Adam and I have gotten into a new show on A&E called Confessions of a Matchmaker, which follows a matchmaker in Buffalo, NY in her attempts to find love for people who have some pretty big issues. This weekend, one of the people looking for love was a former professional wrestler who was too scared to be assertive on dates. I find it funny that someone wouldn’t be afraid to be body slammed in a wrestling ring but is afraid of asking a woman out on a date.
I used to always think that there were two kinds of people: those who like to take risks and those who don’t. Those in the first group are the sort who get a thrill from activities like rock climbing and skydiving. My brother, who just ran with the bulls last week in Spain, would fall solidly into that category. I, on the other hand, fall solidly into the non-risk-taking category. I was the kid too afraid to climb the rope ladder into the tree house. I was the kid too afraid to jump off the high-dive. I don’t get a thrill from risking life and limb. And, while I felt badly about that in my earlier years, I’m ok with who I am now.
My view about what constitutes a risk has been changing and today’s Confessions of a Matchmaker really brought that home for me. That someone can be completely ok with risking broken bones but not ok with taking emotional risks is an odd idea to me, but clearly, that comes from my own biases. I’ve never been afraid of taking emotional risks. I remember in high school, my friends would spend months and years pining over the boy they liked without ever telling him. If I liked a boy, I’d tell him. Sometimes that had good results. However, sometimes I’d hear “I don’t like you that way” or “I just like you as a friend,” but it always seemed far easier to be let down quickly than to spend months building this person up in my head. It never really seemed like a risk to me, because it was so much more appealing than the alternative.
I recently had someone ask me how I was able to write a book and get all these speaking gigs after only having been out of library school a couple of years. I attribute 90% of it to risk-taking. Risk #1 is putting yourself into your blog. Every time I write a post, I have no idea how it will be received. Really… no idea. Some of the things I’ve written I’ve gotten blasted for in the comments (which does hurt at times, no matter how thick-skinned you are). Other posts that I worried about the reactions to have been very well-received. I know personally, my favorite blogs are those where the writers are really opinionated. I don’t always agree with a lot of my favorite bloggers, but I love that they put themselves into their writing 100%. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, taking risks doesn’t necessarily mean you have to serve your personal life up on a plate to your readers; it just means being true to yourself in your writing.
Risk #2 is jumping headlong into projects that scare you. I never thought I could write a book. Never. Even when I was writing it, I wondered if I would be able to finish it. But when you have an opportunity like that, you go for it, even if it scares you. I was always terrified of public speaking. I remember writing my entire thesis defense and reading it verbatim to the committee. When I had to answer questions, I got so nervous that my adviser had to break in and answer another professor’s question for me. However, I knew speaking would help me make a name for myself, so I forced myself to do it. It would be insane for me to have turned down these speaking gigs because I was afraid. The first few times were brutal and embarrassing. But gradually, I became less afraid, and less afraid, to the point where now I actually enjoy speaking. In fact, I love speaking. I think it’s very easy to talk oneself out of a great opportunity, especially one that scares you a little. Analysis paralysis is something I am prone to, so I try to follow my gut when making career decisions rather than analyzing and analyzing my options (though, obviously, sometimes you have to stop and think at least a little). I have wanted a dog for years and haven’t gotten one because I can’t make a decision. If I managed my career decisions the way I manage my pet decisions, I’d spend my life waiting for my perfect career to come to me.
Risk #3 is to fearlessly and assertively pursue what you want. I’ve always wanted a column, ever since I was in high school. When I had the opportunity to visit ALA Headquarters and had lunch with (among others) the head of ALA publishing, I took the opportunity to tell him that he should give me a column. While he sort of laughed at me at the time, low and behold, I had a column 6 weeks later. Don Chatham could have been the sort of person who is turned off by assertiveness like that and could just as easily have written me off right then and there. That’s the risk you take when you put yourself out there like that. But opportunities like this rarely walk right up to you, so you often have to make your interest known. Sometimes you can work things politically and more behind the scenes, but you have to work it somehow. These opportunities rarely walk right up to you without any risks being taken.
I just took another risk the other day, and right now, I think it could go either way. I’ve been thinking about doing something for several months and have been reticent about pursuing it, which is unlike me. If I’ve discovered one thing about myself in the past two years it’s that I love to teach. I wish I could spend every day teaching librarians about technology, whether online, in person or through my writing. I think it might be my calling. And all I’ve had on my mind the past few months is the idea of being an adjunct instructor in a LIS program. But I haven’t told anyone. And I haven’t pursued it. Then, at the LJ Mover and Shaker lunch at ALA Annual, I bumped into a former Florida State University LIS classmate (who is also a M&S) who told me that I absolutely should be teaching at Florida State. She said “they need the sort of classes you would teach.” I hadn’t even told her I wanted to do it. Still, I sat around for three weeks unsure about how to pursue this and a little afraid of rejection.
