I’m Here

I'm HereI’m here.

I can still hear Linda Trout’s voice saying “I’m here”.  This was the first facilitation training activity at the beginning of the grant project’s FIT Team.  Before I say anything else, I need to say there is no wrong way to say “I’m here”.  Some people asked it like a question: “I’m here?”  Others said it meekly: “I’m here.”  Participants were asked to stand in a circle, and when ready, step one-by-one into the circle’s center, make eye contact with everyone else, and say those two words.  Some people said “I’m here” as fast as possible and bee lined it back to their spot.  Linda actually turned around and looked at everyone in the circle.  The “I’m here” she said that morning had deep, invisible roots that held firmly to the building’s foundation.  I had no idea what was going through Linda’s mind but it felt like Linda was truly here.  Not pretending to be here.  Not wishing she was here.  Present.

Months later Cheryl Gould told us that we know what good facilitation looks like.  When we stand nervously in front of a room, we might picture someone considered a good facilitator and then act like that person.  I still do that sometimes when I facilitate.  But there’s something else I do when I want to be present for a group I’m facing.  I say “I’m here” to myself with the roots that mean I’m actually present.

I now know it is important to be here to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.  Since Cheryl introduced the Improv rule “everything is an offer” the first morning, this experience taught me that just about anything someone else does is an opportunity.  Being present can’t really be a “once-every-couple-months-when-Sam-and-Cheryl-are-in-town” kind of thing.  Opportunities present themselves all the time, especially in libraries.

What about the patron who comes in wanting to apply for a job but doesn’t remember his email password right before my lunch break?  There is such a huge difference between me accepting or not accepting this offer that it defines my career.  Although librarians are certainly good at finding a phone number for Yahoo (no small feat by the way), at our best we help people learn.  That patron doesn’t just need a password.  He needs computer technology and internet fluency that will land him a job.  The library can help him develop that fluency.  Although they aren’t always that large, I know that most people I interact with at the library make such offers.  Thanks to the FIT Team I try my hardest to accept those offers.

When asked about the value of the FIT Team, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that the learning experiences I’m most likely to mention occurred less than an hour into this whole process.  Will people wonder if I didn’t learn anything after that?  That inner voice wondering what others think about something I do or say is something that I once thought would go away during this experience.  It hasn’t.  That’s not the purpose of facilitation.  I don’t sleep more (actually I sleep much, much less).  I still procrastinate.  I still over commit myself.  I still try on absolute statements for size and then later regret having said them out loud in front of other human beings.  Although the most frequent human recipient is my wife, I sometimes say these statements to others who haven’t sworn an oath to assume the best in me.  But facilitators work to ensure that those kinds of things aren’t obstacles to growth, creativity, communication, and change.  Now when I hear that voice in my head sabotaging my efforts, I ask it to pipe down for a while so I can listen to others’ voices.

This experience has made me a better teammate.  I usually have a pretty good idea of how things should be.  I’m also pretty adept at coming up with the facts and figures necessary to convince myself that I’m right.  But I’ve learned that individuals working alone always have big blind spots.  There are solutions they can’t even conceive of; problems they can’t get around; and misconceptions they don’t know they have.  We need help coming up with truly innovative ideas.  Even if we could innovate on our own, it would make it really difficult to invest others in our ideas.  Collaborating with my co-workers (or partners outside the library) makes the work I do better.  We’re able to do things that I would never have thought of; wouldn’t have been able to implement; or would have been too scared to try.  Although it’s harder to predict what we’ll be doing, our conversations are so much richer.

I’m so much less concerned with bulldozing my way forward.  That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally still dig in my heels.  Most of the time I know things will turn out better if they are the result of collaboration where everyone contributes.  I was used to making decisions on my own while keeping my work and my co-workers’ work separate.  Now that seems like such an ineffective way to work.

The other side of the coin is that I now find it harder to work alone.  Even while writing this reflection, I find myself wondering if this wouldn’t be better if I brought in someone else to weigh in; to bring something else up when I’m being repetitive; or to find solutions for my awkward transitions.

I am more accepting and unafraid of disagreements as a partner at home.  It’s easier for me to see instances in which my wife and I talk past one another.  I then do a better job of listening to what she is saying without thinking about how it fits in with what I think.  I know that we are stronger, despite our differences in experience, philosophy, or viewpoint, precisely because of those differences.

Then there’s Teddy and all my worries about him.  I’m a better parent than I would have been without the FIT Team.  I know that I have influence but not control.  I’m more willing to let Teddy be who he will be, instead of worrying about something outside my sphere of control.  I still worry about my sphere of influence but not my sphere of control.  Let it come.  Let Teddy be himself.  He’ll make mistakes, encounter danger, and find ways past it that I couldn’t have shown him.  And, of course, be present for the offers that come in torrents these days.

Posted by Matt Couch, Facilitator-in-Training

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