Serendipity and Community

Don’t you love how one thing leads to another?  Someone sends you a blog article or tells you a story or there’s a post on Facebook that you click on and before you know it: connection to connection to connection and you find yourself creating a link between two ideas or people or parts of your life that you wouldn’t have ordinarily connected.

Here’s the little journey I recently went on.  I’m a member of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project.  She had a blog post about doing an interview on Good Life Project, which I had never heard of before.  I went to the website and the interview at the top was with Brene Brown who is a researcher that has garnered popular interest with her TED Talks and her books on shame and vulnerability.  If you read my blog, you know that I love her.  Listen to her TED Talks (there are 2 of them).  I seriously heard doors swing open when she talked about vulnerability as a courageous act.  I listened to the Brene Brown interview and she mentioned a Thich Nhat Hahn quote that she had recently heard.  “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”  This quote was rattling around my head along with a part of the interview where they discussed finding a community and figuring out how to serve them instead of developing a product and figuring out how to sell it.  So, here are these two different ways of talking about connectedness and community when I came across this post about shareable spaces in libraries.

Whew.  Are you still with me?  That whole process happened in a few minutes.  I went from checking in on a community blog that is about meditation and wound my way to a blog about building shareable communities that had a library related post.

A few days ago, I read another one of those “demise of libraries” articles and was dumbfounded.  When was the last time the writer had actually been in a public library?  His major thesis was that libraries’ main schtick was to loan books and that would eventually disappear.  Uhm.  No.  Libraries main schtick is serving the community in the way the community needs.  They need books?  We try to provide books.  They need jobs?  We try to provide the computer access and training and bring in speakers and resume writers and business advisers to help.  It goes on and on.  The crazy, beautiful thing about the the article referenced above about libraries as laboratories is that is where the hearts of libraries lie: in the ability to stretch beyond boundaries and in new directions to meet the needs and interests of the community.  I keep hearing all the doom and gloom stories ; but, I’m not seeing the evidence of this.

I get goosebumps thinking about the connections that could be made in a library laboratory.  My father faithfully goes to the library every weekend, sometimes every other weekend.  He goes in, picks up holds, picks out books off the shelves, checks out and then heads home.  I don’t think that he has ever gone to the library for a program or to research anything.  If there was a maker lab at his library, I suspect he’d drop in and check it out.  My father is a maker:  car mechanic, fixer, handy guy, artist and tinkerer.  So was his father.  Maker labs in the library are brilliant for so many reasons; but, my favorite is their ability to connect community in new ways and connect groups that might not have other opportunities to connect.  Forgive me for my stereotypes; but, one connection might be between my Dad and his peers (old car guys/tinkerers) and young crafty types (could be male or female).  Plus, the library is friendly and a group that might not walk into a machinery class, like teen girls, could be introduced to maker culture in an open and welcoming environment.

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”  Libraries are the perfect place for communities to gather and find the common ground that can begin this awakening.

Hi. Can I help you?

I just joined a group on Facebook:  ALA Think Tank.  They were discussing customer service.  Do we in the library world have customer service?  Do we have customers? Should we take lessons from the business world or should they be looking to us?  All great questions.

I was trying to think about some of the great customer service experiences I’ve had and one stands out. For a brief moment, I owned a Mini Cooper, which I must admit was THRILLING!  Mini Coopers are really BMWs and are serviced at BMW Dealerships.  I had never set foot in a BMW dealership before I owned the Mini.  Heck, I don’t think I ever owned a car that was under warranty.  When I was having a problem I went to the dealership.  Wow.  Someone greeted me at the door, got me signed in, took my keys, gave me a tour of the multiple waiting rooms (quiet/one with a TV/one for laptop users) and then finally took me to the mini bar where I could help myself to coffee, muffins, sodas, cookies… get the picture.  Someone came out twice to give me an update about where in the process my car was and then finally to tell me that my name would be called.  My car was right outside the door, fixed, freshly washed and vacuumed and the door was being held open by the young man who drove it up.

Those folks clearly thought about customer experience.  They had anticipated every need and had already met it before my arrival.

