Making a Better Me: Lessons Learned in 2010
Inspired by Justin the Librarian's "Eight Things I Learned" and Bobbi Newman's "The Four Most Valuable Lessons I Learned in 2010", I thought I would contribute my own list. (Meme, anyone?) I've actually been thinking quite a bit about this in the past few weeks, as I've been assessing what I've done, what I haven't, the person and professional I'd like to be, and the general rollercoaster ride of 2010.
Lesson #1: Overextension /= Overachievement
I have had the very good fortune of being invited to speak and write a great deal this year. I have a difficult time saying no (first of all because those invitations are usually a result of a proposal I wrote, and that would be rude; secondly, you never know when the well will dry up!). This resulted in a lot of travel, a lot of deadlines, a lot of late nights and working weekends. On top of my actual job (which is fabulous), the three courses I took toward the doctorate this semester, and my creative writing on the side, it was all too much.
I get myself into this with the idea that the sense of achievement when everything is complete will be overwhelming and incredible...and instead, I find that I am generally left feeling pretty poorly physically and emotionally after draining all of my energy. With this lesson now firmly learned, I am planning to be much more deliberate in the writing projects I choose and the conference presentations I pitch. In fact, I'm full up for 2011 on professional writing projects already, and will not be volunteering for anything new until 2012. My conference schedule is already fixed through ALA Annual. There is a sort of freedom in allowing myself the choice to say no, and for this next year I am going to wield the "No" as an exercise in self-care.
Lesson #2: If I Ain't Got My Health, I Ain't Got Nothin'
I know that stress makes me ill (hello, IBS), but this year I also had my gallbladder out, and have been plagued with shoulder and neck problems. Not taking more time initially to get well (in all cases), led to prolonging the problems. I've learned it's worth the time on the front end to get myself well instead of dragging my carcass along until I absolutely must stop. Sleeping until I am not tired should not be a luxury. Gritting my teeth and bearing it is not a long-term coping strategy. Replacing my gym time with more work time is not doing myself any favors. I realize this is an obvious lesson - "Take care of your health" - but it seems to be the one I consistently fail to learn. I'm pledging to myself that I will be much more deliberate with my self-care in 2011.
Lesson #3: Deliberate Joy
Two weeks ago, I was driving home from a poetry reading and got a bit lost in suburbia. As I was grumbling (a common enough thing when I'm driving) and fiddling with my Garmin, I was suddenly struck by the houses decked out in holiday lights. I stopped, slowed down, and smiled as I enjoyed the decorations. Later that night, I realized that I do not smile enough, I do not try to find joy, and I am not very happy with my lack in this area. I tend to focus on What Needs To Get Done Now, while living under the shadow of What Needs To Be Done Next. That doesn't leave much room for simply enjoying a moment.
I do not want to be a person so enmeshed in my own to-do list that I'm not enjoying the world around me. I want to be open to those small moments of random, unplanned joy.
Lesson #4: It's Not A Competition, Comparison or Contest
This feeds back into #1 a little bit. Working with such fantastic colleagues both in my home library and in the library profession as a whole, I easily slip into competition mode, where I measure my own achievements against those of others, and inevitably find myself lacking. While the benefit of this is that it helps me push myself, the downside is that it's a confidence-killer, and feeds my tendency to overextend. No one else is keeping score, or measuring me against anything more than whatever good work helps my library provide good service. It's not quantity, it's quality that is important, and it's not me versus anyone - it's me versus the work that needs to be done.
Lesson #5: Stop Taking Friends for Granted
I have a small circle of wonderful friends. These are the folks who know me well, and understand that when I get stressed, sad, mad, or into any other non-optimal emotional state, I tend to become a bit of a hermit. Unfortunately, with years like this one, whcih included a job switch and interstate move, physical ailments, and the deadline-oriented lifestyle of the overcommitted, my contacts with friends are the first thing to suffer. Not superficial internet communication like IM chatting, but in-person visits, good long phone conversations, and the sort of investment of time and emotion you are supposed to put into those you love. I know well I've fallen down on this in 2010, and it has been highlighted these past few weeks as those conversations (and even a visit!) have happened. I feel simultaneously guilty (for neglecting my friends), reinvigorated (because they make me feel loved, wanted, and not-as-crazy-as-I-probably-am), and simply comforted by being with those I love.
This should not be a tear-inducing luxury.
This should be a regular part of my life.
Simple lessons. Lessons I should already have taken to heart by now, certainly, but that were very much driven home this year. I'm looking forward to 2011, where I can demonstrate that I have really learned these lessons, and am making changes because of them.