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?