By Meredith Farkas | March 22, 2011
Roy Tennant wrote a terrific post recently about his work habits and personality the other day that got me thinking (see “Living the Just in Time Life”). My first thought was “wow, it’s amazing how much Roy and I like each other given how completely differently we operate.” My second thought was how important it is to know these things about oneself. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing how you work best… all of these are critical to being successful in our lives. I know people who have terrible memories and instead of writing things down, they stubbornly hold onto the idea that they can remember the things they need to do. I think sometimes, when it comes to things about yourself that probably won’t change, it’s important to accept those things and devise strategies to make them work for you.
I remember when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, every time I’d move (to high school, college, a new place, etc.) I’d think that things were going to change in major ways. I could start fresh! I could have a totally different personality in college! I could be so cool in high school! But, nothing major ever really changed. I could move across the country, go to a new school where no one new me, change jobs, etc., but I was still me. And what was good and bad about me still followed me wherever I went. Sure, I’ve changed in many ways over the years, but there are certain aspects of who I am that will never change; that I was born with. I certainly see that with my own son. At almost two, he already has his own very strong personality and it’s not one that I or his father are going to be very successful in changing (nor would we want to).
Over the past 6 years, I have come to know myself much better than ever I did in my early 20s. More importantly, I’ve come to to find strategies for dealing with my weaknesses (rather than thinking I’m going to change in some major, fundamental way) and capitalize on my strengths. I have changed in many ways — I’ve certainly become more patient, more understanding, and more of a leader during the past six years since graduating from library school — but certain things are fundamentally and immutably me:
I’m a slow thinker – I admire Roy for being able to live the “just in time life”, because it’s not me at all. I like to really think about things before making a statement. Speaking off-the-cuff is not my forte. I love blogging because it gives me the time to really consider an issue and reflect on my feelings about it. I like giving talks, because in creating the slides, I have time to think about what I want to say about each one. I don’t create a script, nor do I do much in the way of rehearsal anymore, but I’m not a person comfortable with being part of a keynote presentation only moments after I find out I’m doing it. I admire people like Marshall, Roy and Stephen who can.
I’m stubborn – and I’ve always been that way. I drove my parents nuts growing up because I was ridiculously independent and wanted to do things my way. While sometimes being stubborn bites me in the butt (and makes my husband want to throttle me), I’ve found it to be a great asset in my professional life when combined with my increasing patience. When I saw online professional development being done badly, I came up with a model for free online learning about social technologies that has inspired various other continuing education initiatives. When I see something I think needs to change, I will try to chip away at it (for years if necessary) because I believe so strongly in it. I don’t lose interest, even when I hit brick walls. And in academia, that stick-to-it-iveness is critical, because change rarely moves at the pace I’d like it to.
I’m actually finding my own stubbornness to be an asset in dealing with my son, who is also an extremely strong-willed individual. It’s his way or the highway, but because I know that mentality, I’m pretty good at working within his worldview to get him to do things. Reed’s stubbornness drives me crazy sometimes, but I know that independence is going to be a great asset to him in the long-run.
I always assume that I’m not the norm – I guess I’ve always thought I was kind of weird, so my assumption pretty much every time I write a blog post is that what I’m writing is way out in left field. Usually, I find that’s not the case, but I continue to feel most of the time that whatever my view is on something couldn’t possibly be shared by most people. This is a tremendous asset when it comes to designing services, technologies and websites for students. I never assume that students share my feelings, beliefs or wants. I always want to find out how they approach things. It’s our assumptions about our patrons that lead to unusable websites and services only a librarian could love.
I don’t deal well with stress and I don’t procrastinate – Stress is a tough one for me, but I’ve always known this about myself. When I feel the weight of a deadline on me, I start to sweat. Instead of sweating the deadlines, I’ve developed my own strategies for avoiding stress; I’m ridiculously organized and I plan ahead. And it works beautifully for me. The minute I took the job in Portland, I mapped out everything that needed to be done before we moved on April 2nd. I have a spreadsheet with the contents of every box I’ve packed. Even in high school, I usually would have papers done at least a week before they were due, so that I wouldn’t have them hanging over my head. It works for me because it prevents me from getting frazzled.
My little strategy for avoiding stress has made me a great project manager. I’m organized and am good at keeping people on track. I always expect things to go wrong so I plan for potential roadblocks and others not pulling their weight.
I’m a terrible multitasker – and accepting this has made me a better learner. I’m a one channel at a time kind of person. I can’t send emails while writing a report for work, watch TV and talk to my husband, or follow tweets while listening to a conference presentation. Inevitably one of the two things will suffer, if not both. At Computers in Libraries last year, I brought a small (paper) notebook to each session I attended instead of a laptop and got so much more out of the sessions than when I was distracted by what was on my screen. I admire people who can multitask, but I also suspect that a lot of the people who think they can probably can’t.
When you’re not a good multitasker, it’s helpful to be very organized so that you can carve out chunks of time for different responsibilities.
I’m shy – I know this may come as a surprise to most people who know me, but at my core, I am an introvert. I’m extremely outgoing with people I know, but when I’m around folks I don’t (especially in social situations), I become quite reserved. Small talk is my worst enemy. I’m far more comfortable giving a presentation in front of 300 people than engaging in small talk at a party. It’s probably the one thing I most wish I could change about myself, because there’s no good strategy other than avoidance or wallowing in the discomfort.
I always trust my gut – My gut has never steered me wrong; even when my logical brain told me to do the opposite. My gut told me to turn down a lucrative fellowship to the LIS program at the University of Maryland to stay in Florida with the guy I’d only been dating a month. That guy is now my husband. My gut told me I’d love living in the state of Vermont, a place I’d never visited in my life. I have so enjoyed my years in Vermont. My gut has also steered me away from jobs and places that on paper seemed to be the right thing to do, and it’s always turned out that I was smart not to have taken those opportunities. My gut steered me toward Portland, even though I love my work at Norwich and love Vermont. I feel in my bones that it’s going to be a good place to raise my son and that PSU is going to be an awesome place to work. Let’s hope my gut keeps up its winning streak!
There are plenty of things I’d like to change about myself. I’d love to be a social butterfly. I wish I didn’t daydream so much. I wish I could sometimes be less emotionally involved in my work. I wish I could be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on 4 hours of sleep. I wish I liked exercising and eating broccoli. But these things are not going to change and the key, for me at least, is to accept that and find ways to be successful within my personal laundry list of strengths and limitations (and those things that count as both). Denial serves no one. Believing that one day I could be ok with “phoning it in” at work or that I’ll wake up at 6am wanting to get on the elliptical only keeps me from finding strategies to deal with who I really am. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. And after so many years of wanting to be someone else, I’m truly happy with who I am and what I’ve accomplished.