Even the fiercest leader in the world is overcome by sleep.”
The lesson I learned in yoga that stuck with me the most is the balance between pushing myself and giving myself rest. This was taught through the poses in yoga: hold that warrior two a little longer but ease up when it’s time. Give your body what it needs whether that’s more effort or more rest. This lesson has translated to every area of my life. I use this pursuit of balance when I decide what to do with my time, my exercise, and my work. I like work a lot. Like, Leslie Knope levels of liking work. I like to be busy and work hard, pursuing projects and solving problems. I have a tendency to push, push, push, constantly taking on more without taking into account whether I have the time or energy to do more. Because of yoga, I’m learning to temper my work love with some self care. If you’re not familiar with the concept of self care, you might be interested in this blog: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/take-care-yourself-feel-like-shutting-down/. If you need more convincing, take a look at this blog post about how one librarian uses self care outside of work to be a better librarian :http://inalj.com/?p=89972 Self care outside of work will make you a better worker, a better librarian or library professional, and a happier person. But what about those hours when you are at work? Those can be, even for a work lover like myself, some very stressful hours of the day. Here are ten small strategies that can serve as jumping off points for self care at work:
- Take your breaks: You have them, take them. What can you do in 15 minutes? More than you might think! Walk around, get a drink of water, read a book, do anything to give yourself a break from your work and preferably from your work station and screens.
- Let yourself off the hook: Did you just do something kind of dumb? Maybe you screwed up and told a patron something not quite right. While it’s a great idea to honestly evaluate your work and look for improvement, obsessing about something that’s done and over with isn’t any good. If you did something wrong ask yourself if it can be fixed. If it can, fix it and learn from it. If it can’t, learn from it and move on. You are only human.
- Self-sooth: As a person who struggles with anxiety, I have learned the value of having a list of self-soothers at the ready. If you get stressed or anxious or have a bad day, what can you do to get yourself together again at work? Try some things out and see what works for you. My list includes a cup of super hot tea or coffee, a brisk walk, a piece of dark chocolate, one of the songs from my Anthem List on Youtube (more on that in a moment), or, when things are really dire, a good quick cry.
- Refocus: It is easy to let one bad interaction with a coworker or patron to get you down. Once you’ve tried to process the situation, try to gently shift your focus. If you find your mind returning to that situation, try to think of the positive things that have also happened. Our minds tend to hold on to the situations that made us unhappy and forget the happiness. For example, on a day I had a patron yell at me very harshly, I also had three patrons who thanked me sincerely for my help, and at least ten patrons with whom I had neutral interactions. I am not going to let the yeller be the thing I remember from an otherwise great day
- Call in sick when you’re sick: If you have the sick time, don’t come to work when you are sick. It does a library no good to have you sniffling at the desk, not doing your best work and infecting coworkers and patrons alike. Stay home, you’ll feel better faster!
- Ask for help: If you aren’t sure about a policy or procedure, ask your supervisor or a coworker. I can’t tell you how many times I have stressed myself out over not knowing an answer or suspecting I’ve been doing something wrong instead of turning to the person sitting 3 feet from me an asking their advice. This wastes time and valuable energy and is no good for you.
- Breathe: Seriously. Deep breath in, slow controlled breath out. Or even listen to the rhythm of your breathing without changing it. You will be amazed how calming this is.
- Laugh: It doesn’t even have to be laughing about a stressful situation, simply having a laugh with your coworkers can help take away the stress.
- Play an anthem song. I created a play list of songs (some songs are a little NSFW so tread carefully) that pump me up and make me feel like I can take on the next challenge (or at least do a quick dance when no one’s looking). I’ve linked to my list but I think it’s important to choose your own songs. The Meet the Press theme isn’t going to do it for everyone, but it helps me!
- If allowed, take a quick look at blogs or Twitter: my blog feed in Feedly and my Twitter feed are full of librarians. Taking a quick glance can make me feel connected in a larger way to my profession. It’s encouraging to see what other smart, funny, great librarians are doing.
So remember: whether it’s your work-self or your home-self, take care of yourself! You’ll feel better, do better work, and enjoy yourself more. You’re the only you you’ve got! Take care of you!
