Brene Brown on Perfectionism

I’ve often noticed when interacting with people who believe struggle with feelings of self-judgment -when producing something, when trying to create something, or, hell, even just trying to be – that they’re hampered by perfectionism, and that what drives their perfectionism is their belief that if they don’t think they have to strive for perfection, they won’t accomplish anything or be successful.

In my own case, I’ve found pretty much the exact opposite to be true, and it seems that Brene Brown things so, too:

In the research there’s a significant difference between perfectionism and healthy striving or striving for excellence. Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.

Perfectionism is also very different than self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.” Healthy striving is self- focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.

Last, perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.

-Brene Brown

I like that phrasing, that perfectionism is a “hustle: – a little scam our ego (parental and societal super-ego?) runs on our authentic selves to prevent us from actually being happy, creative, and productive – and totally agree with Brown’s assessment that perfectionism is largely about trying to impress other people, rather than doing what makes us happy.

So, like the new Kyrie’s I’ve got comin’ in the mail remind us: J.B.Y.

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Filed under Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes, The Library Game

Friday Quote

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

-Samuel Beckett

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What We Can Learn From Preschool

This month’s copy of The Atlantic includes an interesting (and attention-grabbingly titled) article by Erika Christakis on “How the New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.” While I can’t vouch for the conclusions regarding early childhood education (though there are lots of outlets that have weighed in—Slate, a bazillion early childhood education blogs), I was struck by how many of the observations and conclusions rang true for me when thinking about library instruction, teaching, and higher education.

The crux of the article is this: Preschools have become more and more about “school readiness” and teaching kids academic skills before they get to primary school, and the curriculum has shifted away from exploration and play toward “accountability.” This all seems to be backfiring, as a recent study from Tennessee showed that students who attended preschool were performing worse than their non-preschool attending colleagues by the second grade, and had a worse attitude about school by the first grade. You can read the full study from Vanderbilt here.

Here’s the part of the article that really struck me:

…We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them. Sometimes, to be fair, what children take away from a conversation is wrong. They might conclude, as my young son did, that pigs produce ham, just as chickens produce eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are worked over, refined, and adapted….

Teachers play a crucial role in supporting this type of learning…Consider the difference between a teacher’s use of a closed statement versus an open-ended question. Imagine that a teacher approaches a child drawing a picture and exclaims, “Oh, what a pretty house!” If the child is not actually drawing a house, she might feel exposed, and even if she is drawing a house, the teacher’s remark shuts down further discussion: She has labeled the thing and said she likes it. What more is there to add? A much more helpful approach would be to say, “Tell me about your drawing,” inviting the child to be reflective. It’s never possible to anticipate everything a small person needs to learn, so open-ended inquiry can reveal what is known and unknown.

In fact, it’s never possible to anticipate what anyone, regardless of age, needs to learn, so this focus on inquiry-based learning and encouraging conversation and reflection on a topic is critical no matter what age we are working with.

For example, when I’m working with a student and they find a peer-reviewed article, I have basically two options in the way I talk with them. I could say, “Excellent work. You found a peer-reviewed article,” and basically end the conversation there. Or I could say, “Tell me about the article you found and how you know whether it’s relevant for the assignment,” which will get them to reflect on their process, consider whether the article is (in fact) appropriate for what they are doing, and potentially highlight any problem areas (e.g., “Because I found it in EBSCO” does not demonstrate deep understanding of evaluation).

So while academic librarians work with a different population and a different skill set, we can take many of these lessons from preschool and apply them to our own work: conversation-based sessions, a focus on inquiry, working with other students to solve problems. As we’ve discussed on this blog before, there’s a huge body of empirical data pointing to the efficacy of these methods, and this article was a great reminder of how this is key across the field of education.

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Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction Online Course

Dani and I will once again be teaching a course on Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction, with a focus on the science & psychology of learning,  via RUSA/ALA. You can now register for the course that begins on 2/15/2016 and ends on 3/27/2016.

Here is a bit of info on the course:

This course will introduce library practitioners to empirically sound approaches to learner-centered teaching that can be applied to creating effective reference and instruction services that maximally facilitate student learning. The first part of the course will be devoted to understanding the current science of how students learn from the perspective of cognitive and educational psychology, and concrete ways that library practitioners can apply this learning to the library context. The second part of course will deal with motivational aspects of learning: What does the psychological research say about what makes students want to learn, and how can we use this research to motivate information literacy learning? The final part of the course will cover issues of diversity and inclusive pedagogy from within the framework of culturally responsive pedagogy: In a diverse educational landscape, how can we construct our teaching so that it includes, rather than alienates, as many students as possible?

The aim of this course is to give librarians the tools to feel more confident in their instructional strategies and ability to support student-centered learning. Not only will the course introduce participants to scientifically grounded pedagogies, but will lead them through exercises to concretely apply these theories to their own library contexts. This course will be of interest to any librarian who engages in reference or teaching, and is unique in providing a current overview of the current educational literature alongside practical strategies.

