- Have enough cutlery to get through the semester. Our college doesn’t have a cafeteria, and students often remember their lunches but forget a fork or spoon. Where do they go for help? The Library.
- Stock up on hand sanitizer and tissues. Students (and staff) sneeze and sniffle. A lot. It’s best to have materials on hand.
- Be prepared for questions from faculty about any changes to electronic resources over the summer. (Faculty don’t like changes.)
- Remind staff that students will be returning next week, and that means a return to library voices (or at least no shouting from cubicles to front desk).
- Make one last effort to find the source of the funky smell that greets you each morning.
- Send out email announcements to campus. Field questions from staff who didn’t read the emails.
- Remember when you answer the same question for the 100th time on the first day of class, it’s the first time you’re answering it for that particular student. Act accordingly.
The other night I was watching the tennis channel. A storm had delayed the match, so there was a rerun of a famous U.S. Opens Final Match. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention until I heard one of the announcers say that Victoria Azarenka was playing each point, and not the legend across the net, Serena Williams.
I liked that idea and think it has applications outside the tennis world.
Maybe you are a freshman who didn’t have the best academic record in high school. You might start college with the idea that you are not a good student, and life is going to be hard. Let go of the legend of your past. Instead play the point in front of you. Make a new start.
Or maybe you were a high school star, and suddenly you’re in a class that is hard, really hard. And you’re having a hard time keeping up. You think that it isn’t fair; you’ve always done well in school and that’s what you expect to do now. Forget about the past, and play the point that’s in front of you.
And there’s no fairy tale ending. Azarenka didn’t win. But she put up a good fight by not being overwhelmed and taking each point as it came. And that’s all any of us can do.
This morning I did something unusual, for me, at least. I had one item on my to-do list that had to be done before I went to bed. I mean, really had to be done, or there would be consequences. It had been on the list on Friday. And Saturday. This morning, after eating breakfast, I sat down and got it done before I did anything else. I didn’t go to the gym first. I didn’t see who was playing on the Tennis Channel. I didn’t take a shower. I got that item off the list.
Throughout the day, I was amazed at how light I felt. I didn’t have a project hanging over my head as I worked out or went to the mall to take back some skirts or as I watched Grantchester. Halfway through the day, I thought:
This must be how productive people feel all the time.
In general, I am an awful procrastinator. Actually, that’s wrong. I am an excellent procrastinator. That excellence is not something to be proud of. Putting off things is such second nature to me that I had forgotten what it feels like to get things done and off my plate. I thought that the vague feeling of dread as the hours crept closer to my deadline was normal and nothing I could do anything about.
The title of today’s blog comes from a saying from Mark Twain (or at least attributed to him. Mark Twain gets credit for a lot of things on the Internet.) According to Twain, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you have the satisfaction of knowing that is probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you that day. Brain Tracy also used it for his book on time management and procrastination. The premise is simple. Do the big thing, or the worst thing, or the most worrisome thing immediately, and then you won’t have to procrastinate or fret about it for the rest of the day.
What is your frog? Identify and deal with it right away. You really will have a happier day, I promise you.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink shares the experience of a preschool. There was a time each day when all the children should have been picked up. If a parent were tardy, a teacher would have to stay with the child until he or she arrived. The school decided that it would solve the problem by charging parents a fee if they picked their children up late. It seemed logical. After all, who wants to pay more money? And the number of parents who were late picking up their children did change. It went up.
What happened? Prior to the change, according to Pink, the parents thought of the teachers as partners. They were taking care of their precious children, and the parents didn’t want to make the teachers’ jobs harder by extending their workdays. Once the fine policy was put into place, the parents reevaluated those thoughts; they started seeing the relationship in purely economic terms. If they were late, they simply concluded that they were paying for the time. So perhaps it wasn’t such a big deal if a teacher had to stay late.
This experience can teach us some things:
- What seems to be a clear solution to a problem may not be.
- We should evaluate any decisions or policies that replace a human element with a mechanistic one.
