How bout that January, eh? Lots of memes out lately about the longest month ever. Yet, like this reddit thread, I don’t really get it. I mean, despite my Oklahoma-born, summer-loving upbringing, I do expect that January is supposed to be snowy and damn cold.
I also don’t love, but expect annual evaluations. They provide a time to reflect on the highlights of the year and set goals for the next. Most often I approach this task (and leadership generally) from a strengths-based perspective, which has its roots in positive psychology research. I encourage people to own what they are best at, even using it to build areas at which they feel not so great. But, as January has brought a lot of harsh realities to the fore, it feels necessary to juxtapose this month’s normal, optimistic resolution with a page from Brene Brown and ponder what didn’t go quite right this year.
My acceptance into the 2018 cohort of the Institute of Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) certainly put a postive move on a long-stuck research agenda, and in all respects (except one) it was an a-ma-zing experience. That same week, I was also furtively struggling to complete editor changes for a book chapter on knowledge management in libraries (ala this past post). Trying to do research while learning how little you actually know about research is one thing. Working on two research project simultaneously with that fragile skill set is another. Working against an already extended deadline on a near-complete redo of said research and writing certainly takes one down a peg or two. But wait! There’s more. None of these humiliations can beat the crushing horror four (4) months after submitting the final revised draft, realizing that I’d attached the wrong file.
Yes. Epic. Fail.
I have never asked for an extension I couldn’t meet. I have never wanted to write about a topic more than I wanted to write about meetings and knowledge management in library organizations. Needless to say, the editors confirmed they’d moved forward without my chapter included. But if we’re being honest, while I was satisfied with the final draft I thought I’d submitted, this blunder was a blessing in disguise that helped me realize how far my cart was in front of this particular horse.
My actual and ongoing research for IRDL has been more like an extremely long January. I’ve progressed in some ways with ease and others with more groping at the dark. Navigating my mentoring and research network, I’ve partnered with a friend and colleague who is familiar with my topic and who has strengths in areas that I need to grow. She and I have spent most of the year sorting out data after messy, incomplete data, just trying to figure out how to approach a sample to use for our analysis. It’s been frustrating, paving over the same paths and feeling you’ve come up no further along. We met again this week to pave with our local hub of digital research librarians. In the process we made breakthrough. A face-palming breakthrough, but a breakthrough nonetheless.
I like to think Winston Churchill, as he’s often quoted, understood the better that lies ahead of the struggle. Better even than the adage that this too shall pass (because, kidney stones?), I prefer to remind myself and others that research is just messy until it’s not messy. This is what we teach as librarians, but sometimes forget to tell ourselves.
If I hadn’t been introduced to Brene Brown’s research, or learned what I did from IRDL, or had this particular editorial experience, or the practice of using my strengths, I don’t know that I could as easily take fails forward into something better and more genuine. That I can say moving through vulnerability has become easier for me, is precisely because that is what the concept of strengths brings to bear for anyone’s vulnerabilities. My top five Gallup strengths – Learner, Activator, Strategic, Analytical, and Individualization — help me more easily learn from my mistakes, analyze and strategize new paths, know myself and who to go to for help, and take action to keep going! But even if you can’t yet see your own strengths this way, research has shown vulnerability is a necessary part of personal and professional growth.
When I complete my current IRDL research, and when (not if) I get back to research and writing about meetings and knowledge management in libraries, you and I both want it to be good and valuable and cleaner than the path it takes to get there. So, I embrace the mess! It may not always be pretty, but it’s a path that moves you forward if you let it.