Stringer Bell (played by the amazing Idris Elba) was the intelligent and ruthless drug kingpin on the greatest show ever created, HBO’s The Wire. (Seriously, if you have not watched this show I urge you to take a week off of work and binge watch.) He was an innovative leader among others stuck in the past. Sound familiar? Although I do not condone his line of business or many of his tactics, I do recognize that he was trying to transcend his profession. I recently stumbled upon a great piece from Uproxx using examples of the show when Stringer Bell was trying to get better at his job, learn and inspire others to follow. Yes Stringer’s story does not have a happy ending, but viewers still can recognize a futurist at work. An individual working hard to keep the profession relevant amongst people drowning in the way it used to be.
If you are new to the profession and hope to move up, it’s important that you stand out in the right way. From someone who has plateaued, here are some tips to make sure you don’t get noticed for the wrong reasons.
Don’t be a conversation crasher. You have ideas. You know a thing or two. But that doesn’t mean you should leap at every chance to demonstrate that you’re a know-it-all. Popping up like a Whack-a-Mole when your coworkers are having a conversation in the next cubicle to tell them how it’d be So.Much.Better if they did it your way is only going to increase your chances of getting whacked on the head. Resist the urge to jump in to their conversation or invite yourself to their meeting unless they specifically invite your input.
Don’t obsess over what’s next. Prove that you’re competent and high-performing in the job you currently have before you start talking about your next position, your next job, your next project. You were hired to work at this library, in this position, doing these things–make sure you are absolutely killing it before you shift your gaze to the horizon and start asking about doing other stuff. That doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself or let your boss know that you’re interested in doing more; just make absolutely sure your current work is stellar.
Don’t be a copycat. Once in an interview, when I asked the question about long-term career goals, the candidate said, “I want your job.” I tried to reframe it as, “Oh, so you want a position like mine?” and she said, “No, I want your job. At this place.” I chose to overlook how creepy that was, and let me tell you, that was a mistake. The entire time she worked for me, I felt like Bridget Fonda to her Jennifer Jason Leigh. I didn’t trust her. Every thing she said or did, I filtered it through her “I want your job” comment. Did she act like that/send that email/say that thing because she wants to make me look bad so she can get my job? It can also creepy, in the same Single White Female way, to be imitated. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it can venture into weird territory if you emulate your boss or your mentor too much. Haircuts, glasses, tone of voice, vocabulary–these are all going to be influenced by the people who surround you, sure. But don’t take “dress for the job you want” too literally.
Don’t be a Queen Bee or Big Man on Campus. You are the go-to person on staff. People like you. In the staff break room, it seems like everyone takes their break when you do. You are a star. But don’t let the social ladder interfere with you doing your job. Keep the gossip to a minimum. Don’t talk loudly about others who are nearby. Don’t start whisper campaigns. Trust me, your bosses know it’s you, and they’re considering that as they consider you for promotion–can you maintain confidentiality? Can you put the organization’s needs ahead of your friends’ needs? If you are promoted to a supervisor or manager level, the transition from coworker to boss is difficult enough as it is without being complicated by work-friends who see your promotion as an opportunity to use you as a double agent, giving them the inside scoop and a free pass on their bad behavior.
What about you–what’s your advice on how to be ambitious without being over-the-top?
I was contemplating stepping down from the staff development committee at my library because I really didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute. Then, the chair of the committee decided to resurrect the mentoring program that had ended roughly a decade before. The idea of a mentoring program seemed very positive, yet I had serious doubts about how I could be of any assistance. I’m fairly low in the organization, and most of the people that I’ve been working with have decades more experience than I had. In any event, I stayed on the committee and within a year, I was the head of the mentoring committee.
I want to share with you how we re-built a library mentoring program from the ground up, and how anyone has the potential to be a mentor (even if they don’t believe it themselves!).