How did they do it?  Clearly, they did work to figure out what their customer’s needs might be.  That could have been actively surveying customers, their own brainstorming, keeping a record of customer’s questions and requests or a combination of all of those.  They trained staff in the behavior they wished to see.  They empowered staff to make decisions.

It started with the greeting.  This was not the poor retail greeter put out there to greet you in an effort to deter theft or in some faux attempt at being friendly.  This woman was warm and smiling and came out from behind her desk to greet me.  She walked back to her desk with me.

We can do this in our libraries.  We can greet people genuinely.  We can smile and look them in the eye.  We can stop what we are doing and engage. We can walk with people into the stacks to find their book.   Library directors, managers, supervisors need to set the tone they wish to see in their libraries.  Circulation managers should get out of their office, work the desk and model the behavior they wish to see in staff.  The circulation desk staff are frequently the first people customers (patrons) encounter.  I have told staff:  we are the friendly face of the library.  That is our number one priority.  I’d rather see people getting helped with care and thoroughness than tasks being completed.

Managers and supervisors need to have a grasp on the workloads of staff and be flexible with deadlines and expectations.  How do you want to be treated when you walk into your local library or store or you hire a service for something?

Jaime Hammond wrote:  I think we should mystery shop each others libraries.

Love it.  Sometimes we forget to step outside and try to see our libraries like a customer.  We should be going to other libraries and seeing what they do well and where they need improvement.  Call up your colleague 3 towns over and have them “shop” your library and report back.  This is not to catch people doing things wrong and should not be used in such a way.  It’s to see how you are seen and where you might need to focus your attentions.  This is an exercise in growth and improvement, not punishment!   In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, the great Zen teacher states:    In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.   It is a fantastic and beautiful reminder that there is wisdom in seeing your world as a beginner.  Emptying your mind of what you know and taking another look.

Suzuki, Shunryu.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2010. Print, pg 2.


I’m about to make a big commitment.   I’m getting married in a few weeks.  I have been curious about the thoughts and feelings that have been passing through my brain.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I was previously in a 19 year-ish relationship.  Was I less committed because there was no ceremony, no official New York State document with a seal and a fancy signature from a judge?  I have contemplated this question quite a bit and am ready to say, no, I was not less committed.  In an odd way, it was my commitment to her that allowed me to accept the loss and change. But there is something about taking vows, which are not exclusive to marriage of course, that FEELS different.  In college, I signed an honor code and I took that very seriously.  In Buddhism there are vows one can take, which I have not done; but, I have made vows to myself about the person I want to continue to be and strive to be.

Does that sound corny?  Perhaps it is; but, consider it like a personal mission statement or your own chosen guidelines to live your life by or way to create and state your own personal set of values.  When I’m going through something difficult like experiencing all the change that the accident and splitting from my former partner brought, I fell back on those guidelines again and again and again.  Sometimes it was simply asking myself, do I want to be that person who would behave that way or go down that certain path?  Frequently the answer was “No, I don’t want to be that person.”  This checking in calmed me and saved me from doing or saying things I would later regret.  I have decided to create a personal document of these guidelines.

The difference with creating a written down set of guidelines (vows? Promises to yourself? Values?) and just generally trying to follow the right path is that you have something concrete to go back to.  You are claiming these values as your own and they become your measuring stick, the tool you use to keep on track.  Plus, it becomes something you hold yourself to not for other people; but, for yourself, which in the end benefits all of the people in your life.  An added benefit is that by following your own guidelines, you reduce stress by reducing the amount of drama you create in your life and you become the person you wish to become.

This is a project that encompasses personal and professional.  It is a project that you will not be able to do in five minutes.  It is a project you should think about, take notes, make lists of questions you can answer and make the time to undertake it fully.  You could get a group of people together to undertake the same task, share ideas and get support or you could choose to do this as a solo project.  Whatever you choose, I encourage you to turn off your gadgets and your TV and focus on the project because these are the statements that will define you.

It’s sort of funny to think about my upcoming marriage as a commitment because I have already committed my best to Anya and to myself.  On August 18th, I will publicly declare my vows to her, which are really vows to self.  The most I can offer is to do the best that I can in each moment and all that that encompasses and to continue to look for ways to become more of the person I’d like to be.

