Libraries, the universe and everything

Reflecting on reflecting
February 8, 2018, 12:02
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , ,

A glance at the (lack of) frequency of my posts here lately would lead any sensible person to wonder whether I had given up reflection altogether, but happily nothing could be further from the truth. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure where this post is going, so feel free to click away now…

What I originally intended to write about today was the fact that I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for just over a year now, but I’ve been catching up (finally) with some episodes of Jo’s excellent Librarians with Lives podcast over the last couple of evenings and that has spun my thoughts off in tangential-but-related directions. Let’s see where this ends up. (And yes, obviously I could write this and then edit it to make actual sense, but my usual blogging style is to type until I’m done, check for egregious errors, and then hit publish, and I don’t feel like changing that right now!)

Anyway, gratitude. I don’t actually remember why I started my gratitude journal. I don’t keep a regular diary, and people who post daily about their own gratitude on public platforms such as Facebook tend to get on my nerves. I have a vague feeling I’d read things by various people I respected suggesting it was a good idea, but for whatever reason on February 1st 2017 I decided to give it a go. The idea was that each evening, just before bed, I would record three things for which I am grateful, writing in pencil in a rather nice notebook which I think my husband brought home as a conference freebie at some point.

Since then I haven’t missed a night. When travelling I type my entries into my phone and transcribe them when I get home, occasionally I’ve had to think back and make up a few days after the fact, but generally it’s part of my regular routine. I don’t tend to re-read past entries, although I’m quite tempted to do some analysis and find out what I was most grateful for throughout the year.

This practice has been genuinely transformational. I find myself looking forward to writing those three short lines. Often it’s difficult to pick just three things, and on those days I spend a moment marvelling about how wonderful that is. Conversely, sometimes it’s really hard to find anything to be grateful for, let alone three things – for example when something significant is bothering me, when I’m in the middle of an argument with my husband, or if (as throughout the whole of December) I’m dealing with an episode of poor mental health. However, I can always still be grateful for having a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, and a warm duvet, and it’s important to be reminded that these are not trivial things.

So how does this relate to reflection on the professional side of life? Here we turn to Librarians with Lives, which sparked a mental leap back to 2012 when Jo was my Chartership mentor… During that year I remember spending far too much time sending her variations on the theme of “what is the point of all this reflection nonsense anyway”. Submitting my revalidation, as I do every January, always makes me think of this, and hearing her voice on the podcast brought it all back even more strongly. Luckily for me Jo is not only a fabulous professional, but tolerant and generous with her time, and she never went as far as giving me a well-deserved smack around the head (either physically or virtually), but persevered until I had prepared a successful submission. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that.

Since then, thankfully, I’ve grown up a lot. However, with the benefit of hindsight, not to mention heaps more experience, I’m not at all surprised I felt that way. I was a still a fairly new librarian, not yet in the habit of reading business books or blogs. Management / leadership personality style testing instruments were a novelty, not a potentially valuable tool. CILIP was telling me that reflection was a good thing, but frankly I didn’t see any examples of it that I could relate to in my own professional life.

Making the commitment to revalidate annually came with an amount of “so I guess I have to continue this reflection thing then” attitude, but of course that practice became easier with time. Also, as my horizons (and mind) expanded, I was able to internalise the value of reflecting on my professional behaviour, I learned the benefit of analysing my responses to situations (not to mention those of others), and I went out of my way to read books which encouraged and challenged me to develop my thinking further.

(Because I’m a librarian to the core, I can’t let this moment pass without recording some of the books which have resonated, for all kinds of reasons, with me over the last few years:

Choke, Sian Beilock
Grit, Angela Duckworth
Mindset, Carol Dweck
10% happier, Dan Harris
Drop in, Sara Harvey Yao
Who moved my cheese, Spencer Johnson
Be our guest, Theodore Kinni
Thirteen things mentally strong people don’t do, Amy Morin
Nudge, Richard Thaler

Conveniently, I had already typed these into a draft post – two birds, one stone, and all that!)

Fast-forward to the present, and I find myself reflecting almost all the time. I understand how it helps me be a better person, both privately and professionally – I really want to delete that as it sounds far too mushy for me, but it’s absolutely true. I use reflection as a tool to learn how to work more effectively, to help me choose which opportunities to pursue, and to help me relate to people in situations where I might otherwise be disagreeable or insensitive. A couple of years ago I had a moment of absolute revelation as to where I want my career to take me, and I don’t believe that clarity would have been possible without the benefits of ingrained reflection. Furthermore, since I started my gratitude practice I regularly find the two strands twining around each other – I am far more actively conscious of the good work people around me are doing, and much more likely to express my appreciation to them – and I think that’s a good thing too.

So here we are. I guess the take-away from all this is that getting better at doing reflection has lessened my need to write about it – I don’t need to sit down and MAKE MYSELF DO IT anymore. However, I have just realised that I only posted twice here in the whole of 2017, which is terrible, and I would like to do better this year. I have several things I want to write about at the moment, the 2018 SLA Leadership Symposium foremost amongst them, and I notice that I didn’t do a revalidation review / goals for the year thing last year but I want to pick that up again too…


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