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There is a movement called “Because I Said I Would.” It’s not an outlandish movement; it’s the thing we all learned in kindergarten. (Well, I suppose so. I didn’t go to kindergarten.) The movement asks us to consider our promises and to make a decision that when we say we’re going to do something, we do it.
Now, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem like such a major thing. After all, we all know not to make promises that we don’t intend to keep. But it seems that, unfortunately, we have let the word “intend” be the key word. And that’s the problem. We’ve all been there:
- We say “I’ll call you” and fully intend to, but then we get busy, and suddenly months go by and we’ll never get around to it.
- We promise to be a better citizen of the earth and stop using plastic bags. But it’s just so much trouble to remember to have reusable bags in the car all the time, and we don’t have time to run back in the house to get one. And suddenly, it’s the fifth week in a row that we’re guiltily stuffing our groceries in the plastic bag.
- We promise to start a diet, get up early, or go to the gym tomorrow (or next week). But the day passes by, and we haven’t done a single thing.
For many of us, the list is endless. And we may not think this is a problem because our intentions are good. But when we don’t do what we say, we start a pattern that can hurt our relationships with our families, friends, and colleagues. The recipients of our words know that intentions don’t make up for actions.
But we hurt ourselves as well. When we don’t keep promises to ourselves, we begin to lose drive and motivation. When we can’t believe ourselves, we’re in trouble.
The answer here is not to feel guilty about what a bad family member, friend or colleague we are. (Or at least not in this essay.) The answer is to monitor our language. How often do we know that we are too busy to do anything but the essentials right now, but still say to people, “We’ll do lunch” or “Let’s see a movie.”?
The message of the movement is simple: If you can’t do it, don’t say you will. And if you say you will, then do it.
A town developed a ‘positive ticket’ program. Officers not only gave out tickets to offenders, but also to those who were doing good things: obeying the law, helping others, etc. People could trade in the tickets for food at a local restaurant, a movie pass, or games arcade. One day, a teenager saved a kid from getting hurt, and an officer ‘ticketed’ him, saying that he was going to make something out of himself one day.
The teenage boy took the ticket home and pinned it up on his bedroom wall. A few weeks later, his foster mom noticed the ticket was still there.
“When are you going to use it?” she asked.
“Never,” he answered. It was the first time anyone in authority had told him that he could make something out of his life and he wanted to keep that reminder forever.
Now when I heard this on my drive to work, I got a little teary-eyed, which is not the best state to be in while driving. But it was just what I needed.
I work at a college where every day I talk to students of all ages who need some encouragement. Some are struggling academically, others financially. Some are trying to get a degree despite lack of encouragement from loved ones. Others are first-generation college students whose families want to support them but aren’t sure how. Some are trying to find a direction in life. Some are coming to terms with the fact that the goal they always wanted is simply not going to be achieved. Some are discovering for the first time that they are pretty smart and are realizing they have more options than they ever imagined. And they all need encouragement that they can make it.
The thing is there is no way to know what is going on in the life of the person standing in front of us. And you know, we don’t have to. We can just decide to be the encourager. The person may not even notice it. But there is a chance it may be the only encouraging words the person has heard today, or this month, or this year, or ever. And it will make a difference.
Greg McKeown, in the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, tells the story of an important meeting that was crucial for him to attend. The only problem was that his wife went into labor the day before, and as the time of meeting approached, he was sitting in the hospital room with his wife and new baby. It should have been obvious what he was going to do, right?
He got up and went to the meeting.
He tells this story to point out the dangers of not being clear about our priorities and goals. And before we judge him too harshly, take a minute to think through the example. Yes, he was a brand-new father. And he had the goal to be a great husband and dad. But he was also running a business and probably thinking being financially secure would help him be a good husband and father. (And it was very likely he was making this decision on very little sleep.) By the way, he is also clear that he made the wrong choice and would not do so again. And, no, his wife did not divorce him.
McKeown recommends that we take time to define the absolute essentials in our lives. And once we define them, we use them as yardsticks by which to measure the requests that are made of us. He reminds us that most of the time we are not being asked to choose between bad and good things. We are most often being asked to choose between two good and worthy things. And if we aren’t clear what essential values and goals are, we are likely to take on too much or get distracted by something that sounds promising in the moment.
I am certainly not recommending that anyone refuse to take on new challenges or opportunities. We should never stagnate. But we should think about our priorities and not just add things because we’ve been asked and afraid that the asker might not like us or refuse to provide us with another opportunity. We should only say yes to those that help us get to where we want to go and/or excite us.
A few weeks ago, I was at my local recycling center. I keep all my paper in a basic mop bucket. Usually it works well, I hold it by the handle, turn it upside down, and the paper falls in the bin.
But it was after Christmas, and I had been weeding through all my 2018 papers. So the bucket was full. When I started to throw out my papers, some got stuck, and I as tried to finagle them, I lost my grip on the handle. My bucket fell into the bin.
