Have you ever noticed how we work and we work and somethings go right and some things go wrong and some things are frustrating and every once in a long while somebody stops and says, “You did a great job.” Ever noticed how you have the impression that those “great job” moments are incredibly few and far between?
When I stop and think about it, I usually think that people almost never stop and thank their librarians. I mean, I usually have a pretty good sense of of when I’ve done a good job, and I’m generally an internally motivated person, so I don’t go around getting gloomy about how rarely people tell me when I’ve done well. But you know the feeling. And I’m sure the same is true for lots of other professions. And I actually don’t think this stems from a general lack of gratitude. I think it happens because most people see a job well done and think to themselves, “That person is so good at his/her job” or “That person speaks so eloquently,” and then figure that the person must know this about themselves, and that lots of other people must tell them this all the time.
The longer I’ve been a professional, the more I’ve come to realize that most people, even the famous people, actually don’t hear from people when they’ve been especially helpful or insightful or eloquent. I realized this about a year and a half ago when I worked up my courage to write to a very famous library-type to thank him for a presentation he’d given that my colleagues and I found immensely useful. His reply shocked me in its pure joy at having been thanked. Since then I’ve worked much harder to get over my shyness and thank people when they’ve made an impression. I still don’t do it nearly enough, but I’m working on that.
Well, today I’ve been putting together my dreaded annual review document for which I’m supposed to condense an entire year into a page or two of “highlights.” As part of this process, I’ve gone through my “100 Dollar” folder. This is the folder where I throw printouts of emails expressing appreciation, notes about when people have complemented me, and anything else that will help me remember the good days. This folder grew out of something a co-worker said to me shortly after coming to work here. She said, “People tend to remember frustrations and failures more than they remember their successes, so you need to think of a way to counteract that. The way I do it is by keeping notes about successes in my 100 Dollar folder. That way, when I’m in one of those periods when everything seems to be going wrong, I can look back and remember when things went right.” She then explained that the name came from a line in a book where a boy remembers the good times “back when everything was 100 dollars.” At first I thought it was strange and a little bit self-indulgent, but I’ve come to realize that it really is true: we need to be reminded that people are appreciative, and that we really do make a difference in and among the routines and stresses of day-to-day work life.
Today, as I went through my folder, I realized that I have at least a couple of notes in there for every month I’ve worked here since the beginning of my very first Fall Term. Every note made me smile, and everyone brought back a flood of generally pleasant memories (especially the one from a student who said she heard from a classmate that I was “a queller of panicked fears” and could she please meet with me). In fact, I’m somewhat in awe of the number of notes that are there, and feel a little bit small for not having remembered most of them until faced with a physical reminder. It really is true that we dwell on weaknesses and make those into the dominant features of our realities. So I write this now as a reminder to myself to look back over this folder from time to time and remember that in and among all the times when I haven’t been able to find the research a student wanted, or when a class crashed and burned, or when I failed to communicate in a way that helped rather than hurt a situation… in and among all these things, these are not the only things people remember when they think of me.
This realization sure is a pleasant way to end a long Monday. But it’s more than just pleasant; it’s also motivating. I know I’ll make mistakes, fail, flounder, and generally mess up. I can guarantee you I’ll do these things quite frequently if history is any guide. But you know what? Life goes on, and it’s generally going in the right direction.
And you know what else? I love my job and the people with whom I’m privileged to work.
And you know what else? That’s definitely enough gushing for one post.