All posts tagged “burnout

black mug on desk with text that reads "we work"
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Humblebrags, Guilt, and Professional Insecurities

Thank you, @AcademicsSay for this oh-so-timely nugget of truth. I’ve never felt so seen or so read. I’ve been trying to measure the success of a sabbatical that’s more than half over in terms of the hours I’ve spent at my kitchen table reading, writing, analyzing, and typing. It’s been strange to not be rushing to meeting after class after class after meeting. I can’t say I’m sooooooo busy or things are soooooooo crazy right now in the same way my working colleagues can right now, and it’s been making me feel sooooooo guilty.

Where does that guilt come from? Why am I being so hard on myself for not spending more hours working when I have some decent sabbatical accomplishments already in the bag, my partner’s been through (and continues to go through) a major health crisis, and I have a young son? A lot of this self-imposed pressure is just, unfortunately, a part of my personality. I always want to do more, better, faster, GO! Over the past year I’ve learned that I’m more ambitious than I originally thought I could be.

But a large part of these professional insecurities come from a culture of academia that constantly forces us to ask ourselves: Am I doing enough? The answer to this question is almost always a resounding YES, and yet…AND YET, we can always point to someone who is doing more, better, faster, GO! Our emails to our colleagues always start with, “This week is CRAZY busy,” or “I have so much to do,” or “I have meeting after meeting; class after class.” I recognize that some of these statements might be genuine venting. People are tired and they sometimes need to share their woes. But when this is the constant tenor of conversation in academia, something is wrong.

We are, as @AcademicsSay so aptly stated, valorizing overwork. In our culture of tenure, continuing appointment, or promotion (whatever it may look like in your library), NOT being overworked and overwhelmed means you’re not working enough. I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of shady comments from colleagues–“Wow, I wish I had time to have lunch! OMG your desk is so clean. Mine’s covered in papers to grade. When do you find time to work out? I have 2 papers to revise and resubmit.” And how do we respond? Do we say, “Regular meals and workouts are important to my mental and physical health?” Probably not. The response is more like, “Oh, that’s just today. Last week I was at work from 7am-7pm and reading well past midnight!” It’s almost as if self-care is an alien concept, and to engage in any measure of separation between work life and personal life means you aren’t “doing academia” correctly.

I love being an academic librarian. I love being faculty at a higher education institution. What I don’t love is the humblebrag olympics we engage in on a daily basis. I don’t love to poor modelling we are demonstrating to our students, who seem to think that working more is better than working efficiently. I don’t love the ways in which we uphold overwork to the point where we are setting up a culture that in turn exploits adjuncts, post-docs, and visiting professors who are told that if they “just stick with it” they’ll eventually earn the privilege of also being too stressed to function. I don’t love that we are told to wait until after tenure to start a family, focus on our health, and, well, have a life, as though before that we were some human-shaped dough only focused on promotion.

I’ve thought about work-life balance, work-life separation, and vocational bleed (no separation between work and life) a lot these past few months as I attempt to live through a sabbatical I can be proud to call my own. I am proud. I am proud that I signed a book contract. I am proud that I can finally chaturanga in yoga class without bending my knees. I am proud that I made a kick-ass dinner last night for my family. I’m proud I read a few chapters yesterday. I am proud that I put moisturizer on my face (with SPF!) this morning. I’m proud I’ll be presenting at LOEX. There is so much for all of us to be proud of on a daily basis.

There is also so much for us to examine. What kind of examples are we setting for our junior colleagues? In promoting our overwork as some kind of martyrdom are we contributing to their own overwork and ultimate burnout? Are we contributing to an academic culture that leaves folks ripe for exploitation? What are some changes we can make to the way we move through our day to create the work culture we want?

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Burn Out. It’s Real.


Photo by Anastasia Polischuk via

I’ve had every intention of blogging recently, particularly about ACRL (seeing as how I only ever managed to write up Part 1 of my reflections), but I just haven’t had it in me. I’ve been feeling, alternately:

  • tired
  • angry
  • disconnected
  • upset
  • sad
  • angry-sad
  • annoyed
  • overwhelmed
  • unsure
  • sad-angry
  • unsure of myself
  • uncertain about my future in libraries

If it weren’t for the last bullet point of emotion, and if the proceeding feelings weren’t all intimately tied to my work-life, I’d worry that perhaps the underlying depression & anxiety I live with and usually manage well on the daily was flaring up again. But I feel like I know myself well enough and am able to reflect enough on my feelings (thank you, therapy!) to recognize these emotions for what they are:


In Burnout Among Bibliographic Instruction Librarians (1996, hence the title, also: paywall), Mary Ann Affleck uses the Maslach & Jackson definition of burnout in people work, which is characterized as a

“syndrome of emotional exhaustion…loss of empathy…and a tendency to evaluate oneself negatively.”