I reached in. The bucket was just out of reach. I tried to lift myself up to see if I could just manage to grab that handle. But then I remembered a story a colleague told me: A woman once fell into a charity bin and died. I was not worried about dying from exposure. Even as I was doing a sad sort of gymnastics trying to reach my bucket, other people were pulling up to recycle. But I would prefer not to be the subject of my neighborhood’s Facebook page.
It seemed that I had no other option than to leave and stop by the dollar store and buy a new bucket. That was not upsetting, but I hated the thought of the entire bin being rejected because of my plastic bucket. I got back in my car and spied my trusty umbrella. I returned to the bin.
I stuck the umbrella into the bin and managed to hook the handle. The bucket still had a lot of paper in it and wouldn’t lift. But I could knock it around enough so that some of the papers came out. And then I was able to pull the bucket out of the bin.
I have to admit that I was pleased way out of proportion to what I actually accomplished. But this is something that I am constantly working on: solving a problem that comes my way instead of moaning and giving up.
Things I learned from this experience:
- Always keep an umbrella in the car.
- I really have to work on my upper-body strength.
- A little thought is often all that is needed when faced with a problem.
It has been a hard eighteen months for some of us at our college. Four of our current and former colleagues have died, two of complications from advanced dementia, one from a quick but vicious cancer, and one from a totally unexpected moment during what should have been a routine surgery. I suppose that the death of a friend always causes some soul searching, reminding one that life is short and should not be wasted.
It would be presumptuous to think I might know if my friends and colleagues had achieved their goals in life. I’m pretty sure that they wanted to have more good years left, to spend time with their families, read good books, and laugh with friends. I think most felt they still had contributions to make to the world. But I also think that they made pretty good use of the time they had.
Still I thought of them when I saw a post on Facebook; it was close to New Year’s when people tend to share optimistic and motivating ideas for the coming year. This one, which I liked and then promptly lost track of, said something along the lines to make sure that you do something on your bucket list every day.
This made a lot of sense to me. Bucket lists are often made up of big items. (Trips seem to be a popular item.) And there is nothing wrong with having big goals and dreams. But while we’re waiting for big things to happen, a lot of life can go by.
So think of the things that you want to do while you are still alive and still healthy enough. And then think about how you can make them into daily activities. Maybe you can’t go on a trip today. But you can make sure that your passport isn’t expired, you can put a few dollars to your trip fund, or you can jot down the places you want to go.
Maybe your bucket list includes leaving money for a charity in your will. That’s great. But go ahead and give away a little money today. Take advantage of that impulse to help someone now.
Life is indeed short. And plans can go awry. And that’s why we need to keep our eyes on them and do a little something to make sure our lives are happy and meaningful each and every day.
This is the last Monday Motivator for 2018. The semester ends this week, and, even as we all feel the stress of finals, we know the break is coming. Faculty and students will finish this weekend. And then it will just be staff members left until we close for the holidays.
While I always miss students, it’s nice to have a few days to tidy up from the semester and make some plans for the next one. The library staff will have a holiday lunch, and then, one by one, folks will start taking days off to finish shopping, to start huge cooking projects, or to fly home to see family members.
I hope everyone has a nice holiday filled with at least some of the following:
- Family and friends
- Good food
- At least two books that you’ve been putting off until you have time to read them (and time to read)
- At least one version of “A Christmas Carol”
- A special gift (It’s totally appropriate to give it to yourself)
- A chance to give to others
- One day during the holiday when you get to do nothing but chill
Happy Holidays, everyone. See you in 2019.
As the semester comes to an end, the stress levels go up. Students are writing papers and completing projects before final exams begin. Faculty are grading papers and projects and writing those final exams. Now fall semester finals are even more stressful because they coincide with the beginning of the holiday season.
So how do you handle the anxiety of these last couple of weeks of the semester? Here are the Jolly Librarian’s tips:
- Be realistic. Look at the time you have and the amount of work you have to do. Schedule your time and energy wisely.
- Don’t get discouraged by all you have to do. There is one saving grace at college. Semesters have a finite length. So no matter how bad the next two weeks are, the semester will be over after the last final exam (or after you’ve graded that exam).
- Find a buddy. One thing I’ve noticed this semester is the increase of study groups using the library. Groups are great: they hold you accountable for material learned and for actually showing up. And they can provide you with the knowledge you’re not suffering alone. From my years as a faculty member, I know the same idea works for teachers as well. We might not be in the same room, but just knowing that there are colleagues grading away in the offices down the hall who can provide support, a laugh or two, and a needed dip into their chocolate supply is a big help.
- Take a short break. I know we all turn to our phones for entertainment. But I actually think getting up and moving around is a better stress buster. If it’s cold, wrap up in your coat and scarf and take a quick walk around the campus.
