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On Ambition & Happiness

Finding my way back from the Land of Librarian Burn Out has meant doing a lot of what anxious introverts like me do best: constant introspection and self-reflection. It’s not quite obsessive, but it isn’t a slacker-style navel-gazing either. It’s almost like therapy homework: deep thinking paired with constructive action. I’ve been reading through Maria Accardia’s writing on librarian burnout, ordered this book in hopes of creating a more meaningful work experience, ordered this other book to help me do better in my current role, and am talking to friends in and out of Libraryland and academia about career choices and general life happiness.

I have zero conclusions and virtually no wisdom to share, but I have thoughts. So. Many. Thoughts. Hang in there kitten-poster-style:

Thought #1: I am in a good situation.

This is something I am constantly trying to keep in mind, particularly on days that aren’t going well. Talking to a friend this weekend was a good reminder of all the ways in which my partner and I are living that academia-dream life. Tenure! A house! Health insurance! I enjoy the work of being a librarian. I have a whole sabbatical year to question my career confusion (among other things). What other career gives you that option? Also: University of Maryland affiliated institution benefits are amazing.

Thought #2: I am tired of being so risk averse.

My parents were both school teachers. They each taught at the same school, in the same subjects for over twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! My mom went back to school in her 50s, earned a master’s degree, and switched to a different education-related career but still worked within the same school district. That was the model I had for career trajectories. I thought I’d get a job after graduating from college and that would be MY JOB. I’m on my 3rd professional, full-time, post-college position and have been overcome by fear each and every time I switched jobs. My first month at my first library job I was sure the people who hired me were going to regret it. At the job I have now I negotiated a higher salary than what I was offered but agonized over doing so (really over even just thinking about it).

I look at interesting job postings these days and immediately begin to catalog all of the reasons why I can’t/shouldn’t/won’t apply for that job. What will my partner do at this new location? Will he be able to get a job? Can we afford to buy a house there? I don’t have the exact required qualifications. I don’t know if now is the right time to make a move. What if I regret it? What will I be giving up tenure for instead? 

You get the idea.

I am so tired of doing this. I am tired of shutting down options before they even present themselves. I am tired of being afraid of taking a risk in my professional life. I am tired of not possessing the confidence of a mediocre white dude. I read Jessica Olin, Michelle Millet, Maura Smale, and April Hathcock and think: YES. GET IT. So why shouldn’t I?

Thought #3: I may be more ambitious than I originally thought.

This thought came from a recent G-chat with my virtual library work-wife. Why am I even looking at these job postings if I am not secretly, or not so secretly interested in library leadership? Why am I writing about the pitfalls of instruction coordination if I can’t see a better, alternative model for this professional position? Why do I bother to write about libraries and librarian identity here and elsewhere? Why do I present?

I do these the last few things in large part because they make me happy. I like to learn. I like to read and write and think (and repeat). I never thought I’d want to be in an administrative or managerial position in libraries, but I do see the limitations of the position I’m currently in. I remember reading a blog post a few years ago that I cannot for the life of me find or name about whether or not to “go deep” or “go up” in a career in libraries. One option was to work hard as a liaison librarian, gain tenure and continue to grow/refine your practice. The other was to consider management or leadership positions. I always wondered why it was presented as a dichotomy. Why can’t you do both? Can I?

Thought #4: (which is really more like a question) How can I take a more active role in cultivating my own happiness at work? 

I am definitely hyper-aware of workplace structures–both at the library and institutional level–and the ways in which I can work to change them, or not. They have a huge impact on my day-to-day happiness at work. I also have a role to play. I don’t buy into the grit/resilience narratives so many people are trying to sell these days, and I recognize there are limitations to the power I have over my own workplace situation. But I do have some power over myself at work. So how can I use that to help me be happier?

I’m sure I’ll have more #IntrovertThoughts over the next year that I’m away from work, and hopefully they’ll work themselves into more constructive / concrete ideas and actions.




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