Self-Care for Museum Workers (Book)

Our new book, Objective Lessons: Self-Care for Museum Professional, focuses on the people who make museums work.

Self-care is basically the practice of ensuring that you maintain your best self. This book is a focused look at the professionals working in the cultural sector.

This active workbook blends object-based learning and creative expression. This is not a book that you read from cover to cover in one sitting. Instead, this is the type of book that you use with a pencil in hand to actively engage in self-care exercises.

What is Self-Care? 

Self-care is basically a process of making sure that you aren’t burned to the core. You make sure to keep your inner-self nourished and whole. It isn’t about being selfish or self-focused. Instead, it is about self-preservation. Self-care is about making yourself ready for anything the world throws at you.

What will I get from the book? 

Truthfully, you are the only one who can answer that question. This is the type of the book that amplifies your efforts, but only if you use this book with a constructive mindset. If you are not willing to take the leap, this is not the book for you.

How does the book work? 

This book is a playful workbook that takes you through a process that focuses on positivity, imagination, and practical planning. Each spread offers a metaphor about self-care in the form of a short object label. This metaphor is then followed by an activity to keep on the path towards optimum self-care.

Where can you get the book? 

The book is available in print through Amazon as well as many other sources. You can also get the kindle version for considerably less money, though you will need to invest in a ream of paper to do your activities.  Make the choice that works for your budget, but the print book is considerably more effective, I believe.

Check out my #MCN2017 Ignite Presentation about this concept: 

Slides

Spotify Playlist

Download the press release: 

Objective Lessons Press Release

Objective Lessons Press Release with Images

Trust the Revolution

Museums need a revolution of trust.

The word trust is a common one in the museum field, embedded in mission statements and uttered by venerable directors.  However, in both instances, museums use the word most commonly in terms of their holdings.  Museums keep collections in trust for people.  Spend a moment considering that language. Museums hold important artifacts of history, human or natural, for us.  In other words, like a trust fund, the collection is kept safe and protected, for the next generation of beneficiaries.  This is, of course, commendable. Collections are often the body of museums. However, collections are not the soul of museums—ideas are.  These ideas are brought to collections by people: curators, educators, and visitors, amongst others.  Here lies the crux of so many challenges in this sector.  Trust is something that museums offer their collections, but don’t offer much of their staff or their visitors.  Without that trust, the people involved in museums cannot bring their best ideas to the fore, leaving collections poorly activated.

The issue of trust is at the center of many of the internal problems of museums. Executive staff, busy with responsibility, often cosset themselves away from visitors leaving lower level staff charged with attempting to translate the real concerns of patrons to the higher echelons. Such trickle up relationships can work if lower level staff are afforded trust by their superiors. Trust could be expressed through face time, decision-making power, salary scale, and/or credit for work.

The dearth of trust in museums extends to their relationships with visitors. Museums often do not express trust in visitors in their spatial and cultural norms.  Instead of trust, we project fear to visitors.  We fear them with our collections. Think of the deportment of guards. These museum professionals have the greatest face time with our visitors; yet they are often trained to project a restrained, if not punitive, attitude.

The lack of trust in our visitors is also expressed in the way that collections are interpreted. Permanent collection galleries use labels with often illegibly small font and inscrutable text. Exhibitions are allowed greater latitude in general, due to their temporary nature. In other words, in general, visitor-centered interpretive and design norms can only occur in museums in the places that do not create permanent change to the culture.  While some museums solicit visitor feedback, the change to our field is incremental. Said differently, we do not trust the change our visitors might advocate. Sure, we might have an exhibition that has a Post-it note talkbacks. But, this type of change is barely noticeable to a visitor who has lived through the whirlwind of technological changes that are the essence of contemporary society.  Herein is a major factor of fear; visitors might want something that is totally different than what museums do.

The lack of trust offered to staff and visitors have massive ramifications for our field.  Staff burnout and turnover is a problem.  In fields where external jobs have better pay, like technology and marketing,  staff leave and take their field-knowledge. In other fields, like education, staff stagnate and wither. The staffing challenges then are translated into visitor experiences that do not embody trust.  Visitors in turn often feel uncomfortable in our spaces; they can tell we don’t trust them.  Visitors move into other leisure experiences.

