Tag Archives: Life Lessons

Old Dog, New Tricks

5 Oct

I write often in this spot about professional development, the importance of continuing to expand the skills we need to remain relevant in our work, and how curiosity plays the biggest role, in my opinion, in keeping one ever-growing and ever-learning. I thought about the topic more last night as I was driving home from an absolutely fantastic evening at the Brown University Arts Initiative. The show was a songwriting master class and performance led by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. (Any regular reader of this blog knows of my admiration and “awestruckness” of Rosanne, thus I won’t repeat it here.) This was the inaugural program in this new series that features accomplished musicians and songwriters to the campus to both perform and offer critique of students taking part in Brown’s Songwriting Master Class. Four incredibly talented young people played one song each, followed by thoughts and comments and suggestions from Cash and Leventhal. It was such a rich time, being able to hear individuals so proficient in something talk about their processes, offer tips that work for them, provide insights into how they chose this over that, etc. I’m grateful to Brown for starting this new program and look forward to attending future events. If you’re in the neighborhood, I encourage you to do the same.

My 45-minute drive home had me thinking about youth – and how I am far from that time in life now. I thought about those young people and some of the comments that they received from Rosanne and John. I thought about how they have a lifetime ahead of them to hone a craft, if they so choose. It started to become depressing, given that I just started writing songs about a year ago (not counting silly songs about science that borrow familiar tunes others penned). How can I ever become good at it?

But before I spent too long at my pity party, I began thinking this … 

I decided to learn to play the drums when I was in my early 30s. I loved it. Still do. When we moved to an apartment that put a cramp on my pursuits in percussion, I picked up a mandolin, found some classes, found a teacher, and got to it. I was in my 40s then. I was knocking on the door of 50 when I performed for the first time ever at an open mic. I was 50 when I joined some friends in a band. And just last year, at the ripe young age of 53, I went to my first songwriting camp and began to write my first “for real” songs. At 54, I started hosting a radio show on my local community radio station and I’m about to launch a new podcast. At 55 … well, I’m not quite there yet, so we’ll just wait and see what comes next. 


Reviewing this timeline in my head, I realized a few things. One, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to music. While I have always – ALWAYS – been a fan and collector and a reader of the art, I came to be a participant later in life. True, I took piano lessons for years as a kid, but it was really to justify my mom buying a piano for the house. She loved to play and had done so her whole life. Me, I was the tomboy who was happier playing ball with my older brother and his friends. But I did walk down the street to Mr. Cornett’s house each week, faithfully, for a number of years. Until I was paroled. Looking back, I needed to find music. It wasn’t going to find me.

Second, it is my nature to meander. I have now been in the same profession working at the same place longer, by far, than anything I ever did or any place I ever worked previously. It is one of my favorite professional development activities to lead, having people write down all of the jobs that they’ve ever had in life and all of the things that they subsequently know how to do because of those experiences. My lists are long. I’ve done many things, I have many interests, and I have the student loans to back it up. And I’ve come to appreciate this characteristic of myself over time. I like that I like a lot of things. I enjoy dabbling in all sorts of stuff. I used to believe that the drawback to this quality is that I’d never become very good at anything – “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of thinking. There’s some truth to it, but it’s a choice we have to make in life. Some people choose to live all over the world while others, like my grandmother, live 94 years within the same city limits. Neither is better than the other. They are both valuable.

Which brings me to the third thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as it pertains lifetime learning, professional growth, and the continuing work we do to find our place – whether professionally or personally. We can think of life in the singular or the plural. We can believe that we live one life or we can relish in living many. It’s a state of mind, I believe. I’ve surely lived more of my years already that I’ve left to live, but I’m drawn more lately to wondering about what to do with the different lives that I’ve yet to live and I like to believe that I’ve got maybe one or two left. 

What will I do with them? Maybe I’ll develop and lead more professional workshops around these things, encouraging other librarians to tap into and nurture their creative sides in their work. Maybe I’ll seek out something in the music industry that takes advantage of my skill set. Maybe radio. Maybe I’ll continue doodling data visualizations and writing reports about the cool things that happen via the UMCCTS. Who knows?

There are obstacles to thinking and living this way. We do live in a society that focuses much more on nurturing young people, those with years ahead to give to something, rather than older adults who may cost more and not give the ROI an entity seeks. It’s hard to find fellowships or internships or opportunities that allow one to learn a new profession later in life, but that said, it’s not impossible. (ProFellow is one helpful resource here.)

For me, I believe the most important thing is to remember that we don’t need to be young to either learn – or become good at – something new. It’s all in the mindset we choose to adopt. Let’s all keep growing together!

I think I’ll write a song during lunch. 


Making Mistakes

15 Jan

The button has been pushed and our proposal for a Clinical Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health is out of our hands. Let the review process begin! 

