Inside Track: Assarian enjoys the process of chipping away at his goals
Following what he’s good at leads Steve Assarian to the job of business librarian at GRPL.
Steve Assarian does two things every morning.
First, he performs some exercises to improve his fitness, and then he writes a bit to get his brain working. The two tasks take all of 45 minutes, but both get him closer to his goals. And they fit into his life philosophy of “punching in,” an idea he espoused during a TEDx talk about two years ago.
He relates it to writing a book. Some books take more than a decade to write, yet many people look at the writing process as some kind of magic. In reality, Assarian said, it’s just chipping away at it, writing a chunk at a time. It also falls in line with the process of waking up and going to bed, being born and dying.
It’s as simple as asking, “What did I do today to become what I want to be tomorrow?”
“You just have to get closer to the goal every day,” Assarian said. “That’s what you need to think about. You can’t put pressure on yourself.”
Assarian is the Grand Rapids Public Library’s business librarian. His job is to help prospective entrepreneurs get started in their endeavors. The library is there as a resource to help future business owners nail down what they want to do.
Library resources exist to help people who don’t know what they want, he said. Once Assarian helps nail down a firm idea, he can point to other area organizations that help budding business owners.
“The ideal situation is, ‘I don’t know,’” Assarian said. “A library is a comfortable place where you’re surrounded by people who are there to help you.”
Prior to his move to Grand Rapids, Assarian was working as a librarian at Kettering University in Flint. A shared goal of learning and success at Kettering set it apart for Assarian, who would feel comfortable sending anyone he knows there. Surrounded by successful young students, Assarian said the motivation and knowledge of those students made him envious.
The entrepreneurial spirit at the college has translated to his job in Grand Rapids, one he basically stumbled into at a researchers’ conference in Kalamazoo. There he ran into Asante Cain, the Grand Rapids Public Library’s reference and adult services coordinator.
Cain told Assarian there was an opening at the library for a business librarian: a full-time position with benefits and good pay. Assarian assumed there would be a long line of applicants, but there wasn’t. He Skyped an interview and was hired shortly after, then moved to Grand Rapids.
“I’d never been to Grand Rapids before, and the chance to just dive in was awesome,” Assarian said. “This community is awesome. It’s responsive and loves what the library does.”
Grand Rapids is known for its thriving entrepreneurial community. Working closely alongside that section of the community, Assarian gets an inside look into the action. He also visits conferences and takes part in workshops in other cities that are trying to emulate what Grand Rapids already possesses in terms of entrepreneurial ingenuity.
The spirit of camaraderie is what drives Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurial engine, he said.
“The amount of support you have available and receive is astronomical,” he said. “And it’s not that old. Grand Rapids at some point recently just said, ‘We want to support this.’ It came together the way a lot of communities are hoping it does.”
Entrepreneurs are an exciting group to work with, he said, because no matter what they’re working on, they’re fully committed to it.
He noted an entrepreneurial idea he heard of last week at a social entrepreneurship workshop in Detroit. It’s called Wheels for Workers: The entrepreneur obtains donated cars, uses them to train people in automotive repair so they can get a job at a garage, and then gives them the cars as a way to get to and from work.
“It’s those systems we never think about,” he said. “That’s what the entrepreneurs are doing and really passionate about.”
Back to Assarian’s punching-in philosophy; it’s being passionate about something that leads to talent. It takes work and chipping away to accomplish something big. Those who do that and enjoy every minute of it are the ones who will have the most success, he said.
“There’s a skewed notion of talent. It should include passion,” he said. “A guy who plays violin for five hours and loves every minute of it — that’s passion.”
It’s those passionate, hard-working people who keep Assarian going to work every day. He enjoys standing in front of people, teaching them. He teaches a dozen or so classes every year at the library that include business use of Facebook, how to write a business plan, and a three-course segment on market research.
He is encouraged because people say they want to be there. “Nobody comes to the classes who doesn’t want to come,” he said. “It makes it easy to be interesting.”
Assarian also is GRPL’s nonprofit liaison, connecting people with the “gold standard” of nonprofit resources.
Assarian said becoming a librarian was simply a practice of following what he’s good at — an idea instilled in him by his parents. He also credits his two sisters, who, he says, are smarter than him and helped him develop his sense of humor.
He was working on his history thesis at the University of Michigan and hated it. He liked researching, so he thought history was the career route to follow. Now he realizes librarians do all the things he wanted to do: research, teach, help.
“My family is really great at understanding happiness,” he said. “It’s not about following your dreams or passions, but following what you’re good at. If you’re good at it, you’ll be successful, and if you’re successful, you’ll be happy.”
At U-M, he also majored in German. Learning a foreign language is a way to increase intelligence, he said. Everyday life is far different now than even 10 years ago, and it’s changing at a much more rapid pace compared to 50 years ago, making the future hard to predict. Learning new languages allows some semblance of adaptation, he said, especially when it’s taking something with which you’re extremely familiar and turning it on its head.
“Everyone should speak another language,” he said. “You don’t understand stepping outside of your comfort zone until you’re speaking another language. I think that’s a huge part of intelligence: adapting to a new system.”
Now that he is a librarian who helps entrepreneurs, he tries to stay current with business trends. He reads a lot of business publications such as the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business, he said, because those publications carry more in-depth articles. Reading business books also helps him stay current.
But the best way of staying on top of trends is talking to the people who come into the library.
“If you don’t understand the patrons, how do you fill their needs?” he said.
Assisting those patrons helps him accomplish the things he wants to do in life, which is key to finding happiness. He said happiness is not a goal, but an achievement that comes with working hard on something for a period of time.
“We are what we do; we are what we produce,” he said. “If your goal is to discover yourself, you’re missing out on your potential. You’re not using your skills and talents.”