Monday Motivator: Clarify

Back in the fall, as our two gardening librarians were planning what bulbs to plant for  our library garden,  I mentioned that I like tulips. A few weeks later, Charles gave me some tulip bulbs.

After Christmas, I mentioned that I didn’t actually plant the bulbs until New Year’s Eve.

Charles asked, “You drove up to the library to plant tulips?”

I shook my head. “No. I planted those extras you gave me at my condo.”

He laughed at me. “Those weren’t extras. Those were for the library garden. I was passing off the responsibility for planting them to you since you were the only one who wanted tulips.”

I can’t even justify my position. My only defense is that I had never once planted anything in our garden, and Charles is known to give his colleagues gifts.

But the lesson is clear: Make sure you understand what the other person means and wants you to do. A simple question can often prevent tons of hurt feelings later.

Still, in our case, all ended well. The few tulips came up in my patch under the front window and then promptly had their petals blown away by the first March wind. And our  library garden is lovely even without tulips.


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Monday Motivator: Celebrate National Library Week

Even before I came to work in one, I loved libraries. And it’s always been something of a mystery to me that libraries seem to be one of the first in line when it comes to budget cuts. Libraries provide the sort of support that is crucial in keeping democracies functioning. They provide free access to information. They provide instruction on how to analyze and critically evaluate that information. For many of our poorest citizens, libraries may be their only access to the internet and the information highway.

At Nashville State, we too instruct students on how to find and use resources. We try to ensure we have the appropriate materials for student, staff, and faculty. Many of our students do their homework assignments in the library because they don’t have reliable internet access at home.

But we also do a number of smaller things that rarely get press but give students a sense of belonging:

  1. We provide forks for the students who find themselves with a microwaved lunch but no eating utensils.
  2. One of our librarians met with a student each week as she prepared for her citizenship test.
  3. During allergy season (which, in Nashville, seems to be 11.5 months of the year), if students have runny noses, there are tissues at the front desk.
  4. We have comforted students who have just failed their first test.
  5. We provide candy during finals week to provide a little energy kick and happiness.
  6. We are confidants, supporters, and cheerleaders.
  7. When spring arrives and those new sandals are rubbing blisters on students’ feet, we have bandages.
  8. We look up their advisors’ phone numbers.
  9. We show them how to use the computers.

Studies show that one of the major factors in student retention is the relationship between faculty and student. And as a former faculty member, I know this is true. And as a former college student, I remember faculty whose kindness helped this first-generation college student feel that she could succeed.

But those of us who provide support also have a role to play in retention. We are often the first people students see when they decide to come to college. We work in the offices which are open after faculty have gone home. They may not remember our faces, but they will remember how welcome they were made to feel.

P.S. The only taxpayer dollars used in providing forks, tissues, and candy are our own.


Monday Motivator: Log Your Happy Moments

Okay, I’m sure when you read today’s title, your first thought was, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Or “Oh no. The Jolly Librarian has read another self-help book.”

To be honest, I am still thinking about the self-help book I read last week: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. And I too thought that  no one has time to do a joy log when I first read about it.

But their example in recommending it is compelling. A student, Mortimer (not the name in the book. But I don’t have the book with me. And I think more people should be named Mortimer.) graduated in Civil Engineering and took a job in the field. A few years later, he was miserable, but he didn’t know what else to do. He got all sorts of advice, including go back to school in finance–since engineers are good at numbers and he could make all sorts of money with an advanced degree in finance.

But before applying for graduate school, he took the authors’ advice and kept a log of his happiest and most depressing moments on the job in order to help him find what his next career should be.

He discovered an amazing thing: He LIKED civil engineering. What he didn’t like was the budget and finance part. (Good thing he didn’t apply for the MBA.)

So, in the end, Mortimer, did return to college for an advanced degree in Civil Engineering. He now has a job solely focused on the engineering and is a happy camper.

The moral here: Know what makes you miserable. Know what brings you joy. And as odd it sounds, you can’t always trust your feelings. You may have to do some research.


Monday Motivator: Don’t Fight Gravity

In their book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful LifeBill Burnett and Dave Evans discuss making changes through a design perspective. One piece of advice from the design world is that the problem must be solvable.

It’s the gravity idea. For example, we might complain about gravity. It makes it harder for us to get uphill when we’re biking. It makes parts of our body fall as we get older. Gravity is the worst. But since we can’t do anything about gravity, other than complain about it, from a design perspective, it’s simply not useful to concentrate on it. Instead we should focus on the things we can do something about.