It’s quite common among librarians and other human services workers. If you haven’t read Maria T. Accardi’s Librarian Burnout blog, you’ll find a number of stories there on the ways in which librarians suffer from, cope with, and work to stave off burnout. As with all of Maria’s writing, the blog is thoughtful and validating and gives a name to the feelings I’ve been experiencing these past few months.

The disconnect is hardest for me. I’ve always prided myself on caring deeply about my work–my colleagues, students, faculty, staff, and library overall–but lately I’ve been finding it so difficult to CARE. This difficulty is incongruous with who I feel I am as a person and a librarian. I want to care. I want to empathize and develop new ideas and plan for the future of my library and connect with people. I just don’t feel like I have it in me at this point.

This burnout is coming from six years of feeling like I’m not doing enough, like I should be doing more in my library work, service, and scholarship. It’s coming from a few years of instruction coordination and the role ambiguity that accompanies that job. It’s coming from the everyday microaggressions academia throws at librarians, women, and people of color. It’s coming from not seeing the sort of “payoff” of my work that you see when you work on tangible projects rather than “people projects,” for lack of a better word. It’s coming from feeling like teaching and teaching information literacy in particular is not valued in libraries because it isn’t new or sexy. It isn’t user experience or digital this or scholarship that or data data data (note: Please see my apology to this sentence. I didn’t want to delete it in an effort to be transparent and admit my mistake). It’s the workhorse that shares the library with campus but then doesn’t get any snacks afterwards (side note: horses snack, right?). This burnout is real, and, I think, warranted.

I have a few more months before my year-long sabbatical begins, and I’ll be honest, every day is starting to feel a bit like that cardio class you know is important to do but just can’t quite bring yourself to enjoy. I hope that this sabbatical year will be a time to center myself, reinvigorate my research and professional practice, and revive my love of libraries, and my library in particular.

How have you dealt with burnout? What advice might you have for me, or people in a similar situation? I’m all ears.

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Contemplating Sabbatical Leave

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel on Flickr, aka the cabin where I dream of reading, writing, and thinking for a year.

I’m submitting my file for tenure and promotion to associate librarian this January, so the level of stress, anxiety, and general ARGH is up to Code Red this semester. I’m trying to stay calm, prep for classes, and work on some writing and general library projects, but one task has all of my attention at the moment: My sabbatical proposal. Applications for sabbatical leave for the 2017-2018 academic year are due to department chairs on September 15, so I have approximately 9 more days to read-revise-reread-rerevise my proposal. I’ve been through a number of edits already, and think it might just be in the right condition to submit, but my nerves and fear are stopping me.

Despite the faculty status librarians at my college have enjoyed for the past decade, and our recent Board-of-Trustees-approved move to fold us into the review process by the College Evaluation Committee, this is the first time someone in my library has applied for sabbatical leave. It’s scary being the first to do something, particularly for someone like me who was always the cautious kid on the playground. Adding to the stress is the fact that my husband is also applying for year-long sabbatical leave (we’re at the same college), in hopes that we’ll be able to spend the time reading, writing, and researching in Texas.

Over the summer I received some wonderfully thoughtful advice about sabbatical proposals, leave, and projects from Maria Accardi; read Donna Witek’s amazing sabbatical proposal; and stared in awe at Barbara Fister’s sabbatical proposal and project. I’m a mess of jumbled feelings and thoughts right now:

  • I realize that the project I propose might not be the project I end up accomplishing at the end of this leave.
  • I fear not being granted this time to read, write, learn and hopefully offer my own thoughts and scholarly contribution.
  • I hope that the stress of spending a year away from home with my 5 year-old son in tow will be worth the time spent away from work.
  • I worry that a year of leave time will just make me resent my 12 month, 40 hour-a-week (on paper anyway) administrative-style faculty position, which leaves me with very little time to work on my own scholarship.
  • I’m excited for the possibility of a break from what has felt like a rocky and overwhelming two years of work.

I’ll end by doing something that scares me: Sharing my work-in-progress (but more or less complete) sabbatical proposal. It’s far from perfect and draws a lot on the work I’ll be doing this year, but writing it has me feeling hopeful for the possibility of a year of leave. I’m doing this in large part because it was extremely difficult to find existing examples of librarian sabbatical applications, and I’m hoping that I can encourage more people to share. As Tracy Clayton, one of my favorite podcasters says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I want more librarians to see other librarians apply for and be granted sabbatical leave.

I’ll write with an update in the spring about whether or not my sabbatical application was approved. You’ll either get a joyous announcement or a supremely disappointed post, but you’ll hear from me regardless.