- Do something nice for someone. Sometimes just remembering that other people are out there and need help is enough to break the self-centered drain that stress can drown us in. It’s great that the holiday season means there are plenty of opportunities to be nice. (Buy a secret Santa gift for someone. Give to a charity. Bring donuts to your next study session.)
- Remember why you’re doing this. Keeping the bigger goal in mind won’t make the stress go away, but it’ll keep it in context.
- Find a way to laugh every day.
On Saturday, coming home from Alabama, I stopped at a mall outside of town. I needed some gloves and a scarf since the weather was about to turn cold again. My plan was to run in, buy the items, and be back on the road in twenty minutes.
The first problem was that no store had what I needed. I ended up walking into every store that sold scarves (which was more than two and less than two hundred. At some point, I gave up on counting.) At the end I had to admit failure, so I went back to my car.
And there I met problem two. While I was in the mall, someone driving the most massive white truck I had ever seen parked beside me. Now this truck was parked at such an angle that there was no room between it and my car. I couldn’t back out.
I sat in my car for a moment and thought over my options:
- Just back out, taking part of the truck with me. Morally, I couldn’t do it. Practically, it was likely my tiny car would come out the worst in any such encounter.
- Wait in my car until the person left. (Or, more happily, until the car across from me left because I couldn’t see anyway that the truck could leave without hitting me.)
- Go back inside.
I chose option 3. I made a mental list of presents that I needed to buy and returned to the mall. Every thirty minutes or so, I walked back to the parking lot to see if the truck was still there. After ninety minutes, I found the white truck gone with no harm done to my car, and I went home.
As I was driving, I thought of a time that I overheard a conversation between a friend of mine and a customer at her store. The customer said that she believed in the idea that everything, no matter how bad, had a good side. My friend disagreed, giving an example that was so horrible that the conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably.
But most of the time, we don’t face extreme, horrible circumstances. In my case, at the worst, I was inconvenienced. And there were indeed some good things that came out of it:
- I don’t have to return to this mall during the holiday season, since I am now well acquainted with all its goods.
- I added 15,000 steps on my Fitbit.
- Since I had my phone with me, I could keep tabs on the Alabama game, which my alma mater won in a convincing manner.
Like most people, I am thankful for family, friends, health, and home this Thanksgiving. I am truly fortunate.
But sometimes, I think it also helps to look at things at a “slant” as Emily Dickinson says. So here is a list of the less-obvious things that make me thankful:
- I am grateful that I work in a place that has a wide diversity of folks. I really think my own outlook has been broadened by my constant interaction with students from different countries, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and with different goals.
- I am thankful for my somewhat phlegmatic temperament because it apparently means that I will never yell at waiters, clerks, or customer service reps. In fact, when someone apologizes for a line being slow, I am at a loss on how to answer because I’m usually thinking that if waiting in a line is the worst thing that happens to me on any given day, then I’m one fortunate person. This personality quirk means that I rarely mull over wrongdoings after they happen, and my blood pressure seems to stay at a decent level despite my love of salt.
- I have no musical talent at all, but I am grateful that I live in Nashville. I’ve rarely seen stars out and about (except for Nicole and Keith at Whole Foods and Vince and Amy leaving Office Depot once), but I am constantly energized by the music being made around me. It is inspiring to see my library colleagues finish their workday and then go out to play music or to write.
- I don’t remember learning to read. To me, reading is like breathing, something that I’ve always done. So I’m not sure whom to thank on this one: probably a combination of my mother, elementary school teachers and librarians, and friends who loved books as much as I did. So I thank everyone along the way who encouraged me love of reading. I’m grateful to the world you opened up for me.
- And, finally, I am grateful that I live in a world where I was born after George Eliot and Jane Austen. I can’t imagine a life without the worlds you created.
This can be a hard time of the semester. For students, every course is now racing to the end, with due dates for tests, papers, and projects accumulating like the bugs on the rotting apple that someone left in the back of the library. The same is true for faculty, as they have to grade all those materials being turned in.
At this point in the semester, there is always some looking backwards and wishing things had been different. Students wish they’d studied harder at the beginning of the semester and had not failed that first test or bombed that second speech; they would be in so much better shape now. Faculty wish that they had changed the syllabus a bit, so there would be less grading in the final four weeks.
Now there is no problem with this sort of thinking if it effects change. We make a note reminding ourselves to make a different start next semester, and then we do so. But too often, we just get mired down in regrets.
So now is the time to realize what done is done. We can’t go back and make a new beginning for the semester. We can only make the best of the time we now have.
And that’s just as true with relationships as with semesters. We may have ignored a friend because we’ve been too busy. We may have said some truly hurtful words because we were irritated and angry. We may caused our colleagues more work and time because we were focused on ourselves.
We’re humans. We make mistakes. But we can’t pretend these things didn’t happen. We have to admit them and start the process of reconciliation. Because what’s done is done. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.