Make a commitment to yourself to live a life of integrity and bring your best self into your professional and personal worlds.  Craft a short document you can return to as a reminder of what to do in tough situations.  This commitment will serve you well and spill over into every little corner of your life.  What kind of values do you want to uphold?  What are the parameters of your ethical code?  What kind of impact do you have on your workplace? Are you living the life you want?  Do you take opportunities to understand yourself better so that you might grow in positive ways?

I hope you enjoy the process.  Let me know how it’s going!  In the meantime, I have listed some resources I discovered that I will probably take a look at as I embark on this project.

 Resources for crafting your personal code of values:

Ethics for the Real World by Ronald Howard and Clinton Korvar.  Harvard Business School Press, 2004.

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.  H. H. Dalai Lama.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

12 Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong.    Knopf, 2010.

Choosing Civility   P.M. Forni.  St. Martins Griffin, 2003.

Civility Solution by P. M. Forni.   St. Martins Griffin, 2009.

Thinking Life by P. M. Forni.  St. Martins Griffin, 2012.

Helpful Websites:

What are your Values?  MindTools (

Creating Your Personal Mission Statement  Fred Evers, University of Guelph, 2002.


I’m reading this book.  It’s about cruelty and kindness.  It’s about fear and bravery.  It’s about the tribal culture of children.  It’s about what makes a person good. It’s about friendship and family.  It’s about a kid named August.  It’s about a kid with a pretty major facial deformity and what it’s like to be in his universe.  I’m only half way through; so, I can’t give you my final review.  But, I want to share one thing I love about this book.

Quick background:  Auggie was home schooled up until fifth grade.  Wonder is about that first year in school.  On the first day of school his English teacher introduces the concept of precepts and tells the kids that each month they will cover a precept and write/talk about it.

I was first introduced to the word PRECEPT when I began studying Buddhism.  The teacher in Wonder describes it as a “guide” for people “making decisions about really important things.”  The first precept he introduces is a quote from Wayne Dwyer,

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

There are so many things to love about this.  I love the idea of covering a precept a month to get kids thinking about their actions and their relationships with other people.  I love this particular quote for the obvious reason:  we really need to choose kindness more often and also for the subtler reason:  it is a choice.  When we are mean, it is a choice.  When we insist on being right and relish it, that is a choice.  When we are kind, that is a choice.  Even when it doesn’t seem like a choice,  yelling at a car that cuts you off, proving a coworker wrong just to be right, or placing blame for the satisfaction, it is a choice because you have trained your mind in those reactions.

For me, this one hits home.  As a kid, my mother used to joke that I was just like her because I had to have the last word.  I suspect I’m also a bit like her because I have “know it all” tendencies.  I also just like knowing things.  As I age, it’s easier to let that desire go.  Sometimes, you just can’t know everything about every situation.  When I was splitting up with my partner after 19 years together, in my head, the voice just kept asking why? why? why?  I was in grief counseling for the split and the trauma from the accident and my counselor said: stop asking why.  And I remember saying, “But, I need to know.”  She said, “You’ll never know and then you’ll spend the rest of your life asking Why? about your past when you could be living in the now.”  “Oh.  Yeah.  But…. I really need to know.”  And then she said something that clicked for me.  She said, “You don’t need to know.  Your life can and will go on without knowing.  Right now, you are just ATTACHED to the idea of knowing.  You think it will help you lessen your  suffering; but, you are actually suffering more being attached to the need to know.”  I think this can also be said for the need to be right.

I’ve felt that need and it is a particular kind of desperation, though you cling to it for a false sense of safety and satisfaction.  “Ahhhhh.  I’m right.”  When I started studying Buddhism and thinking about all of these things, I realized that a lot of times “being right” is at the expense of someone else being wrong and in most cases it didn’t even matter because it doesn’t change anything. It also takes a lot of energy to be right all the time.  When I was a kid, I dumped cold water on my sister while she was taking a shower.  It was a practical joke.  Do you know what she did?  She said, “I’m going to get you.  You won’t know when or where; but, I’ll get you.”  Oh man did she get me because I spent a week freaked out wondering when and where and how she was going to retaliate.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and begged her to let me off the hook and got her to promise not to retaliate.