We brought in an outside consultant to host a session of mentoring training to prepare the mentors and inform them of their responsibilities in the program. Additionally, the mentoring committee had a brief discussion with the mentees to discuss their responsibilities as well. The first round consisted of sixteen participants, and after surveying the people at the end of the twelve week program, we learned some things that worked well and other things that didn’t work so well. The program was received well by the participants, which motivated us to have future iterations. We’ve now had four rounds of the program, and over one hundred people from the library have participated as a mentor or a mentee. In the course of these four rounds, I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge about what it means to mentor, how beneficial mentoring can be for library staff, and I’ve gained confidence in my ability to network, provide instruction, and coordinate a successful program.
Starting with the second round of the program, I was primarily responsible for scheduling training and orientation sessions for mentors and mentees. I’ve always had dismal public speaking skills, though eventually I became very comfortable meeting new people, and presenting them with information while answering any questions that they had. By the third round, I was asked to be the head of the committee, and this coincided with losing many of the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy regarding instructing people on mentoring. In the third round, I was inspired by others stepping up in the organization to participate as a mentor myself, which was probably the first time I had ever formally taken that role. Throughout the past three years, I’ve learned a few key things that anybody working on a mentoring program should remember:
Mentors don’t realize their own skills
In the second round, I remember one of the librarians being puzzled as to why we asked them to participate in the program as a mentor. “Why me?” seemed to be a common response asked to the committee by several potential mentors. After explaining some of the resources that they have that they may not even realize, such as institutional history and a large network of connections, people started to understand how they could be an effective mentor, even if they’ve only been at the library for a few years. Very rarely is there a person in the organization that knows everything, but after spending years in an organization, a person develops a good sense of who the experts are in an organization, and what are some of the institutional policies that aren’t necessarily spelled out in a Standard Practice Guide. This is part of what makes mentors so valuable!
Mentor training is essential
Mentors and mentees need to be aware of their responsibilities. In our program, we asked all of the mentees to come up with a SMART goal at the beginning of the program to give the program a direction. We laid out some guidelines, such as general responsibilities, which party should reach out to who, how often people should meet, and what is/isn’t confidential. We also stressed the notion to both parties that because the committee was responsible for matching mentors and mentees based on their application to the program, that there was the possibility of having a mismatch, and to let us know if the mentoring relationship wasn’t working. It’s not easy for a mentor or a mentee to say that the pairing isn’t working, but it’s a waste of time for both parties to participate if the relationship is going nowhere.
Mentoring has to be flexible
In the first round of the program, we asked people to meet once a week for twelve weeks, and this simply didn’t work for people. People couldn’t commit due to other work obligations, and we used their feedback to revise the program. Starting with round two, we encouraged people to meet six to twelve times during a four month period which was much easier for people to handle. The program was designed to be particularly flexible in terms of what mentors could provide including career advice, help navigating the library or community, information about professional associations, assistance networking and general encouragement. By having the program so flexible, it encouraged people with various needs to participate, which may be a reason why the program was so popular.
Mentoring really makes an impact!
There were so many participants, both mentors and mentees, who reported getting a great deal out of the program. Some mentors enjoyed mentoring so much that they participated two or three times. Several of the mentees went on to further their careers, either at the library or other organizations. Two mentees in particular that had reported feelings of disappointment in their current positions have moved up in the organization and seem to be much happier with their current situation. I’ve had so many people tell me how great the program was and how they’ve encouraged others to participate. I myself benefited incredibly through the amount of people that I’ve met through the program, my experience in training others, and my experience of actually being a mentor.
Another thing that I already believed, but was reinforced by the mentoring program, is that cake and other baked goods are generally crowd-pleasers. I would recommend having kick-off events with light refreshments and some ice-breaker activities to get people in the program talking to each other. In one of the rounds we had a potluck lunch where people could bring in a dish and get a chance to talk to other mentoring pairs and compare notes as to what was working really well in the mentoring relationship.
The program was one of the most meaningful things I’ve participated in during my eight years at the library. Since the program has been in place, many individuals from the library have made connections to others that they might never have met had they not participated in the program. By having staff across the library connecting with one another and sharing valuable resources, it has contributed to making the library a more positive, interconnected organization that is increasingly utilizing and transferring various knowledge, skills and abilities from staff member to staff member. I would highly suggest that if a mentoring program exists at your organization that you participate in it, or perhaps start one up if there isn’t currently a program in place.