My part of the writing and work has been done for a few days now, so I’ve been spending much of the past week doing many things that I likely would have done when I started this new job, if only I hadn’t jumped into the grant writing fire. I’ve read all of the Center’s newsletters for the past few years, I’ve taken lots of notes and done a bunch of documentation related to who’s who for each of our core components. I’d drawn a lot of pictures and graphs and maps to help me understand the landscape. My informationist role in the Library prepared me well for these latter tasks, as I’d been embedded in projects and made it my job to know what was going on around the University. Still, it’s a lot of putting names to faces to departments to projects. It’s a lot to learn.

I also need to learn a lot about the role of an evaluator. I knew enough to get the job, but now that I have it, I know that I need to learn a great deal more before I’m proficient in the task(s). I’ve been reading a lot of articles from evaluation journals. I tracked down several good books on program evaluation, and a couple on evaluating biomedical and health research, in particular. I’ve subscribed to professional listservs, been reading daily blog posts by evaluators, and joined a professional organization to have access to needed resources. Lastly, I’ve been working through a few self-guided mini-courses to make sure I’ve got the basics down pat and that I understand the terminology that I’m reading elsewhere. So far, so good.

And I’m planning. It’s true that I worked with the section writers and leadership of the CCTS to develop evaluation plans for the different components of our proposal. In other words, I’ve already written a whole bunch of plans stating what I’m going to do over the next few years. That said though, there’s planning and then there’s PLANNING. The all-caps version is where I am now. I have plans to collect and track certain metrics to answer certain evaluation questions, but now I really need to plan out how I’m going to do all of that. The logistics. It’s a great challenge. It’s interesting and I’m learning a lot. I cannot complain.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It's hung over my desk ever since.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It’s hung over my desk ever since.

One clear thing that I’ve read – and thus learned – over and over in my study ’til now is that the practices of measuring and evaluating are continuous. You need to plan for them from the beginning and, depending upon your goal, assess at different points along the way. It’s pretty much like life in general. If you make that New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, you need to make a plan and part of that plan involves devising a means to track your progress along the way. If you want to go on a trip to Europe, you need a plan to save the money and a way to keep track of what you’ve saved, so you’ll know when you’re ready to pack your bags. 

I am a reflective person by nature. I majored in philosophy during my first time through college. I went to seminary where you hone your spiritual reflection skills well. I’ve spent time with therapists, here and there in life. I’ve been writing this blog for the past few years as a way to reflect upon and keep track of my changing roles as a librarian. For me, it’s a really helpful practice because it keeps my awareness of where I am and what I’m doing and what I’m learning at the forefront. Annual evaluations (and/or quarterly reports) don’t work for me without keeping track of things along the way. This blog helps with that.

I recently re-read something that I wrote last fall for a different blog, Hack Library School. I was interviewed, along with several other medical librarians, about our work. One of the questions asked was what advice I’d give to current students studying library science and my answer, in part, was:

Sell yourself! One of the things that I see happening in settings like mine (an academic medical school and research center) is that there is never a shortage of work for a person who can match his/her skill set to existing needs. And there are LOTS of existing needs. The key is to really know what you know how to do, know what you need to learn how to do (and learn it – ESPECIALLY if you’re weak in the sciences), and then know how to show people that what you bring is uniquely useful to them. I don’t necessarily think that this means you wait around and look for job openings in medical libraries, but that you also keep your eye on other parts of the health care system or biomedical research where what you can do fits. People looking for help often don’t think of a librarian as one who could do the job for them, but I think that’s mostly because we haven’t done the best job of selling ourselves. Know yourself, have confidence (even if you have to fake it at first), and put yourself in places that offer you opportunity.

One thing I could add to this is that developing a practice of self-reflection, evaluation, and/or tracking yourself – however you do it – will put you in a much better position to sell yourself and/or match your abilities to opportunities as they arrive. This is exactly what happened to me last November and it landed me in a great new role. My CV didn’t say a thing about being an evaluator, but I was able to map pretty much every aspect of it to the qualifications needed for the person in this post. The discipline of weekly reflection via this blog made that task easy.

We always encounter times in our lives where evaluation is forced upon us, whether it’s that mandatory annual review or a major life event. My mother-in-law is in hospice care now and nearing the end of her life. It’s a time of reflection for her and everyone in the family. “Did I live a good life?” is likely the ultimate evaluation question. You hope for the answer, “Yes” and you hope for lots of reasons to be sure of your answer, since it’s basically too late to change much. Driving home last night after visiting with her, I thought a lot about how all of these things fit together. There’s no need to wait until the program is over, until a career is over, or until a life is over to ask, “Did I do a good job?” When we plan to track, measure, reflect, and evaluate along the way, I’m fairly certain we’re better off in the end.