Being right is a trap.  It sets you up to play a game that has no end and no winners.  You are constantly looking for opportunities to be right and just waiting to be challenged.  It’s exhausting.  Letting go of the need to be right is freeing.

If you are like me and have the urge to be right all the time, I can tell you one thing.   Being right can be satisfying; but the satisfaction is momentary.  Being kind is also satisfying and the satisfaction lingers and snowballs and builds.

Be nice. Someone might be looking.

CC: Austin Kleon

I was recently talking with my partner, Anya, about some of her coworkers and their interactions with each other.   We were talking about one particular person who is not the most skilled at communicating things to her colleagues.  I said, If for no other reason, she should be a little nicer because one of these people could end up being her boss.    I started thinking about that idea.  What if we all treated our coworkers as if tomorrow they could be our boss?  What would happen?  Some folks, good or bad, wouldn’t change their behavior at all.  Others, I suspect, would be more thoughtful in their dealings.  Instead of snapping at a coworker for doing something wrong, they might take more care in communicating their thoughts.

The quote in the image above is from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist.  His book is about “creativity in the digital age”; but, this particular idea is really a riff on the golden rule and a motto that would serve a person well should they adopt it as a life rule.

I’m a fan of personal slogans or mantras.  I’ve talked before about how the phrase “empty boat” became a life changing slogan for me.  The key to using these ideas is to use them immediately following the behavior or thought pattern you wish to change.  Reflection is great; but, in this case, immediacy is greater.  The reward is that the bad feeling is released sooner.  You are forcing yourself to divert your course from obsessing negatively over something and move to a place where you can figure out the best, positive course of action.  This is classic mind control.  You are redirecting thoughts.

In Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight, the author describes the 90 seconds it takes for an emotion to run through our body.  After that, it is only remaining through cognition.  What that means is that if you can train yourself to let the emotion come and then pass without rerunning it in your mind, the discomfort leaves.  If you continue to think about the stimulus that brought on the emotion, you will continue to suffer.

It might seem like you are tricking yourself or that the only reason you’re being “nice” is because you are pretending the person is your boss.  You know what?  So what.  It’s not harming anyone for you to use these techniques and eventually they become more and more a part of your natural pattern of thinking.  At some point, you cross a line and are no longer pretending.  It might sound implausible; but, it does work.

Anger, jealousy, irritation.  These emotions don’t feel good.  Why would you fuel them and make them last longer if you don’t have to?  What if you could train your mind to let the 90 seconds pass and then let it go without dredging it up over and over?  It’s an appealing thought isn’t it?

I’m always asking you to try things.  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  If you only try one technique I’ve introduced, try this one.  Come up with your own spin on it and keep at it until its a habit.  Pen your own mantra and use it.  I still occasionally use Empty Boat.  It works for me.

Good luck!

Move. Shake. Repeat.

by Allan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons

I have one rule about jokes.  Don’t be mean.  It’s simple really.   And in my little world, after you clear the Don’t Be Mean hurdle, all else goes.  In all my touchy feely posts about kindness and happiness and being nice, I have rarely talked about humor.  Humor is our elixir.   It is our panacea.  Imagine your life without it.  Ugh.

Better writers and philosophers have mused on the necessity, the beauty, the subtlety, the noise, the dizzying, ice cracking, euphoric, quaking nature of humor.  Humor has saved and transformed people.

I want to talk about this guy:  JP Porcaro.  The library world has gone a little bit wacky over this guy.  I wouldn’t call the reaction to this Mover & Shaker to be monumental…but, there is a low buzz of both disapproval and support.

In some ways, the library community is just a big, sometimes dysfunctional family.  JP is the fun Uncle.  There’s usually a creepy Uncle and the relatives who are always sticking their heads into the den and yelling, “C’mon kids, quit rough housing.”  No one wants to go to family functions when the fun Uncle isn’t going to be there.  The family needs the fun Uncle.  Sometimes the fun Uncle is seen as not very mature; but, that is not always the case.  In my experience the fun Uncle can be counted on not to judge you too harshly, encourages good clean fun, knows when to rein it in and is the good hugger.  The fun Uncle thinks outside the box and is always there to help unload the moving van as long as there is pizza involved.  The fun Uncle is generous with his time, his money and would never let anything bad happen to you.

