“Get a Life in Which You Are Generous”

In May, the TED-Ed blog had a post called “10 Inspiring Commencement Speeches About Creativity and Courage.” The post features little blurbs from the speeches, but you can read the speeches in their entirety, which I haven’t yet, by clicking on the names of the speakers.

Here are some of the blurbs that stick out to me:

-From Maya Angelou: “Speak to people you don’t know. Say good morning, good morning. You have no idea what you may have done for someone. She may have just hung up the phone from having a nurse say, ‘Miss Jones, the doctor wants you to come back in, he’s not satisfied with these X-rays.’ You don’t know.”

I think about this when I am in contact with customer service people. I think about this when I am helping students at the library, too. We don’t know all of their stories, but to quote our retired library media technician, “Each one has a story.”

If you’re looking for something specific you can do in this regard, a newer friend of mine who teaches third grade says one positive thing to five people a day.

-From Shonda Rimes: “Focus on something outside yourself.”

My service to the community has definitely suffered during the last year or two. While I don’t talk about it much, my faith is important to me, but I have been passive about it the last year or two, so I think there’s a correlation there. It might just honestly be my struggle to adapt to the commuter life.

-From Anna Quindlen: “Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.”

I’m definitely learning how to “best treasure my connection to others.” I have a friend with chronic illness who has written about the time she spent on academics before becoming very ill. (She was the graduate assistant at the Writing Center when I was an undergraduate, and we were both hired full-time at the community college district at the same time.) I have never told her how much that post hit home. It really made me re-evaluate myself, how obsessive my career has become. She writes:

Part of that drive was never ever taking time off and I neglected my friends, family, hobbies, myself. I could never just slow down and enjoy life. I’m still learning this lesson but I’m getting there. I’ve had to reevaluate my values also. My value doesn’t reside only in work and achievement. I look at my husband napping on our couch spooning our cat and that fills me with bliss. I watch crappy tv with my parents and know that time is valuable. I play board games with friends and destroy them (with love and tenderness). We taunt each other and ridicule each other’s mothers, and it’s brilliant. When I make hard choices to protect my health, I see value. It’s cliché, but I learned a good, difficult lesson the last two years that was invaluable: focusing just on a career is a zero-sum game. I am already surrounded by what fulfills me.

I definitely started to view things like family, friends, and exercise as “things to focus on when I am not busy,” which meant I wasn’t investing in these important things. I am going out a little more, spending time with friends and family. I am not great at it, but I am trying to change my habits.

I really like Quindlen’s idea about writing a letter to people. Earlier this summer, I sent a card via snail mail to a friend of mine who has been having a rough time. It cheered her up. While there was a time in my life that I really enjoyed making cards, I now have a ready-supply of blank note cards handy, mostly for thank you cards, but I think I will go on a monthly card-writing campaign now. I can commit to 12 cards.

How do you live generously? Is it something you struggle with?

I’m off to celebrate my sister who is another year older today. We’re not really doing anything special, but regular life is special. ❤

Queen of Links and Thinks

Part of my summer goal is to reduce my digital clutter. I’m an expert saver of links, and I always intend to follow up, but you know how that goes. Right now I’m going through my Evernote account. Apparently, I have a notebook specifically called Life. I came across a Lifehacker article I had saved called “If You Want to Follow Your Dreams, You’ll have to Choose a Focus.” In the past, I have been very good at staying focused–sometimes too good–but for the last year or two, I have been restless because I have been lacking focus.

I do have to say that I think people can go too far with the advice in the article–you don’t want to alienate others in your life while you work on your dream; it’s a lonely way to live. I do, however, agree with the advice about saying no to extra things. I have been saying no to extra things, including a flooded inbox, to give me time to research and think about my next step.

Some others related links I came across in my Evernote Life notebook include “How to Get Back on Track After Disappointing Yourself,” which also talks about the power of saying no. Here is my favorite passage:

It’s remarkable how much time people spend chasing things that they don’t really care about. Then, when they don’t achieve them, they beat themselves up and feel like a failure for not achieving something that wasn’t important to them all along.

Start a Seven-Step Depth Ritual to Focus on Your Task at Hand” is a good reminder about being mindful about what you’re doing, which I really struggle with when I have time off. I thrive off of a schedule, so not having one during the summer freaks me out a little bit.

Mini One-Third Life Crisis

I turned thirty in April.

I look at my 20s, and all I can say is that I whipped it. I finished college; met and married my wonderful husband; finished graduate school; bought a house; and I am about to embark on my third year as a full-time tenure track librarian at a community college. I am proud of where I am. My mother is an immigrant from Mexico (she came here as an adult), and both of my parents work in canneries operating machines. Academe is not part of my home culture, and I have been navigating it ever since my beginning college days.

Right now, it seems that my biggest concern is professional development. I have not found that ONE THING I really enjoy in librarianship, that one thing I can say, “Yes, this is what I’m into.” I had the same problem as an undergraduate. I could have majored in any humanities. The only reason I have a history degree and not an English degree (I minored) is that I had one more class completed when it came time to really decide.  I struggled coming up with a senior thesis topic. The real reason I dropped out of the history MA program is that I just didn’t have a niche in order to write an eventual thesis. And, yeah, that letter from library school also helped.  I did love library school, though. LOVED IT. However, I didn’t super love my fellowship at the Library of Congress. I now, it sounds like blasphemy, but I wasn’t thrilled working with 17th and 18th century Spanish plays. (Am I truly a generalist?)

My job is a Jill of all trades librarian position at a very small full-service campus of a community college. I’m the only full-time employee and the only librarian during the day. We finally hired two part-time librarians to cover the evenings when I leave work.  Our campus has 19 full-time faculty, myself included; 1,100 students; and a 2,000 square foot library. The campus has been around for over forty years, but we’ve been at our newer location since 2007 or 2008 (not quite sure of the exact year–I was an adjunct in 2012 and became full-time in 2013). We’re an hour away from the larger main campus. At the main campus, which has 9,000 students, there are three full-time librarians, two long-time part-time librarians, and the two part-time librarians who work at my campus in the evenings also help out at the main campus.

I teach information literacy sessions, create LibGuides, weed the collection, order just a few materials, assist students with research, create displays, provide research help, participate in college committees, and I am otherwise trying to cultivate the library into a campus hub. It’s hard, mostly because I do it all from the reference desk with very little money and few tools, including no access to review materials. (I don’t have off-desk time; my concentration and feeling present have really suffered.) And yet I just keep churning ideas, ideas that don’t always or can’t transpire for any number of reasons.

I do truly love helping our students—you can actually see students’ lives being transformed at the community college level—but I often feel like something is missing. So many people will tell you how passionate I am about my work. I really am, but I often find myself longing to do the big sexy projects that other colleagues at other places do (sigh, I am definitely feeling Magpie Librarian here). I find myself captivated by all the librarians’ clever social media bios, witty blogs, and the dizzying array of library-related groups (I made the mistake of actually trying to organize Twitter via lists. haha I’m still not done…).

I can’t be the only person who feels like this, right? I don’t want the rockstardom that runs rampant in academics and the library profession. I don’t need to be the “it” person for something, but I would like a something.

That’s what this is. An attempt for a something.