In the end, if our collections are held in trust. then our visitors are our constituents, a relationship not unlike a voter to an elected representative. And, just as a senator who has broken his trust with his voters can be voted out, people vote with their actions in the museum sphere.  Our attendance is decreasing. In other words, increasingly people are choosing not to trust us with their time. Visitorship is already skewed demographically towards wealth and whiteness, and rather than diversifying our visitors, those wary of being profiled are less likely to visit.

So, what are we going to do to earn their trust?  We need to change our whole culture, from the way we treat our staff to the way we treat our visitors.  We need to face our fears of change. We need to trust that the people who want to participate in our culture (from lower level staff to general visitors) have a personal stake in our success.  We need to express our trust with systemic change, rather than peripheral amendments.

Without these fundamental changes in the structure of museums, currently focusing trust and transparency on a small set of our culture (the executive team and board), the work we do is less than optimum.  We can’t speak of political movements and yet remain immune to them.  A trust-based model means that more people share the decision-making, but then that also means more people share the ownership. This trust revolution, and with its concomitant, and required, decrease in fear of change, would transform museums from places that hold collections in trust for people to places that trust people with collections.

So How Will We Do This? 

First, you need to think about trust itself. Trust is a moment of vulnerability and two-way connection. Trust takes honesty and courage. You lose something certainly, power particularly. But, you also gain, empathy and connectedness.  In the end, you find yourself amongst people who feel a connection to you. You are in other words insulated by their trust in you.

In terms of museums, there are three keys: trust collections, visitors, and staff.  We are going to focus on the people because we are really good at trusting the collection.

Let’s start with Visitor

When of the biggest challenges of trust come when the visitor meets the collection. Many objects cannot be handled. Explain why or better show why touching objects can often lead damaging those pieces. They know that we don’t trust them. They can tell. Visitors don’t feel comfortable in our spaces, and our spaces are generally almost purposefully uncomfortable. Don’t think so? Just look for a comfortable seat in a museum gallery.

So what are some ways we can turn this culture of distrust around?

  1. Share don’t tell. (Be open in your interpretation. Allow people to come to their own conclusions.)
  2. Make the visitor a co-steward in the welfare of the collection. (Think of the difference between snapping, “don’t touch” and mentioning “we need to keep this safe.”)
  3. Believe they can handle difficult topics. (Ignorance of a certain topic is not stupidity in general. They were smart enough to enter the museum :>)
  4. Be open to multiple ways that visitors may approach the collection.
  5. Be more thoughtful in the ways your guards connect to visitors. (Empower guards to be kind.)
  6. Make your spaces less inscrutable. (Don’t make them feel lost.)

And now Staff

Museums are, however, inherently hierarchical. So, trust can be parsed out by where the other person stands in relation to you.

To your superiors

  1. Find ways to share what you really think. (Test the waters will small moments to see if you can trust them.)
  2. Be sociable. (Take this one slowly. Feel them out.)
  3. Work hard and show your work. (Let them know you don’t magic your deliverables.)
  4. Question kindly. (Don’t just disagree so you can. And, ask in ways that don’t sound personal.)
  5. Don’t say anything about them that you wouldn’t say to them. (That said, find a way to let out your negative feelings, say journaling, telling spouse, voodoo doll (?))

To your peers

  1. Share your ideas. (They might steal them. But, you have more ideas).
  2. Don’t personalize. (It’s not all about you.)
  3. Help them. (Open doors. Share Pens. Pick up the slack.)
  4. Be on their team, even if you are in different divisions. (Listen, hear, and care.)

To your staff or those junior to you:

Trust in one’s staff begins with valuing the staff. Trust goes both ways. Here are concrete steps in developing trust in your workspace. Because there is a power differential between you and your staff they need to know that they can trust you.

Before you can trust your staff, you must set the conditions for a work culture that allows for or encourages trust.

