Category Archives: On Being Human

Why Are So Many Smart People Unhappy?

Interesting article in The Atlantic:

If you take the need for mastery—the need for competence—there are two broad approaches that one can take to becoming very good at something. One approach is to engage in what people call social comparisons. That is, wanting to be the best at doing something: “I want to be the best professor there is,” or something like that.

There are many problems with that, but one big problem with that is that it’s very difficult to assess. What are the yardsticks for judging somebody on a particular dimension? What are the yardsticks for being the best professor? Is it about research, teaching? Even if you take only teaching, is it the ratings you get from students, or is it the content that you deliver in class, or the number of students who pass an exam or take a test and do really well in it? So it gets very difficult to judge, because these yardsticks become increasingly ambiguous as a field becomes narrower or more technical.

So what happens in general is that people tend to gravitate toward less ambiguous—even if they’re not so relevant—yardsticks. People judge the best professors by the number of awards they get, or the salary that they get, or the kind of school that they are in, which might on the face of it seem like it’s a good yardstick for judging how good somebody is, but at the same time it’s not really relevant to the particular field.

And those yardsticks are ones that we adapt to really quickly. So if you get a huge raise this month, you might be happy for a month, two months, maybe six months. But after that, you’re going to get used to it and you’re going to want another big bump. And you’ll want to keep getting those in order to sustain your happiness levels. In most people you can see that that’s not a very sustainable source of happiness.

Pinsker: What’s the other mindset?

Raghunathan: What I recommend is an alternative approach, which is to become a little more aware of what it is that you’re really good at, and what you enjoy doing. When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

Worth a read. And Dostoevsky’s answer to this question , which I just happened to read last week, is worth a re-read, too!

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Filed under Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

There’s Just Some Stuff Students SHOULD Know: Some Thoughts on Dewey on Education with Reference to Library Instruction

I was having a passing conversation the other day with our new library dean and another librarian at my university that all of the sudden involved me pontificating (a rare occurrence, to be sure) on the nature of education. I’m leading a project at my university where we’re creating a formal information literacy curriculum with written outcomes, modules, and assessments, and  several librarians are involved in the process.

At any rate, as I said, we were talking kind of in passing after the meeting about whether there are things, objectively speaking, that “students should know.” I think this is a common view in libraries and in education. Let’s call it:

The Objective Importance View: There’s just some things an educated person should know.

This is, I think, probably uncontroversial on the face of it. After all, what the hell are we doing here, if not educating students about stuff they should know?

But here’s the thing. I actually think The Objective Importance View is false.  More colloquially, I probably think it’s controlling bullshit.

Here’s why.

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes

Self-Directed Learning

“If you just sit down and say, ‘I’m going to learn this thing until I do,'” he says, “there’s not really much out there that you can’t figure out eventually.”

-Kobe Bryant

Interesting little story, basketball fan or not.

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

Friday Quote

Home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself.

Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p. 3.

[…] the pleasure of teaching is an act of resistance countering the overwhelming boredom, uninterest, and apathy that so often characterize the way professors and students feel about teaching and learning, about the classroom experience

Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p. 10.

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Engaged Pedagogy

Throughout my years as student and professor, I have been most inspired by those teachers who have had the courage to transgress those boundaries that would confine each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning. Such teachers approach students with the will and desire to respond to our unique beings, even if the situation does not allow the full emergence of a relationship based on mutual recognition. Yet the possibility of such recognition is always present.

-Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p. 13.

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Friday Quote

I like people who have a sense of individuality. I love expression and anything awkward and imperfect, because that’s natural and that’s real.

-Marc Jacobs

sofia-coppola-winter-trees-marc-jacobs-juergen-teller

Sophia Coppola photographed by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs ad campaign

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

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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Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Dani Brecher, Quotes

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