My Advice to the Class of 2012: Don’t Skip Pages or Chapters of Your Story

Last week I delivered the commencement speech to the East Carolina University School of Communication class of 2012. I thought I’d share the text here. In the process of writing this speech I learned so much about myself which mimics one of the themes of the speech–the journey is so much more interesting than the destination.

Your Life: The Whole Story

I’d like to start by telling you about my story. When I graduated high school in 1990, coincidentally that’s the year many of you were born, one of my friends signed my yearbook and said, “You’ll be great at whatever you do, as soon as you figure out what it is that you want to do.” At 18 I wanted to be a singer, an actress, a writer, but most of all, I wanted to teach and be a college professor.

Instead of going straight to college, I took a different path and in the past 22 years I’ve been a lifeguard, fire fighter, EMT, sales person, bank teller, waitress, computer programmer, and I know more about clogs than any person should.

During the years of bouncing from job to job, career to career, I attended college part time. During that time life happened and obtaining a degree often took a back seat. I constantly questioned myself, doubted myself.

What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m too good? How will I attend school and plan my wedding? How will I attend school with a baby and a job? How will I do it all? Am I too old to go to school?

I realized that I was going to be 30 by the time I graduated. Then 30 turned to 35 and then 35 turned to 39. And this was only for my bachelor’s degree. At this rate I’d be maybe 45 for my masters, 50-something for my PhD. Maybe I should just throw in the towel because I’ll be too old to do anything.

Yet each time I wanted to give up, I found a solution. The distance ed program at East Carolina allowed me to work full time, be a mom, and obtain my degree. But it wasn’t without additional challenges along the way. While working for a major computer company which I’ll call the evil empire, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease. A week later I lost my job or as the empire so eloquently put it “my contract was terminated.” Devastated, I began the long search for a new job. I honestly didn’t know how I would get through this. Not only had I lost my job but I was faced with a major illness. Who would want to hire me?

Six months later I was hired by a public library to teach computer classes and it was there that I discovered my calling. It turns out, the reason I had always wanted to be a professor is because my passion is helping other people learn. Losing that job was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Losing that job brought me to the library.

The public library is often called the people’s university. The knowledge you can obtain knows no bounds and has no price. There is no tuition, and its doors are open to anyone from the President of the United States to the single mom with two kids to the new college graduate, looking for his first job.

Most people who work as librarians have a master’s degree in library science. Years away from any degree, I refused to let anything stop me. I refused to let anything stand in my way. I learned on the job. I read. I networked. I read some more. By the time I graduated from East Carolina I had several articles published in journals, traveled across the US and Canada to speak about libraries, and even took a semester off to coauthor and publish a book about teaching and learning.

Thinking back to my graduation, I remember looking around as I stood in the procession line and not only feeling old but a little intimidated. The guy in line in front of me had a giant pirate ship on his head. It was rumored to fire cannons during the ceremony. What was in those cannons I was not sure. When I was handed my eye patch I put it on over my glasses determined to show my pirate spirit and walked with the class of 2011 into this auditorium barely able to see yet reveling in the fact that after 20 years, I was finally graduating.

As I listened to the speakers and anxiously waited to walk across the stage many different things were running through my mind as are probably going through yours. How would having a degree change my future? Should I go to graduate school? What if I trip when I walk across the stage? Would the speeches ever end? After making that walk across this stage, I sat down and I asked myself if I felt different and to my dismay, I realized that I didn’t feel different at all.

Since graduation I’ve realized that it’s not the piece of paper that matters, though your parents are surely glad that you will finally have it – in just a few moments (I promise). What matters is the journey you took to get here. The things you’ve learned along the way. The friends you made. The papers you waited until the last moment to write. Group projects. Research. Studying for finals.

As you walk across this stage today remember that this day is only one page of your story. The last page of your chapter here in the School of Communication.

It’s true that you are graduating in a difficult economic time but it is also an exciting time for communication graduates. Jobs created today not only didn’t exist ten or twenty years ago but they could never have been imagined. The Internet and social media have changed the way we communicate forever. The skills that you have learned here are the foundation for your career, for your life, for your story.