  1. Train the staff to be good at their job. (Training takes time, money and effort, so make sure you plan for that).
  2. Set expectations then allow them to operate within those expectations. (Tell them what success looks like. If you don’t know, you are not leading.)
  3. Don’t micro-manage (If you really know how to do their job better; take that job instead).
  4. Voice concerns early before they fester. (Don’t tell them 6 months after they pissed you off. Also, why are you still angry after 6 months? You are the one who did nothing.)
  5. Give staff clear/ concise goals. (What do you want? They are not mind-readers.)
  6. Believe they know the best way to accomplish their job. (Don’t worry. They got this).
  7. Be transparent about decisions made that affect your staff. (I assure you they will guess on your motivations. Why waste their time?)
  8. Be honest about why you are asking for staff’s opinions. (is it for a show? Or do you really want to hear their opinion? Be honest if you don’t.)
  9. Know names. Use them. (They are human. Treat them that way.)  
  10. Be social. Be kind. (Don’t treat them as your inferiors, unless you want inferior work from them.)

Yourself

Finally, and most importantly, show yourself trust. The more you can trust others with your true self, the more you will grow in the field. Know that you are doing your best. If you feel like you are not, then move yourself to the place, mentally, where you can.

What next?

If each person in the field picked four ways to add more trust in our field, four simple concrete items, we would start a revolution.  It’s a simple numbers game.  4 times everyone in this field, of 1.6 million more moments of trust. Over time, there would be an exponential shift in the culture of the field, in the way that visitors feel, and in the way that museums are perceived. The collections, a core defining feature, would remain as trusted as ever. But, instead of being part just housed in buildings, they would be surrounded by people who feel as trusted as the collections.

This is post is my summary of my MuseumNext USA talk in Portland. Thanks to them (Jim and Kala) for letting me share my ideas on that large stage.  To hear the talk, catch the video. 

Team Dynamics in the Nonprofit Workplace / The Pride and Prejudice Guide to the Non-Profit Workplace

Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, was first published in 1813. In the subsequent 200 years, the tale of a family of unmarried daughters and their subsequent marital aspirations remains a popular novel. In my recent reread of the book, I started to focus on the staying power of this literary classic. This novel is about interrelationships, communication, and strife. In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any nonprofit. Rather than regurgitate the novel, check out the synopsis before digging into the rest of the post.

Donors

In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any non-profit office place. Instead of the ideal husband, rich and loving, the non-profit organization is seeking the ideal donor. While we dream of a Bingley, a rich, affable donor who lets us do what we want, we end up with ever so many Collins, the low-level donors with outstripped demands on our time. The rare Darcy might come up; this donor is demanding but in ways that appreciably grow your organization.

The Non-Profit Team

So, if the suitors are the donors, then the Bennett family is a useful metaphor for the non-profit organization. Each working team has a set of people: You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves. You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend.

You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves.

You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend. These are not leaders, but sometimes they are also not followers.

The smallest categories of workers are the Lizzy’s and Kitty’s. In many ways, they are like ying and yang. For all of Lizzy’s amazing characteristics, her judgmental nature makes her challenging in the workplace. Similarly, for all of Kitty’s negative characteristics, she is definitely doing something. So many of the people in the non-profit ecosystem are maintaining the status quo, and the Lizzy’s are a rarity.

So What? 

In the novel, Lizzy, the main character, slowly comes to value people for who they are. For example, when her friend marries Lizzy’s horrible cousin Collins, she comes to see that the match is actually fairly good.  Love isn’t the only path to marriage, she realizes.

Working with other people is often about just getting along well enough to get the project done without impaling each other.  A big part of this is realizing that you can’t change people. Frankly, it is hard enough to change yourself, and you are generally in control of your faculties. So instead of changing people, you are often better served by understanding others.

Certainly, the characters of Pride and Prejudice are more simplistic than real people. Most people aren’t straight Lizzy’s or Lydia’s. But, when you are sitting in a staff meeting, wondering why your insane coworker is allowed such latitude, step back. Try to consider what positive things happen when this person goes off the deep-end.

What if I’m Burned Out? Counteracting Workplace Burnout

There are days when all of us feel a little tired. But, sometimes, you find yourself dead-tired day after day and the thought of going into work makes your brain feel like it’s going to short-circuit. The former might just be garden variety tiredness, but the latter sounds like burn out.