JP is our fun Uncle.  We need him.  Don’t rain on the fun parade.  And don’t be foolish enough to believe that he is not seriously passionate about libraries.

E-Books and Growing Pains

If you have been following the e-book saga at all, you know that is chock full of good vs evil, doomsday proclamations and if you sift through the traffic, insightful and educated analyses.

I tend to be in the camp that thinks we should be educating the public about these issues.  I don’t really want to damper people’s joy over their e-reader by educating them about the jockeying for position that is going on right now and what it might mean for the future of publishing and our ability to have access to the reading materials we enjoy.  I actually don’t have the energy for all of that; but, I think whenever you spend money it’s important to take a second and understand where it’s going.

Every reader, whether you read print or digital books,  should read this blog post from IPG (Independent Publishers Group).  When my Kindle loving friend said e-books should be cheaper because they don’t have to print them, I tried to explain the situation.  Now I can send her this link.  When my friend asked me if I was going to quit my job if I get my YA novel published, I tried to explain to her the situation.  Now I can send her this link.

The book industry is in the middle of a period of growing pains.  Remember when we were in school and we learned about the Industrial Revolution and all the change it brought.  We are in the middle of an Information Revolution.  It would be interesting to know what people say about this time 100 or 200 years from now.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine.

What we need is a voice of reason.  A voice that is not motivated by greed.  A voice that is not motivated by fear.  A voice that represents the greatest good and not narrow self interests.  A voice that represents the readers.  If we had a leader with such reason, the authors would be happy.  The publishers would be happy.  The booksellers would be happy.  The librarians would be happy.

I think that voice of reason should come from libraries.  We are readers and we represent readers; we always have.  I applaud all the librarians doing good work on this issue because we need a seat at the table.

I don’t own an e-reader because it’s not a good fit for me.  I prefer not to engage with any more screens.  And to be honest, I’m not a voracious reader of books right now.  I’m lucky if I read one every 6 weeks.  Plus, I mostly read library books.  When I do purchase books, I have made a commitment to give my money to independent bookstores because I have easy access to them now.  I literally live down the street from Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.  When I lived in NJ and did not live near any small booksellers, I tended to order online from Powells (my ex-employer who I feel loyal to) or go to the nearby  Borders (also my ex-employer) because I spent so many hours there browsing and reading without purchasing that I felt it necessary to support them.

If I did consider purchasing an e-reader, I’d take pause before buying a Kindle.  There are tons of benefits to buying a Kindle; but, Amazon is being a bully right now.  I understand business competition and the bottom line and all of that; but, Amazon has been playing dirty (in the book wars) in a way that I’m not really willing to support at the moment.  Their “lending library” for Prime members caused a few raised eyebrows as did their Christmas shopping app that would give you a discount if you scanned a book’s barcode (say…at a brick and mortar bookstore) and then bought it online at Amazon.  Really?  I wonder if the business generated by that outweighed the disgust because I, as an Amazon customer, felt some hate on hearing about that one.  I made sure to buy all my Christmas gift books at Greenlight, excepting one I bought at McNally Jackson.  (Did you know that you can support independent bookstores by purchasing e-books from their websites?)

And what about the publishers who refuse to work with libraries for e-book lending?  See, it’s getting murkier.  Do you boycott them?  Do you wait all of this mess out before purchasing an e-reader?  I don’t really know.  I do know, that as readers and librarians, we should be aware of where our money goes and what it goes to support.

Last night I told my partner about an experience I had this week:  I was reading a magazine or a blog (can’t remember where I saw it) and came across an article about small farms.  The photo at the top of the article was a close up of a pig’s face.  The photo was taken in a way that seemed to capture the character of the pig in a way that gave me great pause.  I thought, if met this pig would I be able to then eat bacon?  There was just something about this pig’s face that touched me.  Anya said, “But bacon is so good.”  I know.  Bacon is yummy; but, to eat the bacon without acknowledging that a creature died in order for me to have bacon, seems wrong.  It’s not that I haven’t thought of  this before or that I am vegetarian.  But, as an eater of pig on occasion, it’s important for me to be present, completely, in the decision to eat meat.  It’s something I struggle with.