If there is one piece of advice that I can give you that I wish someone had given me it’s accept yourself for who you are right here and right now. There are so many times in life when we are looking for something or we are waiting for something to happen and thinking that – whatever the something is will make us happy.

The problem with this thinking is that there will always be something more that you will want and something more that you can accomplish. Be happy with who you are now. Live in this moment. Don’t try to skip any pages or chapters. Even the bad ones.

One of my favorite stories of all time is Harry Potter. I’m sure many of you have read it (or seen the movie). Imagine only reading the end. Imaging missing out on the moment when Harry learns he’s a wizard. Imagine missing out on the moment when Harry wins his first Quidditch match. Imagine missing out on Dobby the house elf. Imagine missing out when Harry defeats Lord Voldemort. (I hope I didn’t spoil that for anyone.)

Life is like a series of great stories. There are exciting headlines and leads, there are boring facts to muddle through, there are ups and downs, and there are heroes and villains. When you craft your life, your story, you get to choose your plot and your characters. Choose well. If someone is bringing you down. Rewrite him into a minor character. Don’t let anyone else write your story and most of all don’t miss a moment of it.

There is a myth that successful people have some master plan and that we have always known what we wanted to do. But the truth is … we really just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We try things. We make mistakes. We try again until we find our passion, our calling, our story.

What happens from here is up to you. East Carolina has given you a wonderful foundation to do anything that you want to do. The School of Communication and the work that you’ve done has prepared you for the 21st century workforce. The class of 2012 is going to do great things. You have the power to change the world. You have the power to change lives. You are going to create a fantastic story.

Generation Now: Surviving & Thriving With Multiple Generations in the Workplace

I’m presenting a break out session this afternoon on one of my favorite topics, generations in the workplace. Below are the slides and handout for the presentation. Thank you University of Wisconsin Madison campus for being such a wonderful host!

PDF of Slides

Generation Now Handout

Finding Your Way: Managing & Leading Through Change in Libraries

I’m in the beautiful city of Madison, Wisconsin to give the keynote at the Back in Circulation Conference. Below are the slides from my presentation as well as a link to a PDF of the slides.

Maryland Area Libraries: Want to learn to train like a pro?

I’m heading to Maryland in two weeks to lead an all day preconference on training.

TRAIN LIKE A PRO: Improve Your Skills as a Trainer

Studies show that learners retain less than 10% of what they learn in a traditional training session. Train Like a Pro will provide you with tips, techniques, and tools to be an effective trainer. You’ll create engaging learning experiences for your participants – whether they are library employees, volunteers, or patrons. You will leave this session feeling more confident as a trainer.

Wednesday, May 9 from 9-5

There’s still time to register!

I’ll also be a judge at Battledecks Wednesday evening. Looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones!


Building a Personal Learning Solution: 10 Steps to Control Information Overload and Take Back Your Life

When you look at the statistics of how much training actually gets retained by learners and how much training actually transfers back to the workplace, you have to ask yourself two questions. Why are we doing training? What can we do better? The problem with most training is that it doesn’t fill an immediate need. What’s the point in taking a class on Microsoft Access if I’m not going to use it for six months or worse don’t even have the software installed. Sounds crazy but believe me it happens. One of the other problems with training is that of ownership. We’ve grown up in this 20th century idea of training with the “sage on the stage”–of one person disseminating information and the learners hoping to learn it all through osmosis. It just doesn’t work that way.

Real learning is a participatory act or a dance between the learners and the facilitator and the learners among themselves. But what to do with information pouring in daily by the gigabyte? Too much to do and too much to keep up with. Enter the personal learning solution = personal learning environment + personal learning network. The 23 Things Program was the first widely distributed example of a personal learning solution. Participants used a blog to keep track of their learning, participants connected with other bloggers, and participants learned a lot about Web 2.0 and technology that was new to them.

In many ways PLSs are ideal for library staff who must manage lots of information with a limited amount of time. The following slides were used this week for a presentation for LibraryLinkNJ. Take a look at them to learn more about PLSs.