With the real possibility of working 24hrs a day, American workers are being asked to do more and more. Non-profit and museum worker often find themselves between a rock and a hard place; work hard because jobs are hard to come by. The result is this sector is full of people who are performing impaired by the mental and physical effects of burn out.

The following graphic is a quick look at burn out. But for more reading, catch this article from the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review.  Robert Weisberg and I are also working on an e-book, due this fall at #MCN2017, that will expand on ways to dodge burnout to survive change. 

Self-Care: Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a positivity-focused planning process that allows teams to build on the best of their past to dream of the best future. This strategy can be helpful in organizational problem-solving.  You start with a goal (rather than a problem, as in problem-based learning or design thinking), and then you go through five steps: define, discover, dream, design, and deliver.  Alliteration aside, the process asks you to start with what’s good, discover what’s next, put down your dreams, design your dreams, and then deliver on them.

I have been playing with this process developed by Case Western Reserve University to facilitate organizational change. But, I have also been playing with this tool as a means of personal growth.

How about you use Appreciative Inquiry to help your self-care practice?

Self-care is basically a process of making sure that you aren’t burned to the core. You make sure to keep your inner-self nourished and whole. It isn’t about being selfish or self-focused. Instead, it is about self-preservation. Self-care is about making yourself ready for anything the world throws at you. Here are the steps to help you make the most of yourself.

  • Define: This is an illuminating and essential step. Take stock of yourself. Ask yourself a series of questions. Write your answers. Draw your answers. Think your answers.   It’s the type of work that is best done with a little procrastination. This is the kind of stuff that bubbles up when you are driving the car or standing in the shower. So, start, stop and start again.  As yourself questions, like, who are you? What makes you tick? What makes you freeze? What exhausts you? What ignites you?
  • Discover: This is a process that can work in many ways. In traditional AI, you can frame a series of exercises to go through discovery. But, for self-care, try giving yourself this challenge: write 5 sentences about your greatest desires.
  • Dream: Now that you know about your greatest desires, spend some time dreaming. What are ways that you can make it to your desires? Don’t negate your dreams. Don’t say no to yourself.
  • Design: Alright, so now you have your beginning (defining) and your ending (discover), and some of the ways you can get there (dreams). So, what next? Design concrete ways that you can get there.  For example, if your greatest desire is to be healthy, and you dream of being muscular, then design a way to make exercise part of your life. Now, this is a concrete example, certainly, and goals like “be happy” might be harder. When your goals seem too abstract, break them down. So, go back to your define statements, what makes you happy?
  • Deliver: In a non-profit, this is easy. You turn your strategic plan into action points and show how you did it.  But, for people, this is the same in some ways. You make yourself accountable to your goals. Put them on your calendar. Give yourself tasks. Basically, make ways to help yourself achieve your goals.

 

Centering Empathy in your Visitor-Practice in Museums

Empathy is one of those things that is hard to verbalize and even harder to feel. If sympathy is when you say “I know how you feel” then empathy is when you connect with someone’s pain to not be able to say anything at all.  Empathy is hard to gain, requires time, and involves work. You don’t gain empathy by looking onto something in a disconnected manner. You gain empathy by linking with others in real, authentic ways. These connections return enormous gains.

Think of your visitor. You no longer think of them as one monolith. You start to differentiate the mass into individuals. You start to wonder what they would think, not in an abstract way, but in a solvable way.  You move from inaction to action.

How do you gain such powers?

Pretty simple. Walk out of your office. Sit where your visitors sit. (Didn’t put a bench there? Well, then you think about sitting where your visitors think about sitting.) Talk to people. Be careful–this is not an evaluation that I am talking about. Don’t take this sample size of a handful as

Talk to people. Be careful–this is not an evaluation that I am talking about. Don’t take this sample size of a handful as an anecdotal study.  Just get to know your visitors as people. Let them be actual people rather than abstract numbers.

Then go back to the problems that face you. Think of those people that you have been getting to know.  Try to solve these problems for them.

Oh, and ask facilities to put an extra bench in the galleries.

