Storytime Underground asked us to blog our professional goals. I really just have one: stop giving myself so many goals.
On January 18, 2014 I took on my first, full-time librarian position in a rural system. I was so excited to finally be in this kind of library and I was just bursting with ambition and hope. I brought a ton of ideas to the table for ways that I could add my expertise to the programs that were being offered. I had no idea what I was in for.
Balancing the needs of two branches with two distinct communities, providing weekly and monthly programs for all ages, maintaining a floating collection, and looking out for my two parapro teammates turned out to be a lot more work than I was lead to believe during the interview process. Since my county uses an outcomes-based budgeting system, I was (and still am) required to offer certain amounts of certain kinds of programs in both of my branches. When I discovered just how much of my time was tied up in planning and providing in-house programs, I made it my first priority to reduce those expectations. Doing this provided some temporary relief until new demands on my time were added and I was back to the drawing board on how to give myself some balance. By being strategic about when I offer programs and planning rotations and breaks, I’ve come up with the best system I can manage for now.
I say all this because I think a lot of librarians face similar problems. We’re asked to do a lot with a little and we feel pressure to keep growing on top of that. I absolutely love and adore my PLN and all the bloggers who share ideas and experiences. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to execute a program in just a few hours because I was able to copy elements of other people’s ideas. I don’t think I could handle the sheer amount of programs I offer without the wonderful help of all my peers on the internet.
But despite those positives, there are times when this access to ideas has also been my worst enemy. With all of us sharing and pushing (and cheering for!) each other, it’s so easy to compare myself to others and feel that I’m coming up woefully short. Even without this sneaky tendency to put myself down, sometimes I’m just overcome with passion and I decide I need to hold a dance party, and an ESL storytime, and work harder to reach working families, and come up with more creative adult programs, and re-categorize the picture books, and do more reading so that I can give better reader’s advisory. I NEED TO DO ALL THE THINGS.
I cannot be the only person driving myself crazy.
So here’s the thing. I don’t need to drive myself crazy and neither do you. There are plenty of other people who are going to do that for us. Like that boss who volunteers you for every project or training session. Or that patron who never remembers his email password. Or that kid who consistently has a breakdown every time his mom tells him it’s time to go.
What we all need to focus on is giving ourselves a break.
I have a teammate who has been working for the library for 28 years. (For reference, that’s longer than I’ve been alive.) One day she and I were talking with one of our favorite patrons whose necklace said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” A pretty common quotation that invokes the spirit of changing the world through being a brilliant person. Since I’ve grown very close to this teammate, I could see the tiny smirk on her face as she read it aloud and knew she was having one of her…well, I can only call it a compassionate-sarcastic thought. I said, “28 years of public service has made you feel differently?” She just chuckled and said, “my personal motto is more like, ‘be the change you want to see in yourself.'”
My teammate is the most patient, accepting, empathetic person I know. What I’ve learned from her is this: If you are happy with yourself and you can learn to be content with the thought that you might never change anyone, much less the world, you will make your community a better place just by giving others the permission to do the same.
And that’s not to say that she doesn’t care to help people or that she hasn’t had a big impact on the lives of our patrons. People who have moved away or have had big life changes somehow make the time to come to the library just to talk to her. More than a dozen times, I’ve seen patrons come in right after a loved one has passed away because they just need to talk to her. This year, after taking customer service surveys, our director created an infographic from all the words used to describe us and the biggest word in it was her name. This woman is a legend.
So this year, I’m going to try to be more like my teammate.
I‘m not going to care if I create the hot new sensation in programming. I do what I can and my patrons are better for it.
I’m not going to care if I win awards or get called out for my excellence. I’m content to do my best for the people I serve every day.
I’m not going to put myself down because I’m not doing the same things as someone else. We’re all different. We have access to different resources, we have different backgrounds and training, we have different communities with different needs. Of course we’re not the same.
I’m not going to wonder if I’m good enough every single time a teammate or supervisor gets a little too critical. Because who can say we’ve never said something a little too sharply or judged someone when we know we shouldn’t? We’re all people and if I know I’m doing my best, then approval and appreciation are just icing on the cake.
I’m not going to get hung up on the unexpected detours in my plans. I can’t control everything. Sometimes outside forces are going to keep me from doing something I really wanted to do.
Instead, I’ll learn to be at peace and I’ll learn how to value and take care of myself despite outside pressure and expectation. When I’m happy and doing my best, then I can help people just by giving them permission to do the same.