Obviously the decision to eat meat or not is different than navigating the book business; but, I think that there should be more thoughtfulness in our decision making, even if it means we are inconvenienced.

For further reading on the subject:

Readers Bill of Rights for Digital Books

Kindle Reading Experience….(Jessamyn West)

Kansas Leading the Fight

Librarian in Black:  Here, here, here and here

And this from an author, self publishing on Amazon



What Can We Learn From Parking Wars?

no parking1

Brian Gurrola via Flickr Creative Commons

If you want insight into human behavior, watch Parking Wars, an A&E reality show and don’t just watch one, watch several of them.

It’s safe to assume these are edited to get the audience to react in a certain way; but, there are still patterns of behavior that are fascinating to observe.  I have always felt that one of the keys to less suffering is to take responsibility for your actions.  Once you take responsibility your fear of blame recedes and you can start problem solving the solution.  You could write a dissertation on human behavior after watching a few seasons of this show; but, I want to talk about blame.

In the show, the folks who lie and come up with a million excuses and blame the ticketing officer, blame the city and blame the government and blame everyone but themselves clearly suffer the most.  The folks that shrug their shoulders and say, I knew I shouldn’t have parked there.  I got caught;   pay their bill and move on suffer the least.  For them, they understood the risks, they took them and they lost:  The end.  For the other folks, it’s never the end because they are so angry at everyone else for the hole they dug either by getting the tickets themselves or lending their car out to other people who don’t take care of their tickets.

The act of taking responsibility for your choices and actions ends or at least diminishes the stress and negative brain chatter.  The act of blaming doesn’t relieve a person’s stress.  It seems to just add fuel to their anger.  These folks see the whole experience as something being DONE TO THEM.  They are the victim.  They also think they should fall under an exception because they are delivering something, working in the building adjacent to the parking space or my favorite, only parked there for a minute.  One guy parked in a handicap spot and was quite angry he got ticketed because he was just running into the store for a minute.  Stating the shortness of time was a common refrain.

I think one of the differences between the folks who take responsibility and the ones who blame and make excuses is their level of empowerment.  The folks who take responsibility understand that it’s in their power to mostly avoid these unpleasantries by paying attention and obeying the rules.  The other group doesn’t see it this way at all.  In fact, they seem to feel quite powerless in the situation which causes a tremendous amount of suffering.

All of this applies to the workplace quite easily.  When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, even if you work in a dysfunctional place, it’s best to own up to your mistakes and remain calm.  If you can manage not to let criticism paralyze you or send you into an energy wasting defensive mode, you win even more.  This attitude works with coworkers and across the service desk with customers.

I have a Buddhist friend who told me about this practice she had undertaken.  We were talking about blame and she said if she felt the urge to blame, under the philosophy of this practice, she would take the blame onto herself.  She used the example of being driven nuts by a partner who leaves their socks on the floor and you feel like you’re constantly picking up socks.  I asked how she would handle that.  She said, “I’d pick up the sock and say to myself: why did I leave that here?”  We laughed pretty hard at that one; but, I was intrigued by the idea.  It feels so awful to be blamed for something whether you did it or not.  But, it also feels horrible to blame.  There is a desperate anger in the act of blaming that is a slow acting poison.  By taking the blame back (Why did I leave that sock here?) you are creating a habit of cultivating compassion and shielding the person from your poison.  This particular friend works in a high stress, corporate environment.  We frequently talk about managing our lives at work while maintaining our openness and ability to be compassionate and empathetic.  Many people would say there is no place for that in a corporate, dog eat dog, environment.  My friend and I would disagree.  The more risks you take (taking the blame for something so you can move on to solution finding), the less scary it becomes.

Here’s my challenge:  During the next week, notice how often your mind jumps to blame someone for something.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about socks on the floor or losing a big client; if your mind starts hunting for someone to blame, take note of it.  Ask yourself what would happen if you just skipped past the blaming stage and got to the solution part (picking up the sock or creating a team to brainstorm ways to keep good clients).