Creative Self-Actualization #selfcaresunday #selfcare

We are on a giant rock that whizzes through space without a pilot. How is that for a lack of control? Well, for most of us, the spinning of the globe doesn’t even factor in our control issues. The reason might be that we don’t even think about it. The other thing is that it isn’t really about you.  Sure, if you are reading this, you are most likely a denizen of Earth. But, it is hard to put yourself into the narrative of its orbit. It doesn’t orbit, because of you.  (Now if you do believe that, your challenges will be much more than I could improve in this blog post).

The lack of control in life is most uncomfortable when you are at the center. Let’s think about work. You feel out of control when you organization has layoffs, and you don’t have any say about your job. In this instance, your lack of control is also because you don’t have any voice. You are silent to your plight. So, what do you do in that instance? In some ways that is the moment to do anything but think about layoffs. You might even want to explore  the orbits of the planets as a way to get your mind off your work.  In other words, you want to try to focus on something else.

Let’s stay on the topic of your career. Layoffs are often symptomatic of other deeper problems. You can choose what your actions are in that situation.  You have the choice to spend your energy to find a new job.  Trust me. I know that jobs are scarce. And, its hard to get a good one. And, I mean you work in a MUSEUM. All true. But, you might take all of your bad feelings at work, and turn them into better feelings about you.

So, what does this have to do with self-care?  Well, sometimes you aren’t even sure that you are ready to take care of yourself.  But, you are in control of that. You get to decide how you react to things. You can choose some elements in your life. If you imagine your life as a pinball machine, then you are in control of the blocks and some of the levers, and your career is the ball going where it wants within the limits you set.

Let’s use exploration to create your career plan, like the easiest pinball machine to win. Grab a sheet of paper. Draw a picture of yourself now in one corner. Draw a picture of yourself in the future in the other corner. Start adding all the steps you need to get from one place to another.  Go slow. Savor all your imaginary moments. Annotate your personal map with feelings. Set this document aside.  Come back to it. What resonates? What reads false? What can you bring into action?  Make a list of plans.

While this exercise sounds hypothetical, by doing it, you are actually putting yourself in control. You might not be able to put all those things you drew into place.  But, your mind has now started to think differently. You are no longer voiceless or overly focused on your lack of control.  You have helped yourself move forward.

#SelfCare : What to do When Your Mind is Full?

mindmap.png

There are times when you mind is super full.  I feel like this after I read a particularly heady book or when I am at a conference.  The book and the conference are similar in that you are immersed in a fairly cohesive set of ideas.  They are different in that a book is usually an individual experience where as a conference is a collective one.  However, in both instances, you need to make your own meaning. You might then need to incorporate the relevant meaning into your thinking.

I use a number of tools to try make sense of these ideas. Today I am sharing two tools that I use, on their own or together.

Mindmapping

Mindmapping is a wonderful tool to create structure from protean intellectual ooze. You spill ideas, drawing linkages as you go. You can use a blank sheet of paper, put your big idea in the middle, and then let your ideas flow.  If you want a styled up sheet, you can download one from me.

I love mindmapping, because you can watch the linkages appear as you think.  However, there are drawback, as well.  With some ideas, you might need to really wait to develop the linkages.  Sometimes you will jump to conclusions in order to flesh out your map.  That might not always be ideal.

In those instances, I create a MindBrew.

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MindBrew

This is when I want to percolate. I want to be a little uncomfortable with the load of ideas. We live in a society where we fashion our lives around comfort. Okay, I have definitely walked around with coffee, for fear I might have to live the discomfort of being without caffeine. So, I get it. But, there are also times when I know that I need to live with discomfort. Discomfort comes from being faced with anything that feels hard. But, if you don’t address hard feelings, you won’t be able to transform them into constructive ones. The only alternative would be for them to remain in your mind festering and fomenting unrest.

So, I try to allow my mind to brew constructive ideas. This takes longer than mindmapping. I start by writing out ever idea that was in mind with no structure. I usually do this right after I confront something mindboggling. Recently, for example, I was at a heady conference. On the flight home, I went all Faulkner on my ideas, steaming them out.

Then I set those ideas aside. I waited a couple days. Noting when one of those ideas popped up again. At which point, I know that my mind is telling me something. Finally, after I feel ready, I allot good ideas in the hot burner to work on, and then I put less interesting ideas on ice.

You can use my MindBrew tools (pg 1 and pg 2), or you can hand draw them yourself.

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