- People don’t react well to policies that seem like punishment.
Now even educational institutions have to obey basic rules of business. At my college, we need to make sure that our students are prepared to go to the next level or to jobs. We need to make sure we handle the budgets so that people get paid and the lights stay on.
But we must never forget that we are dealing with people and treat them with the utmost respect.
This week marks the last week of summer term. This is not as much fun as the end of other semesters because we immediately start gearing up for fall. For many of us, we’ve been gearing up for fall the entire summer.
Still, it is necessary to make the most of this break whether or not you have the time off or you’re still at work. (The library is open all the time; there are just times when there are almost no students or faculty on campus. So for the majority of us, the most we can hope for is a little staycation, not a vacation.)
So how do you take care of yourself when your break time is limited (and punctuated by demands for the coming semester)?
Here are some tips: (These are tips by a nerdy English major. You may need to modify them for your own situation.)
- Find a nice summer novel and take time to read it. Just a light-hearted romance or a stirring mystery. Let your mind be taken away from your stresses for a few hours.
- While this technically fits under preparing for the next semester, it’s fun. Go to an office supplies store and buy yourself a little gift. Maybe a purple gel pen. Maybe some sticky notes in a variety of colors. Maybe a notebook with a pretty cover.
- Find a swimming pool. I am not a pool person. I haven’t been to my condo’s pool in years. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would have to buy a new swimsuit if I decided to swim. But the pool is a symbol of summer. Take those last swims before the outdoor pools start closing for the season. (Mine pool closes on Labor Day.)
- Buy an ice cream cone and eat it outside. Feel the contrast of the heat with coldness of the cone.
- Look at your summer clothes and see if there are any that didn’t get worn this year. If you like them, wear them before the weather changes. If you don’t, give them away. Getting rid of a little clutter is always a mood booster for me.
- Find a binge-worthy show, make some popcorn, and enjoy. Maybe now’s the time to finish up Game of Thrones. I watched all five seasons of Grace and Frankie in a weekend. Don’t make it a regular thing. But enjoy yourself for an evening and don’t feel guilty.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t spend a lot of time bemoaning the short time between semesters. Enjoy the time you have!
I have curly hair, and people with curly hair get a head start on realizing that there are things that are totally out of your control. If someone tells me my hair looks good, I say thanks while knowing that I did exactly the same thing I did the day before when my hair resembled a sad haystack.
I spend an embarrassing amount of time on YouTube watching people style their curly hair. And those tutorials help. But curly hair has a mind of its own, and anything can affect its mood. It doesn’t like any change in humidity. It doesn’t like too much or too little product. So I just try to make it happy, but it’s never a sure thing.
But curly hair is much like life. I can wash it and style it. I can learn ways to make it behave a bit better. All of those things are in my control. But I am never going to have total control of how it looks when I leave for work each morning. So I focus on the things I can control and let the others go. And I hope my hair doesn’t scare small children or be mistaken as a beehive.
I have made peace with my hair, but I still need to work on the curly hair philosophy in to other parts of my life. I still have a tendency to think that if I do certain things, people will act in certain ways. I have to remember that like curly hair, I can put in some work, but in the end, people are going to do what they’re going to do.
In the novel, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, two characters discuss forgiveness and the inability at times to forgive yourself. I don’t want to go into detail because part of the joy of this novel is finding out how these two characters meet and become friends.
The idea here is sometimes we are stupid. We are thoughtless. We are headstrong. We are inconsiderate. And especially, when we’re young, we don’t always think through the consequences. And sometimes, all we can do is say we were stupid and young. We have to admit that we hurt others. And then we have to move on. Sometimes we get the chance to ask for, and be granted, forgiveness. Sometimes we ask for forgiveness, and it is withheld. And sometimes fate intervenes, and we never get a chance to ask for forgiveness at all.
But in all cases, we have to find a way to move on. We can’t stay stuck in our self-hatred if we are going to have a meaningful life. We must find a way to forgive ourselves.
