Preaching to a Choir of One: On Evangelizing Myself

cecily walker bio photo By cecily walker Comment

A while back, a colleague and I submitted a proposal for this year’s Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA. We’d planned to talk about creating hackerspaces at libraries, but the organizing and review committee had a different (and better) idea. Instead, we’ll be appearing on a panel of experts titled “Transforming Roles: Who Do You Want to Be?” We’ll discuss the changing roles of information professionals, how we ended up where we are, and the risks, rewards, and challenges of our journeys. Very cool, yes? I thought it was, so I told the organizers I’d be delighted to participate.

Last week I found out that the panel is a Tuesday night session. If you don’t know anything else about Internet Librarian, know this: the Tuesday Night sessions are very well attended, are usually some the most popular, non-keynote sessions of the conference, and is a marquee spot. Not only that, but my name is on the front page of the website.

Now, if you know me at all, you probably know that I lack confidence. I have enough self-esteem issues to stock a newsstand. Sure, I know and have learned a lot about user experience in the years since I graduated from library school. I’ve even been paid to teach college courses on it. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s a very loud, insistent gong of doubt that goes off in my head whenever I have to talk about myself or share what I know in person or in writing. I’m usually fine when I’m on stage, but it’s afterward that I want to curl up and die.

It only took me 25 years in the workforce to realize that being a wallflower isn’t conducive to professional success.

Who the hell am I and why should you listen to me?

These days I’m starting to speak up and express my opinions at work and online, even when those opinions run counter to the conventional wisdom. Most of the time it comes across like a bulldozer, but one step at a time. I’ll work on finesse later. I’m working hard on learning and practicing empathy and using non-confrontational language.

A big part of this learning process is developing faith in my abilities — in myself. I’m learning to speak loudly and often about what I know, to share it with others, to ask questions, to listen, and to admit when I don’t know something but would welcome the opportunity to find out more about it. And yes, a big part of that is stopping this need I have to — if you’ll pardon the cliche — hide my light under a bushel. I am ready for the next big professional challenge that comes my way. OK, I’m really not ready, but I’m getting ready, and I know now what I have to do to become ready. The biggest challenge isn’t finding the perfect job, or even advancing in the organization, the next big challenge is me.

Whitney Hess’ 2009 presentation on Evangelizing Yourself came into my life at a moment of spiralling self-doubt.I secretly know I’m a little bit awesome, but I don’t want to brag, because no one respects a self-aggrandizing moron.

But if I don’t talk about myself, how in the world can I expect anyone to know anything about me? If I want to control the message that exists about Cecily Walker, I need to be sure that most of that messaging is coming from what I say and do well, not from people who I have wronged or disappointed in the past.

In her presentation, Hess challenged the members of the audience to explain why they’re important in one sentence without any hesitation. I’m going to do that now, but I reserve the right to edit the explanation at a later date.

I am important because empathy for others is the foundation of my personal and professional practice.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for now.

The key part of that sentence for others is the part after “because”. The key part for me comes before it.