On Saturday, I read a post by Jennifer Macaulay that reminded me of exactly why I wanted to be an instructor in an LIS school in the first place. I got my library degree at a distance and I felt that so much was lacking in the way the courses were structured and taught online. I thought there could be so much more interactivity and collaboration than what we got on Blackboard. Jennifer, I would love to develop a course for a library school based on the Five Weeks to a Social Library model. I think it’s so valuable to have multiple modes of learning and communication, and that is often sorely lacking in most distance learning programs. I really want to try new things in an academic setting and hopefully show others what’s possible with new technologies and a little creativity.
After reading Jennifer’s post, I immediately drafted an e-mail to the Dean of the FSU College of Information, Larry Dennis. I got an e-mail from him that he had forwarded my e-mail on to a colleague, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe they’ll find the idea of me teaching a class laughable. That would sting. But I feel so much better having put the idea out there than sitting around agonizing over it. And if I do get laughed at, I’ll try another library school with a distance learning program. And another. Because I’m not going to spend my life waiting for these opportunities to come to me.
While I will never run with the bulls like my crazy little brother and I still don’t like ladders at all, I think I may be a little braver than I thought I was. And if a fraidy cat like me can do all this, why not you?
I am using all of my extraworldly powers to send positive vibes your way for the big risk that you have just taken. Distance education needs some serious help to be better – and I firmly believe that you could help to make a positive difference. I’m glad that I could play a small part in the whole process!! 🙂
I think you are right on in terms of risk taking. We often think that risks must involve grand and/or adventurous undertakings. But what constitutes a risk for one doesn’t necessarily constitute a risk for someone else. I’m taking huge risks at school at the moment – ala risk #2. It can be very uncomfortable.
Seriously, best of luck! I think it is a wonderful idea. If it doesn’t work out at this juncture, I hope you will continue to pursue it. From a student perspective, we need to shake things up a bit – especially in the distance arena!!
Jennifer, you’ve actually played a big role in inspiring me. Your very honest posts about your experiences in distance learning over the past year have continually reminded me about what’s wrong with many distance learning programs and prodded me to try and do something about it. I think your posts on this topic do a lot of good; too many people just stay silent and pay a lot of money for a degree they got very little out of.
Good luck with getting through it; you’re so near the finish line. 🙂
Absolutely brilliant, Meredith! You almost certainly have no way of knowing this, but I positively needed to read this right now. Thank you!
Right on. You’re totally a risk-taker. I feel like there are many parallels between our experiences, but you operate on a shorter timeline with greater fervor and success.
I attribute most of my own limited success to exactly the risks you outline. It all started with the blog and establishing a voice there.
But risk #2 is really my bread and butter. If it doesn’t scare me at least a little, it’s probably not worth the energy. I can’t tell you how tense and self-doubting I was before the first episode of the new show. But in many ways, the scary part was not the show itself, but the moment when I committed to doing it on the blog – the point of no return, as it were. And I still get that little pang of tension in the moments before hitting record.
Risk #3 is tricky, because you have to have a clear idea of what you want. This changes for me frequently. Today, I want to be the Leo Laporte of librarianship. Tomorrow, I’ll just want to be Daddy. It’s possible to be both, but more challenging to fearlessly and assertively pursue one without compromising the other.
I’m with Joshua, I needed this too. I love this post.
I recently heard a speaker who encouraged everyone to “do the job you think you can’t” because you can once you move past the fear, and I have been repeating that to myself since.
I am now in a position where I have to take a lot more risks. It has been hard, but every time I learn something new and I become more confident. I used to be terrified of making mistakes, but not so much now. Risk #2 rings so true to me.
What a wonderful way to lay out several different types of risks. Risk #3 is where I typically live: imagine, plan, pursue, pursue, pursue. But I applaud you for tackling all three, Meredith.
We, your readers, benefit from your hard work and risks. On the other hand, I can’t see the benefit to you running with the bulls.
I would have killed (well, perhaps that is a little strong…at least gotten into a slapfight) to have had someone as great as you teaching one of my distance education class. I’ve had some fantastic distance education experiences: one of my teachers, Terry Reese, who I can’t say enough good things about, recorded his lectures as podcasts that you could either coordinate with the included PowerPoints or just listen to on their own…which was wonderfully convenient. I’ve also had some really bad ones: I still don’t understand how I was supposed to learn the basics of computer networking without an actual computer lab…but I’ve always been a very hands-on learner.
