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.
Thanks for this Meredith, I really connected with your “trust your gut” statement.
A number of years ago I was transitioning back into the library profession after a time as a children’s entertainer. I went for a library assistant role in an organisation with flat, self-managing teams as I simply wanted to reacquaint myself with the profession.
At that time I was asked, based on my previous experience, to interview for one of the new team leader roles that were being developed. I did so, and the next morning was to have a face-to-face with the city librarian.
At that point, my gut had spent 24 hours crying out “no” – and I politely thanked the somewhat befuddled person for their time and interest, but stated that for the now I preferred to remain in the original role. Career suicide!
Six years down the track I’ve realised line management, while the most apparently valued career path in public libraries, was the last thing I’d have wanted, and I have pursued specialist opportunities.
Every day this decision makes more sense to me, and I’m incredibly grateful I said no despite my misgivings to an apparently incredible opportunity.
And now I feel like we are the same person. 🙂 Well, minus the assuming-I’m-not-the-norm bit, everything you wrote here resonated with me so much. I really appreciate your thoughts about how to turn these things into positive aspects of your working and personal life. You’re right; self-awareness is key to being good at your work.
Meredith, It makes me happy that you wrote this post. It provides a counterpoint to mine, and demonstrates that professionals who like and respect each other can have very different ways of working and approaching things. That’s great, and right, and the way things should be. I’m certain you’ve made a lot of people feel good that there are others who think and work like they do.
I’m not surprised that we like each other, since largely we’re talking about personal style and ways of working, which can be very different among friends.
In the end, it’s really all about knowing yourself, and how you like to work and work best. If we all do that, we should be able to collaborate better and use each others strengths and contribute our own. Vive la différence!
This is an excellent, excellent post.
The premise of it describes one of the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. Ever study it? Now might be a good time. 🙂 I recommend Benjamin Hoff’s _The Tao of Pooh_ and http://www.just-pooh.com/tao.html for starters.
I also think that this sort of self-revelations happen in your 30s as you start to become truly a responsible adult. Unfortunately, many people never hit this phase and so you have 40- and 50-year-olds who still behave like they are in their 20s.
In the end, though, you sound a lot like me, except I’m still learning to trust my gut.
Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful post. Being a multitasker and being ambitious are generally valued in this culture, and I’m neither of them. I like to work and I like to do good work, but it makes me happy with just doing the work – I don’t think of the work as the ladder that will take me to a better place. I need to learn to trust my gut more – thank you for talking about one’s gut feeling in this post.
Good luck in Portland. I know you’ll do great things! And very soon, happy birthday to Reed! (my son is just a bit behind, at 20 months). 🙂
Excellent post, as usual; slow-thinker describes me well. And Joel, as a 50-something who loves tech and is still figuring it out, it’s reassuring that libraries (and librarians) are increasingly reliant on self-reflection to evolve.
I think that we can learn a great deal from ourselves and recognizing not only our strengths and weaknesses but our approach to life. When I met with someone about a week ago and they gave suggestions for career opportunities I was amazed because they were actually positions that I would never intend to pursue. Taking into my skills and drawbacks they made perfect sense however from my perspective my personality had me discounting them. Its important to see ourselves clearly — but not discounting others perspectives. Maybe I’ll delve a little deeper.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck in your move!
I really appreciate this post. It’s too bad I didn’t have the opportunity to read it when I was in my 30’s as it would have been helpful. Instead I have muddled along for many more years, doing what came along and wondering why I didn’t go for opportunities that other people would have. I’ve been going with my gut and not achieving the ‘success’ that most people strive for but being happy anyway.
Great points, Jo and Sean! We’ve got to create our own yardstick for what “success” looks like. It’s about being happy, not living someone else’s vision of what it means to be successful. I think we all have to let go of that at some point in our lives and it’s like throwing a large weight off our backs (at least it was for me).
Thank you from me, too. Going to library school, which I’m in the middle of now, has been all about trusting my gut feelings. Strangely, I opened a fortune cookie last week and found a fortune which touches on the same thought: “Make decisions from the heart and use your head to make it work out.” I’m going to try to follow that saying along with your words of wisdom. Thanks again.
beautifully done, through and through. thanks for writing this!
[…] time crafting what they have actually written. I was also struck by the honesty in Meredith’s post. Granted she is a bit of a rock star in the library world, but I would feel like I was making […]
Great post. I totally agree, and even share some of the qualities you wrote about. although I would exchange the term “stubborn” with “persistent” :). Keep on truckin!
[…] type by nature, but this week’s posts by two of my librarian role models Roy Tennant and Meredith Farkas got me pondering how I work, why I do what I do, and what I could or should change. The 5th […]