I’ve never felt like a particularly optimistic person. When we were getting ready to move to Portland, I fully expected that we’d lose furniture on the way or that much of it would arrive severely damaged. It didn’t happen. I expected my son to scream and cry the entire way from my parents’ house in Florida to the airport in Portland. He was great, or at least as great as a 2-year-old can be on a cross-country trip. I’ve always identified with Eeyore who expects the worst to happen and perhaps is pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. Like Eeyore, it’s probably just a defense mechanism against disappointment.
I know a lot of optimistic people; people who see the good in everything and never seem to let things get them down. I’ve never thought of myself as being that way. I’m not cheerful to a fault. Some things really do get me down. However, last weekend, I was visiting the Evergreen Air and Space Museum with my family and spied this quote from Winston Churchill on the wall: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” When I read that, I realized that I am an optimist, at least in my worklife. In every crisis, I see opportunities to jump in and create change. I like when things get destabilized a bit and people are forced to leave their comfort zones. Every big change at my previous institution turned into an opportunity to try something different.
My new library is definitely in that place right now. The person with whom I interviewed who was supposed to have been my supervisor left a month before I started. The interim AUL for Public Services is a rock-solid, knowledgeable guy with a long history at PSU, but he’s interim, which is a tricky position to be in when it comes to pushing an agenda for change. Since then, there has been another major administrative shakeup, leaving the library faculty and staff uncertain about what the next few years will look like in terms of leadership. Our funding has been cut, our tenure status challenged by administration, and a number of people here seem to think that we won’t be able to proceed with much over the next few years.
Some of my colleagues have asked me if all this is making me regret coming or lose hope in actually getting things done. While it’s definitely upset the apple cart on many levels, I still feel quite excited about my job and optimistic that there’s a lot I can do to improve our instruction program. There’s a strong desire amongst my colleagues to develop goals and a sense of direction around instruction. Many would like to see opportunities to share ideas about instruction and learn from one another. Perhaps with us stretched so thinly, I won’t be able to do some of the things that require extra work of the liaisons, but I can do things that will help support their teaching, develop learning outcomes that provide a sense of coherence to our instruction program, and explore ways to provide better instructional outreach to faculty and distance learners (an area in which we are currently pretty far behind).
I’m pretty excited to see how things will shape up here over the next year. Without question, a lot is going to change (probably for better and worse), but in every shakeup, there are usually plenty of opportunities for doing new things. And not being particularly attached yet to “the way thing are done” is going to make it much easier for me to ride the shift and take advantage of its destabilizing forces. Here’s hoping!
Good on you. Having middle & upper management with a positive mindset can be incredibly helpful for rest of the faculty and staff.
I also tend to have a fairly positive nature, and it helps me to be in an optimistic organization (anyone who says that organizations can’t have optimistic and pessimist natures hasn’t paid attention, IMO – it grows from the people, all of them, but most specifically from the tone at the top of the organization).
My last workplace had a pessimistic nature, and you could see the effect it had on everyone all the way through. My current workplace has an optimistic nature, and the difference is astounding. As an optimist, I am so much happier here, and absolutely energized by it.
So best of luck as you work through these challenges!
Thanks Meredith for this timely post. As a fellow ‘crisis optimist’, its refreshing to know that someone else has experienced the same thing as me. Best of luck as you continue to work through the challenges.