By Meredith Farkas | August 10, 2011
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A librarian comes into a new job full of enthusiasm. He volunteers for lots of projects and is a generally good citizen at his library. Over time, he notices that a lot of colleagues are not so willing to volunteer to do things. Maybe they don’t seem as committed to continuous improvement as he is. Maybe they are offering the same boring lecture to students (without any subsequent assessment) that they’ve been offering for 20 years. Maybe they don’t seem to put their heart and soul into their work like he does. After a while, he begins to resent these people. He starts to think, why should I do all this when ___ and ___ don’t? Maybe he even starts volunteering for fewer projects and stops doing assessment of instruction since no one else is doing it. But doing less doesn’t make him feel better. In fact, it makes him more frustrated with himself and resentful of his colleagues for sapping his passion for his job.
I know a lot of librarians who have lived this story and I certainly understand their frustration. Probably the majority of libraries have certain staff members who rarely volunteer for anything and consistently try to get out of doing work. I’m sure it’s the case in every field. And perhaps in some libraries this is more of a problem than in others. But lowering the bar for yourself is not an answer. There is nothing more dispiriting than going against your nature in this way. Deciding to do less than your personal work ethic compels because no one else is working that hard is only going to make you feel worse.
The biggest mistake you can make professionally is to compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is a losing battle, whether it’s how much people make, how they spend their time, or what they achieve professionally. It will never result in good feelings. At work, you either end up feeling insecure and resentful because someone is achieving so much more than you or you feel less motivated and resentful because someone is doing less. That insecurity led to some Library Journal Movers and Shakers feeling ostracized by their colleagues after receiving the honor. I could compare myself to some of my professional heroes like Lisa Hinchliffe and Susan Gibbons and feel like a lazy good-for-nothing in comparison or I could admire them and learn from their careers and works. I’ve had moments of jealousy when someone I knew achieved something I wished I had and moments of resentment when I saw people coasting by in their jobs doing as little as possible. Did thinking that way ever make me feel better? Did it motivate me? Not at all.
We all have our own standards of excellence. Some people’s bars are set higher than others. We also have different priorities and what motivates me to put in 100% won’t necessarily be the same for you. Whatever your own standard of excellence is in your work – whatever you passionately believe in doing – that’s what you should be true to. Be yourself. Don’t stop volunteering for things just because some of your colleagues’ standards of excellence are lower than yours or their priorities are different. Your measuring stick for your own achievement should be based on what you want to achieve, not how much or little other people are doing.
I’ve been reading The Happiness Project over the past few weeks, which is full of great ideas and interesting insights on how little changes can make a big difference in one’s outlook. One of the things the author writes about is how choosing to have a happy disposition, even in the face of bad things, can generate real happiness. She also found that having a happy disposition is contagious and can make people around you happy as well. By choosing to remain positive and enthusiastic in a dysfunctional workplace, you will feel happier than if you dwell on what your colleagues aren’t doing or start doing less yourself. But that enthusiasm might also become contagious. You might be able to convince colleagues to work on projects with you that you’re really excited about.
I am a big believer in the Gandhi quote “you must be the change you want to see in the world.” Librarians can choose to complain about what their colleagues don’t do or what their library isn’t doing, or they can start doing those things themselves. Want to see a culture of assessment at your library? Start assessing your instruction sessions and then tell your colleagues about what you and your students got out of it. Want to create a learning culture at your library? Start sharing interesting journal articles with colleagues via email, offer brown bags on topics you are knowledgeable about, and offer to organize brown bags on topics your colleagues have expertise in. Sure, you may not necessarily change the behavior of others, but at least you can feel good about the fact that you are being true to your nature. It certainly beats the feeling of defeat you’d get from submitting to the status quo, right?
How have you been “the change you want to see” at your place of work?