View more presentations from Lori Reed
My PLS has and will continue to change over time. Initially it consisted of thousands of RSS feeds in Google Reader. But then I got tired of seeing the count of 1000+ unread items. My true unread count–Google can’t even count as high. Next I navigated to Facebook and Twitter where I made more personal connections with other trainers and library staff. I like that the information is instant, timely, and doesn’t give me a read versus unread count. If I miss something, I can be sure that someone else out there will share the information. This past summer I migrated towards having all my information come into my Gmail account where I set up filters to organize and file the information. Your PLS will be unique to you and it will and should change over time.
If you are creating or thinking about updating your PLS, I’d encourage you to start with the end in mind and think about your goal. No one can keep up with everything. Is your goal to be a better trainer? To stay informed on local, community events? To learn more about one topic? To keep up with the latest tech news? Or to keep up with library news in general? Start with a specific goal and add more content only when you feel comfortable with the amount you already have.
In the following weeks as I embark on a new job and new phase in my career, my learning and information needs will definitely change. As I transition from a focus on “training” to a broader scope of customer relationships and end-user experiences, my information needs will look very different. With my thousands of feeds, I’ve decided to delete them all and start over fresh with a limit of 100 feeds. By effectively filtering information as it comes in using Google Alerts and Twitter Searches I should be able to keep my list of feeds to a manageable size. I’m reminding myself daily that quality should be chosen over quantity.
As we enter to into an early Spring, at least here in North Carolina, I invite you to do some early Spring cleaning and take stock of your information consumption by doing the following:
  1. Mark all your RSS feeds as read. I hear stories of people who get stressed just thinking about the number of unread RSS feeds they have. Remember that technology is here to serve us not the other way around. If you miss something important your sure to see it again from another source.
  2. Prune your RSS subscriptions to an amount that is manageable for you, or delete your feeds and start over.
  3. Know when to subscribe to RSS versus when to bookmark a site. Do you really want to read every post? Or do you want to make sure you can find the site again? Delicious and Pinboard are great bookmarking tools.
  4. Use lists in TweetDeck to manage the people and information you follow. Set up groups based on how much you want to see from the people in the group. The smaller the group, the more you will see. Add keyword columns to search on topics that are relevant to you. Twitter can easily get unmanageable without tools to manage lists.
  5. Unsubscribe from people who complain or are just generally negative all the time. Why surround yourself with negativity.
  6. Unsubscribe from people who post little of value to you. The information may be great, but as your needs change so should the people you follow. Get over the Twitequette that says you need to follow back anyone who follows you.
  7. Learn to use Facebook’s lists feature. You can create lists of coworkers, personal friends, family, librarians, or just about any list imaginable. The benefit is two-fold. First, you can click a button and see only the updates from those most important to you–close friends and family. Second, you can post updates that only specific lists of friends can see. If I’m posting about my cat or children, I may not want all 500 of my friends to see the post. Likewise if you are at a conference, you don’t want to overload your non-library friends and family with ALA totebag posts.
  8. Schedule time each day for online information consumption. 30 minutes should be adequate for most people. If you are in a PR, marketing, or role that requires you to keep track of more information, then adjust the time accordingly. If you are a manager who expects your staff to stay current on library news and information, make that expectation clear and schedule time for staff to do it. If it’s not scheduled it won’t happen.
  9. Schedule time each day to play and set a timer! Facebook is a time suck! Acknowledge that and do something about it. If you are ok with spending hours each night playing Words With Friends or preparing a new crop for Farmville, and it doesn’t affect your personal life, great! But if it interferes with your family relationships or causes you to neglect other parts of your life, do something about it and set a timer. Did you know that inpatient centers are popping up to treat Internet addiction? Internet addiction is real and is more prevalent than you might realize. If you are using the Internet to escape some part of your life, get help. Life is too short to live in a virtual world like the folks in the movie Wall-E.
  10. Don’t forget to take time to participate in your networks. Comment on blogs. Post links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Add to the discussions taking place. If you don’t have anything to add, offer encouragement to someone having a bad day. This is your social network karma.

I hope this information and tips are helpful. I’d love to hear from you in the comments? What does your personal learning solution look like? And how are you controlling the overload of information?

UPDATE: If you are looking for a tool to manage multiple social media accounts. Check out this great review of three products from the Social Media Examiner.