I am the librarianat a college prep boarding school for students with learning disabilities—dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, executive function disorder. As you can likely imagine, it’s a fairly intense and all-consuming job. And you can often end up feeling like this starfish—not sure how you got where you are, but holding on for dear lifeWorking with the students I work with—and working to collaborate with often overwhelmed and exhausted faculty members--I have become very interested in what makes people resilient. And that led me to a fair amount of reading and thinking about optimism
There is a fair amount of research pointing to the idea that we are hard-wired for optimism--to believe that everything's going to turn out okay for us, despite all evidence to the contrary.I work with teenagers. Working with teenagers gives you an interesting perspective on the kind of optimism bias that let's you believe that nothing bad could possibly happen to you.It’s incredibly evident when looking at the decisions teenagers make. For example, the decision to dunk a basketball by jumping off a chair. Because what could possibly go wrong. Besides, of course, breaking both your arms. The student in question would want me to point out that he did, in fact, make the basket.
But as we get older, we are less optimistic. We have more evidence that things don't always turn out well(interestingly, as we get ever older we tend to get more optimistic--possibly because things have gone poorly and we've survived them.—and I think there’s a very interesting line of thought to follow there as we think about the future of libraries). So unless like me you're lucky enough to work mostly with teenagers, the majority of people you work with are in that middle ground, when our natural optimism is at its lowest
So we need to be more deliberate about being optimistic. And because we have the wisdom of experience, our optimism has practical advantagesBy priming ourselves to expect good results, we make it more likely that we’ll recognize bad ones and be able to adjust accordinglyWe're more likely to notice it than "realists" (who are sort of expecting things to go poorly)
I’ve always thought of myself as a realist, which is what cynics call themselves My relentless optimism revelation came when my school introduced a 1:1 iPad programThere were some tech resistant teachers, but mostly there were a lot of people looking for guidance and directionAnd I knew this was an opportunity not just to integrate the iPads, but to integrate all sorts of technology to support our students
And so I went to my head of school and said, "You know what I'd like to take on? The role of Ed Tech Facilitator.”
And I knew that I would be a facing a battle against TTWWADI TTWWADI is a problem in libraries, and (I would argue) an even bigger problem in schoolsAnyone familiar?
And this is where relentless optimism came from for me. Adrift, facing a bigger job than I could have possibly anticipated, holding on for dear lifeIt is not a specific innovation, but a philosophy that makes innovation possibleI had buttons made and handed them out to faculty and administrators and whenever I get pushback on a project or idea I enjoy pointing out that the word relentless is on there twice for a reason
It's not just about believing that something will turn out well--it's about making it turn out well (sometimes through sheer force of will)The relentlessness is how we turn our optimism into results, and—more specifically-- how we avoid the pitfalls of optimism biasWe see what needs to be done, and we Make It Happen
Relentless optimism gives you energy and sustains you through work you're passionate about—so you can actually finish it
But this relentless optimism movement I accidentally founded at my school gave me something more—it helped me build a stronger community.You would be amazed at the kind of community you can build by passing out buttons and every once in a while catching a colleague’s eye and shouting “relentless!”Becauseas important as it is to find something that energizes you, it’s even more important to find someone who shares your vision and supports you
We need that passion, and we need that community to sustain us through the Journey. At some point my love of Journey’s “Don’t’ Stop Believin’” went from ironic to real, true, and pureAnd that’s when I knew I was no longer a realist
What makes all the projects and work we’re talking about here so awesome is the passion, and excitement, and relentless optimism you all bring to your work. What we do matters. How we do it, and who we are matters even moreThank you