Leave No Trace

I am currently reading How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chosen Bays.  It is a book that contains 53 simple exercises in mindfulness.  I gave a friend the book for Christmas and we are doing the exercises, 1 each week and then talking on the phone or by email to review how things went.  The second exercise is called Leave No Trace.  For this exercise, you choose a room or rooms of your house and for one week you try to leave no trace that you’ve been there.  In other words, pick up after yourself!

In my last post I revealed my cluttery past which is still probably my instincts.  While doing the Leave No Trace exercise, I realized a couple of things.  One is that my life has really changed in so many positive ways and I’m kind of proud of myself for just how much change I’ve managed to absorb.  Becoming more organized is one of them.  My apartment is much cleaner and it’s way easier to find things.  Come tax time, I know that everything I need is in one place.  I rarely misplace my keys and I don’t spend a lot of wasted energy looking for things or feeling like I’m constantly picking up stuff.

It is sometimes hard to break habits.  My coworker just the other day said, “They say it takes 30 days to change a habit.”  I didn’t even have a plan other than it had become so distressing to not be able to find things and to be visually stimulated all the time with stacks of unread mail that I started doing things slowly: easing things where I could.

One of the first things I began doing, now that I look back on it, was cleaning up as I went while I was cooking.  It was less stressful to do it this way, even though my partner was the dishes cleaner.  By the time we sat down to eat, the only dishes that needed doing were usually the our plates, utensils and maybe the pot I used.  Then I started retrieving the mail and sorting it immediately: recycling, file immediately, read later, read sooner.  I still use this method in an altered form.  I literally stand over the recycling bin as I sort the mail.  If it needs shredding it goes on a small pile that is on top of the shredder.  If its a magazine, it goes on the rack with my library books.  If it’s a bill (I don’t get very many bills in the mail anymore), it goes tucked into my checkbook and I leave it out on a dresser near the front door so I don’t forget to pay it.  If it’s some other mail that I need to read, it goes into a drawer of such mail and a place I use to catch things I don’t know where to put until I weed the drawer at some later point.  This method works for me.

When I come home I hang my coat immediately.  My mother, in particular, would be astonished by this development.  I don’t want to hang my coat and sort the mail and put my shoes in the closet; but, I know that the extra 90 seconds saves me the aggravation of doing it later and the stress of tripping over the stuff or seeing it lying around.  I put my laundry into a laundry bin, fold my sweaters and put them in the armoir and empty my pockets of change, keys, etc.  This sounds kind of ….uninspired…but, it is revolutionary in my world.

The exercise also made me realize just what things are the most important to me.  I think the “mindfulness” part is so valuable because it got me thinking about the feeling part of leaving no trace.  What I mean is….if I walk in the apartment and the kitchen island is clear and there are no dishes in the sink and no mail piling on the side table and no towels on the bathroom floor, I’m free.  There is no immediate chore hanging over my head.  There is no visual reminder of all that needs to be done.  It’s freeing and calming.

On the other hand, and I think this is a really important point, you also have to figure out what to let go of.  I have a box of “accident stuff” I’ve been dragging around.  Now that I live in NYC, where space is a premium, I look at that box and think: you need to go.  But I don’t feel like going through all those papers and trying to decide what to keep and what to ditch.  I don’t want to organize my photos which are in another box or my childhood memorabilia which is in another box!  And you know what?  I’m not going to.  Right now, I have the lucky situation where there is space for those three boxes and I don’t have to deal with them right now.  At some point, I probably will have to go through and sort stuff out.  But right now, I don’t and the key to that being a good thing is to accept it and not let it hang around as some UNDONE chore.  I’ve decided not to tackle them; so, it’s not a chore on my to do list at all.

I encourage you to try this exercise for a week or more.  If it seems overwhelming, do one thing:  I’m going to hang up my coat as soon as I enter the house or I’m going to put my keys, wallet and phone in exactly the same place.  I’m going to do all the dishes before I go to bed so that I wake to an empty sink.

What about your disorganization bothers you the most?  Tackle that one thing.

Good luck.  And if you like that exercise, pick up a copy of the book at your local independent bookseller!

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.