Now this may sound a little academic, but think about how often we fight ‘gravity.’ For example, over the years, friends have said to me, “I’d go into education if the pay were better. Why can’t the pay be better?”

We would all like the pay to be better for teachers. But while increased teacher pay is a noble cause and one that should be supported, it’s not very helpful as a design problem.

The better questions to ask might be something like these:

  1. How can I find a way to support a family and teach at the same time?
  2. Since I can’t afford to go into teaching right now, how can I incorporate it into my free time or hobbies?
  3. Would corporate training satisfy my need to teach as well as my need to make a certain salary?
  4. Do I even like teaching? Maybe I should volunteer somewhere first.

We have all been taught that the first step in problem solving is to define the problem. But we should also be make sure that the problem we’re defining is one we can actually solve. Because if not, then we’re probably just going to end up complaining.


Monday Motivator: Plan Your Next Act

I’ve been serving on a search committee, and as I read the applicants’ application materials, I realized that they had put a lot of thought into their career trajectories. They had made moves that inched them closer to their final career goal. I admire that, although I have not followed their example. My career has been more about trying something new than following any sort of carefully plotted out plan. Still, it has worked out for me.

To me, the only way to fail is to not change at all. When I was in college, I took a physics course. The only thing I remember about the course is that the professor gave us handouts that had been made at least twenty years earlier. Each time his book went into a new edition, he took out the handout originals and marked out old page numbers and added the new ones. By the time I took his class, some of his handouts had ten or so marked-out page numbers. That would not have been so bad if it had not soon become obvious that he simply taught the same semester over and over. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have friends who have taught composition for years, yet they have never taught the same class twice. They watch students’ reactions to see what doesn’t work and change instructional strategies for the next semester. Sometimes, they change instructional strategies between one period and the next.

We don’t need to be ambitious, but we all need to be preparing for our next act: whether it’s applying for a new job or being better than we are today at our job.

However, as I get closer to retirement, I have been thinking about my second act: I want to be a cat lawyer. It seems a perfect job. One, cats are complete jerks, so they are always in trouble. Two, they are so completely cute, they’ll never be found guilty. Think about it.





Monday Motivator: Just Move On.

Can we all agree that, no matter what embarrassing thing we did yesterday. it was not as bad as providing someone with the wrong card at the Oscars or calling out the wrong film or being the wrong people  to grab the statuette?

Luckily, for me, I had already gone up to bed because, when I see these sorts of things, I completely identify with the people involved and get upset myself.

But you know what? All of those people woke up this morning (some probably a little worse for wear from the after-parties), and got back to living their lives. There are still interviews to be done, movies to make, and paparazzi to avoid.

We won’t die of embarrassment. A few years ago, I was in Italy and about to visit the Vatican. I had taken some medicine on an empty stomach, and that, combined with the taxi ride, made me sick as the proverbial dog. I threw up outside the Vatican walls.

I was embarrassed. But while I sipped on water, I realized that the Vatican has been around for hundreds of years and that there was no way I was the first person to vomit in its vicinity. I also realized that no one, except my friends, was paying attention to me. People rushed by without glancing at the woman on the sidewalk.

Embarrassment is an inconvenience, but it shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving our goals.


Media Literacy: Be Aware of Your Biases

A friend of mine recently announced he was leaving Facebook because the site had become too political. Now he is not the only person complaining about this issue, but I had to laugh when I saw his final post. This is the same man who, for the past eight years, regularly posted angry tirades against “Barry Obama.”

Was my friend being hypocritical? Perhaps. But more likely, he simply was unaware of his own bias. So when he saw (and posted) nasty comments about the previous president, he accepted them and moved on. But when such posts popped up about the current president, he felt angry and outraged. It wasn’t that Facebook had become more political. But now posts were criticizing someone he liked, and each one felt like a personal attack.

Personal biases are hard to detect. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as biased. We think of ourselves as rational, clear-headed people who have studied the facts and made reasonable choices. And even though research shows us over and over that we aren’t that rational, we refuse to believe it. And our own personal history should show us that we’re not that clear headed and rational. But we still refuse to believe it.

I don’t think it’s terribly helpful to try to rid ourselves of bias. A worthy goal, perhaps. But a hard one. But one thing we can do immediately is to admit we have biases and be aware of them when we read, see, or listen to the news.