I have done things that make me cringe when I think of them. I told a friend about one of them that could not now be fixed. She agreed that it was not my best moment.
Then she asked, “Did you do it again?”
I was horrified. “No!”
“So you did something bad. You felt bad about it. And you’ve never done it again. Then I think it’s time to let it go.”
I realized that, while it was never an act I was going to be proud of, I had learned something. I had become a (marginally) better person.
I could stop beating myself up.
Recently, I heard the author Elizabeth Gilbert talk about the need for beauty in the world. She told the story of her grandmother during the Depression. During that time, there was no room for any extras. There was no wasted food. Every remnant of cloth was put to another use.
Gilbert’s grandmother used the remnants of cloth to make quilts so that the family could be warm in the winter. Their use was totally utilitarian. But Gilbert pointed out that the quilts themselves were beautiful. Her grandmother could have made them plain and dowdy, and they would have served the same purpose. But her grandmother had a need for creativity and beauty.
A few years ago, at a library staff meeting, someone mentioned the weedy little patch of earth in front of our building. “We should just take it over and make it look nice.” I asked the President, and he gave permission. Since that time, Sally and Charles have taken care of that area. Now, every single month, as staff and students walk into our building, they are greeted with a dancing array of colorful flowers. I can’t count the number of days that my spirits have been lifted as I walk in or out of the building.
I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert. We need beauty in our lives. So this week, let’s make something in our environment a little more beautiful than it has to be.
There’s a lot of talk these days about self-made people and that no one owes us anything in life. I don’t know if anyone owes me anything, but I owe a lot of people. I owe my 4th-grade teacher who decided that my love for reading was more important than my indifferent eating habits. I owe the factory where my father worked for a scholarship that allowed me to go to away to a university. I owe the professors who took time with a country girl who didn’t understand all the rules of college and helped her to fit in.
Many of these people from the early years of my life are now gone, and I was too careless to thank them at the time. Perhaps I didn’t even realize that they made the choice to help me and could have chosen not to. Perhaps I didn’t realize how different things could have turned out.
Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I am trying to make amends. Of course, there are a million good causes out there, but I make a special effort to honor the types of folks who helped me out. I look for projects in rural schools that will give other country kids the opportunities I had. In the library, we all encourage our students to come to us with their questions about how college works and how they can best fit in.
And I think those who helped me along the way would approve of this sort of appreciation.
So this week, let’s all think back to those people who gave us a chance and, in gratitude, find a way to give one to someone else.
Friday night, I was in Walgreens, standing in line behind all the people buying beer and snacks for the night. It was a long line, but I wasn’t in a hurry, so I did some people watching. The clerk was a young man, probably a college student home for the summer.
The woman in front of me could have played the stereotypical old lady in any sitcom. She questioned every purchase, made sure that her coupons had gone through, and couldn’t quite remember her store card number as she was finishing up. Then she demanded to know that she had gotten all her discounts.
What I noticed was how patient the young man was with her. He answered every question about her discounts seriously. His tone was never impatient. You would have thought that she was the only person in the world until he handed her bag, and she left the store.
On my neighborhood Facebook page, there are often posts complaining about bad service at restaurants, stores, banks, etc. And don’t get me wrong; I think customer service is important.
But as I watched that young man at Walgreens, I wondered if we sometimes get it backwards. Maybe we need to be the sort of customer who deserves good customer service. Let’s treat the people at service counters the way we’d want them treated if they were our children in a summer job. Be patient. Unless you are truly on your way to conduct emergency brain surgery, is it really necessary to be impatient and angry if you have to wait for a few moments?
A few months ago, I returned some clothes to a store. The clerk, who was obviously new, was nervous and thanked me for being patient. I laughed and said that if waiting a few minutes in a nice air-conditioned store was the worst thing that happened to me that day, it was going to be a good day indeed. I was surprised when she looked sad and said that she wished everyone felt that way.
Maybe the message for this week is simply this: Just be a nice person, even when you’re a customer.