Tiny Care, or Saying Yes to Saying No

I usually write a column about a foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) aspect of legal information, but I’m taking a little break to discuss a general aspect of legal information – law librarian “self-care”. I don’t really like that term, so let’s call it something else. A legal information professional has to stay healthy, to maintain good mental and physical health for themselves, and also to be able to provide the best service possible at work in the present and in the future. Sometimes this is called “work-life balance”. I’m going to call it “tiny care” after @jonnysun’s @tinycarebot.

Jonny (“Jomny”) Sun created the @tinycarebot a year ago really to remind himself to take a break. Because, like me, he is on Twitter a lot, and sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. Being Jonny Sun, he made the ‘bot available to all of us so we can receive personal reminders like he does. You can follow the @tinycarebot on Twitter, or tweet the @tinycarebot if you want to receive a personal reminder. Here are some examples of the @tinycarebot tweets:

These little reminders to breathe, hydrate, stretch, look out the window, look up in the sky, and look away from Twitter give you small steps to take towards having a healthy approach to 24/7 online life. Whenever I take these “tiny care” breaks, I remember other things I need to do that I’d forgotten because I was reading international law news tweets or tweets about whatever @Lin_Manuel (Hamilton and In the Heights musicals), @SheaSerrano (New York Times best-selling author of rap and basketball books), or @jonnysun, or the casts of Hamilton: An American Musical are doing, or just realize I’ve tightened my shoulders up, and need to lift them down, relax, and…breathe.

Because of Jonny Sun’s “tiny care” bot tweets, I’ve taken nature walks around campus and noticed more things around me while I’m looking up and about from my computing devices. And his timeline has introduced me to very interesting, funny, creative, artistic people. It allows me to stretch my mind, as well as to physically stretch. Jonny Sun also has written what he calls an “illustrated humor book” which also serves as a coloring book! – everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by jomny sun (Harper Perennial, 2017). It’s not like anything I’ve ever read, but it’s very comforting. Jonathan Sun has done several book tours in Toronto, and is likely coming back to Canada, so check out his upcoming events.

Another aspect of “tiny care” I’ve thought of is how simple words like “yes” or “no” can make a difference in your work-life balance. I’ve had a lot of practice saying “yes”, and have come to realize it usually means a lot of work. It can be rewarding and challenging and worthwhile, but sometimes, saying “no” is better. Or giving yourself permission to say “yes” to saying “no”. Like it’s okay to say no to Twitter and step away from it. It’s okay to say no to an offer to speak, to take on a new project, to join a committee, to put on a program.

About a decade ago, when Mary Rumsey was chair of the AALL FCIL-SIS (American Association of Law Libraries Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Special Interest Section), she wrote a “From the Chair” column called “Thank You for Volunteering —and for Not Volunteering”. In this column, she listed the reasons for volunteering, but what struck me (and affected me the most because I still remember this as a life lesson) is her reasons why people should not volunteer:

“We all have times when other priorities—family, extra work, teaching, job searches, our health, etc.—demand our full attention. I have great respect for people who know their limits, and who take on only those responsibilities that they can perform on time and to their full ability. Saying “no” to volunteer work contributes to an SIS where no one burns out or fades away.”

The thing with volunteering is that, once you say yes, you keep on getting asked to do things. People who volunteer get to get asked to volunteer more because they will be easy yes’es. And burnout is a real problem if you spread yourself too thinly. And it makes you not available as a resource for your institution and for the profession in the future. So it’s great when leaders give you permission to say no (or give you space to take your time, to take more time, or to say yes when you are able, are understanding and accommodating). Saying no to volunteering allows others, perhaps newer voices, people with ideas, to step up to the plate. It makes way for new blood. And it makes for a healthy community of legal information professionals.

More recently, mindfulness has been promoted as a way to maintain law librarian self-care and wellness. There is now an AALL Mindfulness in Law Librarianship Caucus. This tracks a movement in the broader legal profession towards use of mindfulness techniques to relieve work stressors. See @Jeena_Cho 조지현‏’s “Why Every Lawyer Should Be Practicing Mindfulness” and The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation (with Karen Gifford; Ankerwycke, 2016). Mindfulness is also covered in Slaw CBA Wellness articles.

Any small ways we can take care of our physical and mental health can help us have longer, more productive careers and lives. Every bit of “tiny care” is worth it, for us individually, and for the health of the legal information profession generally.

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