in another school district—or country? Before long you might even be ready to turn your library into the learning commons that had seemed an impossibility.

Being a building leader is vital.  If you and your program are to thrive you must demonstrate you are invaluable to the entire educational community.  Now that you see that risks don’t result in those disasters you imagined, you can step even further out of your comfort zone.

Take your place among leaders.  There is always room for more.  Choose one of your new successful programs and write a proposal to present it at your state conference.  You may think it’s been done, but there are always librarians who haven’t tried it, and you bring your unique perspective to it. If it’s selected let your principal know.  It will build your reputation even further.

Serve on one of your state association committees.  Better yet volunteer to do the same in AASL or ISTE. Although it’s too late for this year’s AASL Conference IdeaLab, start planning to do it in two years at the next AASL conference.  You would be in a large room with many other librarians all presenting their best ideas. You talk one-on-one with those who stop and want more information.  Totally non-intimidating.

The first step in becoming a leader is deciding to step out of your comfort zone.  Every leader has done so.  I still take on challenges wondering how I am going to do it, but somehow it almost always works.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone?  What did you do?  What was the result? Where do you need help?