We’re excited to teach it again; please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

For questions about the logistics of registration you can contact: registration at ala dot org

For questions about the course itself you can contact me at kevin dot michael dot klipfel at gmail dot com (Dani is on leave for a little bit right now so it’ll be easiest to get in touch with me at the moment)

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

If You Give a Librarian a Cookie…

I’ve always loved to bake. When I was in high school, I would make a dozen kinds of Christmas cookies every year, pack them up in colorful Tupperware and ribbons, and give them to friends, family, and teachers. In college, I’d bake drop cookies or cupcakes for the weekly newspaper copy editors meetings. I was always the friend who baked something for a party. At my first job in NYC, I’d bake sweets at home, tote them to Manhattan on the Q train, and set them out in the staff break room. I loved it so much, I started a blog. Baking was the way that I showed people that I appreciated them.

When I got to library school, I continued on my baking streak. Oatmeal raisin cookies to trivia night, chocolate chip cookie bars to my job, cupcakes for student ALA meetings. But then, one evening, I was attending a networking mixer (so: already terrible), and a classmate went around the group of library school students, introducing us to…someone I don’t even remember, but it seemed important at the time. But I *do* remember how the introductions went:

“This is X, she works in Special Collections and is going to be an archivist.”

“This is Y, he’s going to be an awesome instruction librarian.”

“This is Z, he’s a great storyteller and is going to be a children’s librarian.”

“This is Dani. She bakes cookies.”

…And that was the last time I baked cookies for anybody in a remotely work-related context.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the person meant anything by it, and nobody seemed to notice the incongruity in the introductions. But I did, and what it told me that I was being read as less serious than the other people I stood in that circle with. It felt lousy, and distinctly gendered.

In the 2.5 years that I’ve been at my job now, I have never baked anything to take into work. When I want to show my appreciation for my co-workers through food, I stop and pick up donuts, cookies from Trader Joe’s, chocolates. But nothing that comes from my kitchen. And I don’t bring in food very often—more likely now, I’ll just tell someone that they’ve been awesome. I’ve been afraid that people will stop seeing me for my work, and start seeing me as…library mom?

One day, I picked up Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and, flipping through, something caught my eye. “Don’t feed people,” Frankel said. And especially, don’t bake cookies yourself. It will “sabotage” you in the workplace, and people will see you as Betty Crocker.

This plays out all over the Internet. Here’s an article from Forbes in 2012 about how most experts say that baking is self-sabotage for women.

Here’s Ask a Manager on the issue. tl;dr: she presents other “masculine” traits in the office, so baking isn’t going to undermine that. UM WHAT. So if  I’m “blunt, assertive, kind of a hard-ass, and not a sugar-coater,” then I can make all the brownies I want; if not, not? And if I’m not a manager, can I bake without potentially sacrificing my climb up the library ladder?

All of which is to say: I’ve bought into this for a long time now. But I’ve been thinking a lot about librarianship and management and gender recently, and I think I’m about ready to call BS.

Baking is just one example, but what other parts of ourselves do we have to deny in order to be taken seriously in the workplace? Is it worth it? What does it mean to elide parts of yourself so that you aren’t just described as “the girl who bakes”? At what point does my work speak for itself and I don’t have to worry about this anymore?

It seems like it probably never ends, and giving into this way of thinking is letting traditional gender perceptions control us, even while we are explicitly trying to buck them.

So: can you be a kickass instruction librarian and respected by your colleagues and bring in the occasional pecan bar? Or whatever other traditionally gendered personality trait (some other fun ones from Frankel: needing to be liked, not needing to be liked, holding your tongue, decorating your office, HELPING) makes you feel like you, a human being? It’s not about the cookies, yo. And I’m over it, and it seems like the way to change this is not by giving into it.

Have you experienced this? How do you deal with it? I hope you’ll share in the comments!

EDIT: Many thanks to Keri Cascio, who let me know about the #libleadgender conversation going on–started by an excellent article by Jessica Olin and Michelle Millet at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Looking forward to joining in future conversations!

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Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

The Reputation Economy and the Cult of Likability

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The reputation economy depends on everyone maintaining a reverentially conservative, imminently practical attitude: Keep your mouth shut and your skirt long, be modest and don’t have an opinion. The reputation economy is yet another example of the blanding of culture, and yet the enforcing of groupthink has only increased anxiety and paranoia, because the people who embrace the reputation economy are, of course, the most scared. What happens if they lose what has become their most valuable asset? The embrace of the reputation economy is an ominous reminder of how economically desperate people are and that the only tools they have to raise themselves up the economic ladder are their sparklingly upbeat reputations — which only adds to their ceaseless worry over their need to be liked.

Empowerment doesn’t come from liking this or that thing, but from being true to our messy contradictory selves […] What is being erased in the reputation economy are the contradictions inherent in all of us. Those of us who reveal flaws and inconsistencies become terrifying to others, the ones to avoid. An “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-like world of conformity and censorship emerges, erasing the opinionated and the contrarian, corralling people into an ideal. Forget the negative or the difficult. Who wants solely that? But what if the negative and the difficult were attached to the genuinely interesting, the compelling, the unusual? That’s the real crime being perpetrated by the reputation culture: stamping out passion; stamping out the individual.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes, The Library Game

Happy Thanksgiving from Rule Number One

We’re thankful for all of the awesome librarians and library practitioners who read this blog. Hope you have a happy and restful Thanksgiving, and may you also find joy in the small delights of our profession (like book turkeys).

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