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?
Awesome post, Meredith! Agree totally. Use the accomplishments of others to inspire and challenge you, not to bring you down.
Atul Gawande, in Better, talks about some similar themes (being committed to one’s own improvement, as well as avoiding the places where negativity clusters at work). Very worth reading. (He has a good summary section at the end, but the whole thing is worth reading. Actually everything he’s ever written is worth reading. Not just because he spoke at Midwinter in Boston. 🙂
Not sure how you do it Meredith, maybe you caught me at the right time, but I find this really inspiring.
Next to Roy Tennant’s Open Letter to New librarians, this must be one of the most inspiring advise given by a librarian I have read lately!
Awwww, thanks Roy and Aaron! Complements from the two of you mean a great deal to me. 🙂
Andromeda, thanks for the recommendation. He’s an author I’ve been meaning to read and you may just have inspired me to get that book on my Kindle (now that I just finished “The Happiness Project.”
[…] 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. […]
Meredith, I love the positivity of this post and completely agree. I am at the New England Library Leadership Symposium this week and we are talking a lot of about this idea of being change agents even in the face of negative situations and less than perfect environments.
One key point that was made here was that it is necessary if you cannot change your environment, to remove yourself from bad situations or you can become jaded or burnt out. That is something I would hate to see happen to anyone. The other suggestion (especially if you aren’t able to remove yourself right away) is to find work, whether in associations or politics or other organizations that is rewarding and uplifting. People deserve to be happy and they have to take control of their own happiness and not let other dictate it for them.
Beautifully written and inspiring. 🙂 Thank you.
Meredith, this is a wonderful post. You’re on a roll! I’m glad you’re writing again 🙂
I frequently talk about people “taking personal responsibility” for their actions, although – for some reason – that phrase sometimes rubs people the wrong way. I will start referring people to this post to describe what I mean. Wonderful piece!
Always good to remind our colleagues to proceed at their own pace and don’t worry what someone over there is up to. If you are making a difference on your campus for your community members, that’s a great accomplishment right there. This post reminded me of something – I hadn’t thought about in a while – http://bit.ly/pmaWX2
What an inspiring post. It inspires me to try and keep seeing the positives when things get difficult. I will also keep sharing my positive approach while times are hard. Thank you.
You hit the nail on the head! What is you said is nothing but the truth. This post has just re-energized me to work harder.
Thank you very much for this post, I’ll add it to things to read whenever I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.
[…] Be the change you want to see […]
Excellent post – so glad you are putting such positive energy out there – I always love what you have to say – and look forward to your future writings and presentations!
@StevenB – I remember your post. It was a great reminder to me that we are all on different paths and have different lives and priorities.
Thanks Lynn, Lisa, Coeliaclibrarian and Menete! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
I love your post, which I came across via Twitter, and just wanted to say that my “life-saver” when faced with glass-half-empty people are my flockmates. My close colleagues who get me and where I am professionally. I heard Dr Erica McWilliam speak about this as part of her presentation at the IASL Conference in Brisbane last year and it not only resonated with me, but led me to gather my flockmates and acknowledge their importance. This more than combats, for me, the negativity we can all face to various degrees from time to time. These guys will validate you when you need it and celebrate with you whenever necessary.
Well said Meredith, as always! That is also one of my favorite quotes and it is so true. I’m a firm believer that we can make these decisions everyday…to be happy, to be positive, to be productive, to make change. Thanks for always inspiring me and others!
Thanks for this inspiring post. It’s a great reminder about what brought me to the job in the first place and to give the best I can.
Meredith, excellent and inspiring. Just what I needed to read before beginning my sabbatical.
Thank you for such a wonderful and thought-provoking article.
I just came from a library system where people who made change or jumped on initiatives were openly scorned and despised, perhaps because they made everyone else look bad. Of course it’s important to have your own standards and a solid work ethic, but you can only stay so long in a job where it seems the primary occupation of others is to tear people down. While I agree with all of your points, I was shocked to encounter so many passionless people within one profession, and hope my experience was the exception rather than the rule.
This is so true! Thanks for the reminder Meredith. The business climate has made many workplaces very tense and instances of mobbing are up too. All the more reason not to engage with that behavior and add to existing tensions and make them worse. Let’s build each other up and inspire each other – each in our own unique way.
I am a newbie librarian and have that enthusiasm, but it is hard sometimes to keep it going. I have the benefit of having already worked in a blah environment that I let sap all of my enthusiasm (I used to be a public school teacher.). I am determined this time to not let that happen, but I really like your point of not comparing myself to others. I think that will be a good tool for me. Thanks!
[…] this was a good blog post by Meredith Farkas: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2011/08/10/be-the-change-you-want-to-see/ […]
Thank you so much for writing this – like others have commented already it really caught me at the right time and I really appreciate it.
Thank you for this post! You described me to a T in this post. I have been in my first professional position for just four years, but my morale has steadily sunk lower and lower. I’m an energetic “doer” by nature, so this has been tough. Your words have re-energized me. I will be printing this post off and keeping it close at hand at work in hopes that I will be a change agent of positivity and focus and stop comparing myself to others.
[…] of this led me to think about a recent post by Meredith Farkas called Be the Change You Want to See. The post isn’t necessarily about managing, although I think it is sound advice for anyone […]
[…] My mentor asked me how I connected the chapter was from Managing Children’s Services in the Public Library and Meredith’s post titled Be the Change You Want to See. […]