I can’t help but be a little jealous that all those eager grad students will get to have you as an instructor…I guess I will just have to wait until “5 Weeks to a Social Library” comes around again to have a chance at it myself. 🙂
I received my MLS in 1973 (the day before I got married!). Our media class included showing us how to thread a projector. The world has changed a bit since then, and I’ve had to re-invent myself periodically. Learning to use a computer, taking an online course, beginning a blog, all were risks for a “mature” learner.
It is energy and enthusiasm like yours which encourage others to explore and master new skills. Any university wise enough to add you to their faculty realize benefits not only for their reputation but also, more importantly, for their students.
Good luck, and keep us posted!
Another excellent post and well timed. Good luck with the adjunct work; I suspect FSU and its students would be well-served. You *want* to do this, you’re a fairly recent graduate, you’re articulate and you know your stuff: That sounds like a recipe for success.
Thanks for this post. It’s always nice to know that those we look to for inspiration need a little themselves. As a recent grad myself, I’ve read your posts (and your resume) with a healthy dose of admiration and wonder. I can’t imagine myself being where you are in the span of a couple year… but that won’t stop me from trying! Thanks for the pep talk.
although I’m nearly done at FSU, I would have loved to take this class from you. I’ll be sure to mention you in *my* letter to Dean Larry about how I think everyone should be required to take Project Management 😉
FSU would be lucky to have you! Good luck! And go get that dog!
My friend’s father was fond of saying “If you don’t ask, the answer is no.” It got old rather quickly, but it’s a surprisingly good piece of advice.
In your case, I most certainly hope the answer is not no. I may have my own bit to say at some point about the current state of distance education, but others have covered its shortcomings quite well. You’d be a brilliant reformer.
Considering I just moved across the country to take a new job, this post is quite timely for me as well. I had not been much of a risk taker, but here I am 2400 miles from “home” and I don’t have any regrets about doing it.
Best of luck with the class!
Great post, Meredith. One of my mentors once told me that she always sought out jobs that were just a little beyond what she thought she was capable of — it always challenged her to reach a little higher and farther, and she was better for it, both personally and professionally. I loved that and I try and look for those opportunities myself. So, yea, this post really resonates with me 🙂
As for the adjunct opportunity — good for you for reaching for it! FSU would be crazy to turn you down, you have so much to offer the world of LIS education! Having been an adjunct for the past couple of years, I can honestly say it’s unlike any other teaching I do and it stretches me in amazing ways. I think you’ll love it (but you already know that!) and you’ll be an awesome LIS educator 🙂
Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring post, and congrats/kudos on the wonderful experiences you have been creating for yourself! A few people have commented that they really needed to read just what you wrote, and I suspect that’s partly because it’s always a good time to be reminded of the value of risk-taking.
A long time ago in a leadership academy far, far away (or maybe it was Utah), we learned, “Lean into your discomfort; that is where your growth lies.” That line has continued to ring in my ears for almost 10 years now, and it has helped guide me through decisions big and small (although I still feel like I don’t risk enough at times.)
And back to the the timeliness of your post: I
recently posted these words (writing about the value of my improv class): “We have to be willing to fail, and fail spectacularly…Being willing to fail spectacularly means being willing to take risks.”
Reading your post just reinforces the lessons that I am continuing to learn. Thanks for sharing your (as usual) honest, insightful and inspiring thoughts! -Pete
As a current FSU MLIS student, I’d love to take the sort of class that you’d teach. Good luck.
Thank you all so much for your words of encouragement.
Pete, I’ve read about your experiences with toastmasters and your improv group with great interest. You are definitely one of my risk-taking role models (improv would scare the life out of me!).
And thanks Amanda for sharing your experiences with adjunct teaching. I’ll probably ask to pick your brain on all that sometime soon. 🙂
I’m a classmate of Jennifer’s, and I came to your blog via hers. I think it would be terrific if you were to develop and teach such a class. Too often we are left to our own devices to learn new applications and new technologies, while the schools (perhaps rightly so) continue to focus their efforts on traditional topics of librarianship. And most of us do pick it up on our own. But it would be terrific to have a more focused effort to incorporate these ideas into the programs.
And do not get me started on Blackboard and WebCT. Yahoo Groups has better features and better usability, and it’s free.
I think the most important think to think of when contemplating a risk is to determine whether it’s a risk at all! Too many of us (myself included) are afraid of things like public speaking, roller coasters, publishing, asking people on dates, etc. many of which will probably not end in any physical harm at all! LOL
Instead of thinking, “I’m afraid of this, so I’m not going to do it,” we should all be thinking, “I’m afraid of this, but I know I shouldn’t be, so I’m going to do this.” It’s not about not being afraid in the first place but rather being brave enough to do the things we’re afraid of anyway.
Now, if only I could take my own advice! LOL