You Don’t Need a Cape to Be a Superhero.

What is the recipe for success in any job?  I stumbled upon this great article by Chris Guillebeau, How to Stand Out in Any Job.   While I think his ideas have some obstacle in some situations, the spirit of these ideas and the practical applications are fantastic.  I encourage you to read his article and wander around his site.  There are some real gems there.

I want to bounce off his 8 principles for becoming a superhero in any job over the course of the next couple of weeks here on CCS.

“Never Turn Down a Project by saying, ‘that’s not in my job description’.”

This is huge.  I like that he put it first.  There are three ways to be at work:  open, closed and somewhere in between when it comes to being flexible in the workplace.  Guess which group gets the raises and promotions?  Guess which group has a better chance of getting positive responses to their requests?

In my varied work experiences in retail and the library world, I have hands down been happier when I have been open to being flexible about my job duties, etc.  This does not mean I take on jobs and responsibilities without asking for compensation for added work.  It does mean that when asked to handle something or do another task or take on some responsibility, I have almost always said yes, even if there is not added compensation.  I’m also not saying to take on TOO much responsibility so you lack balance in your life.  There is nothing wrong with answering a request to do something with an honest reply about workload and inquiry into your institution’s priorities.  Something along the lines of:

“I would love to help you.  I’m in the middle of projects X, Y, and Z; but, if you don’t mind Y and Z getting put on hold a bit; I think I can handle this new task with no problems.”

I have almost always been rewarded for pitching in when needed.  Sometimes the reward is monetary (raises and/or promotion), sometimes it’s a pat on the back and sometimes it has been support from others for my own pet projects.  Almost every time, I have been rewarded with the satisfaction of helping a coworker.

Happiness researchers (yes, there really are researchers who research happiness) have found a higher rate of happiness in people who are altruistic.  I think the same sort of satisfaction that you would get doing volunteer work or shoveling an elderly neighbor’s snow is available to you at work by being keeping an open mind about what your role is and how you should be spending your time.

I have encountered people who’s knee jerk reaction to being asked to do work outside of their job description is “no.”  You’ll win no friends and allies with this attitude.  That attitude benefits no one.  Most of you have experienced workplaces where there are some people who barely hold up their end and there are others who are continuously asked to work on new projects.  Some people see this as unfair, especially in a union environment when you might be making the same amount of money as the person who does less and is unwilling to help out.  But, even in these situations you win by stepping up because come promotion time or when an interesting position opens up you will be in a better spot to succeed in getting it.  You will also just have more opportunities at work:  more opportunities to learn, more opportunities to build your resume with varying experiences, more opportunities to network with colleagues and more opportunities to be challenged with interesting and fulfilling projects.

“That’s not my job.”  Don’t be that guy.  The guy who says that dreads getting out of bed and going to work every day.  The guy who says that only dreams of retirement.  The guy who says that is just putting in his time.  Our lives are way too precious for that kind of thinking.

Take this moment to ponder a line from Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?

Finding Your Place

I’m always a little surprised when I meet other educated folks who upon finding out I’m a librarian ask something along the lines of:  do you get to read all day?  Really?  People still think that?  If I actually had to read all day at work, I would hate my job.

I think one of the essential keys to having a fulfilling and happy career as a librarian is by finding your place.  Finding your place means understanding yourself.  It means that you can accurately answer some of the following questions:

How do you like to spend your day?  Do you need to move around or can you sit behind a desk for long periods of time?  How much human interaction do you need on a daily basis?  Do you like working alone or does working on teams charge you up?  How much time serving the public is too much time?  How much energy do you have for staying on top of trends in highly technical topics?  How much energy do you have for staying adept at new software, new operating systems, new technologies?  How much responsibility are you capable of handling?  How much do you want to take on?  Are you well suited for managing other people?  Are you well suited for leading projects?

In every job I’ve ever held, I’ve observed people who are miserable in their jobs for one reason or another.  Some folks will be unhappy no matter where they are; but, other people are unhappy because somewhere along the line, they made a wrong assumption and landed in a job that didn’t fit them well.

If you are currently unhappy in your position, you need to think of the things that could change that.   And then you make a plan.  Talk to your supervisor and see what changes are possible.  If they are unwilling to work with you, you’ll need to keep your eyes open for a job that is a better fit.  I’ve had jobs where I was bored out of my mind and took steps to remedy it by asking for more and more responsibility.  I’ve made mistakes.  My first job out of library school was a cataloging position.  I love cataloging.  I love the challenge of it and the peaceful nature of it.  But, I can’t do it all day.  I’m way too social and fidgety.  I love reference; but, I can’t do that all the time either, especially when the reference desk is also the computer help desk.  I also don’t particularly like dealing with genealogy or advanced business questions.  I used to say that I liked being a worker bee not a manager; but, things changed and I found that I really like being a manager.  Right now I tend to say:  I’m a middle manager; I never want to be the one solely in charge.  But, maybe that will change too.  Who knows.

Maybe more responsibility will make you happy, or less.  Maybe more variety or longer deadlines or maybe you need to feel like you are being heard or valued.  Maybe there is a project you want to start.  It’s your job to figure it out and find a way to make it happen.

It’s important to constantly question.  I am curious about technology.  I like understanding how things work and don’t work.  But, I don’t want to learn code.  I don’t want to have to master a highly technical skill like programming.  I like variety.  I like to prioritize my own day.  I like bosses that check in but don’t hover.  I like being the team leader and sometimes I like being in the pack.  These are all answers to questions I’ve asked myself.

Here’s an exercise:

Think of one of your favorite jobs.  Now ask yourself why.  Make a list of all the things you loved about that job, even the weird or seemingly irrelevant ones.  I look back fondly on a job I held in a bookstore where the employees were always creating wacky contests like limericks that contained misquoted book titles.  This was not an organized thing.  It was just the result of a group of fun, creative people trying to liven things up.  From this, I understand I enjoy a certain kind of fun at work and I enjoy being around creative people.  I also understand that because I realize this about myself, I might have to be the one to  instigate this sort of activity.

Once you have a better understanding about the things that make you happy at work, it will be easier to see where you fit.  You will be able to find your place.  And you might be surprised.  Sometimes you have to let go of certain ideas you have created for yourself or the way others see you.  Sometimes it means letting go of a version of yourself that is not authentic or switching from a path that you created from a misguided notion of what you should be doing.

Inertia is a very powerful force.  Don’t let inertia make career decisions for you.  Find your place through purposeful introspection and investigation.

If you are job hunting and looking for a place where you can really learn about how libraries work and where you fit the best, try a small to medium sized library.  Smaller libraries give you the opportunity to try on a lot of different hats.  They are the perfect place to try out different jobs and take on responsibilities you might not have the opportunity to experience at bigger libraries.

Find your place.  You’ll be happier for taking the journey.


Update:  Not 3 minutes after publishing this post, I read this Malcolm Gladwell quote via the 3rd Ward Blog.

Those three things–autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are–most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.

It is a simple reminder about what truly brings us satisfaction.