I try to be open about my biases, and I’m lucky enough to have some friends who are comfortable challenging me when I seem to be too much in my information comfort zone. But I have to monitor my biases consistently. If not, I jump back to “My side tells the truth; your side spouts fake news” theme that doesn’t help anyone.

So you have biases? Guess what? You’re human, just like the rest of us. But refusing to admit you have them? Then dealing with the media is always going to trip you up.


Monday Motivator: It’s Okay to Be Rusty


In the book, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom, Jonathan Fields tells the story of coming home one day as a teenager to find his mother in tears in her bedroom. She kept her pottery wheel in the basement and decided that now, newly divorced,  was the time to return to her art.

She told her son that she had lost her talent. She had tried but nothing came.

Like most teenage boys, Jonathan was overwhelmed at all the emotion. But then a thought came to him: He was on the gymnastics team at school. He reminded his mother about how good he was during the season, the practice he put in, the effort to stay in shape. But after the season was over, he let it slide (as only teenage boys can do.) So when it came time to get to the gym again, he was not great that first week or the second. “Because I’m rusty, Mom. And it’s the same for you.”

That night, his mother returned to the basement. And to her art.

Most of us are so busy that we feel accomplished when we just get the basic things done each day. We often think about what we’d do if we had more time. But too often, we then conclude: “Oh, I wouldn’t be any good at (tennis, writing, piano playing, riding the mechanical bull, etc.) now. Too much time has passed. I would be awful.”

Well, take it from me, you will be awful that first time. And maybe the second. But being rusty is no reason not to return to something you used to love. The rust will disappear after some practice, and the fun will return.

So this week, recall something you used to love to do. Pick up that guitar. Write a poem. Run after work. Grimace when the chords squeak, the words are saccharine, and your knees hurt. But don’t give up. You’re just rusty.


Monday Motivator: Get Your Mojo Back

Last night was the beginning of the second half of the season of The Walking Dead. Even those of you who aren’t fans have to know that this has been an especially brutal season with some fans simply walking away from the unremitting bleakness. The murders that started the season were bad enough, but the utterly defeated Rick didn’t help.

But, in my humble opinion (and I am no expert on the show and have never read the comic book), Rick needed to be defeated. He had become too sure that his way was the only way to survive. He had stopped listening.

Still, sad Rick was no fun. And it was encouraging to watch him start back on the right path: recognizing that he had been wrong and admitting it to Maggie, making a little joke to Darryl, believing in Gabriel, and even smiling at the end of the episode. Rick is getting his mojo back.

At any given time, many of us can identify with sad Rick. Our plans have gone awry. The bad people seem to be winning. And, in some cases, we have to admit that our own hubris has contributed to our downfall.

But it doesn’t have to be permanent. The first step, whether we’re fighting Negan and zombies or something more pedestrian, is to realize that we don’t want to stay there, realize what power we have, and take the first step.

So let’s do it.

Monday Motivator: Obey the Two-Minute Rule

If you walk around the back part of the library, you are likely to see any or all of the following: a styrofoam box that may or may not contain the remnants of someone’s lunch,  a sweater, a Target bag full of someone’s lunchtime shopping, and a phone. The one thing that these items have in common is that none is where it’s supposed to be.

What tends to happen is that someone is on the way to put an item away, gets distracted, puts said item down, and then  forgets about it. For a hour. For a day. For a week. For eternity.

This forgetfulness annoys the neater staff member and causes clutter.

Recently, while reading  I came across the two-minute rule. Basically it’s this: If a task takes less than two minutes, don’t make an excuse, do it.

Procrastination is one of my problems. When I come home from work, my first impulse is to sit on the sofa and decompress for a while. And then three hours later, I delay going to bed because I’m tired but still need to take out my contacts, change clothes, etc. My mail piles up on the table by my door. And my dining table has become a purgatory for all the things that I can’t decide where to put or find a place for.

So I took some baby steps. The first night I came home, before sitting down, I sorted my mail. Then as I looked longingly at my sofa, I asked myself if it would take longer than two minutes to take out my contacts. The answer was no, so I trudged upstairs.

A few hours later, when I was ready to go to bed, I didn’t have to wash my face, put away my clothes, or put dishes in the dishwasher. All I had to do was go upstairs. It was a good night.

It also works for larger projects, especially as a way to get started when an assignment seems too large and overwhelming.

Now I just need to make my colleagues as enthused about the two-minute rule as I am.