By Meredith Farkas | January 3, 2010
Going into a new decade (I know technically it’s not a new decade until 2011, but don’t be such a kill-joy!) is a good time for reflection. After seeing all of the #10yearsago posts on Twitter, I started to think about where I was 10 years ago vs. where I am today. My life could not be more different. At 22, I was in graduate school in Tallahassee (for social work, which I was already having second thoughts about by then), was in a dead-end relationship (one of several I’d have before meeting Adam), and was rather rootless (I lived in 6 apartments between 2000 and 2005 before finally settling in Vermont). I felt rudderless in my life back then. I was always looking for something. I read philosophy and religion books and went to many different types of religious services basically looking for a sense of direction or purpose in my life. Funny, that when I stopped looking and started living in the present, I was a much happier person. I’ve learned so much over the past 10 years about being myself, doing things that scare me, and having a more flexible vision of my future. Now I’m married, I have a baby, I own a home, I am in a career I love, and I’ve had professional success beyond my wildest dreams. I’m happy with who I am and where I am in my life.
I think many of the most important lessons I’ve learned are important ones for all of us in our careers:
1. Leaps of faith often pay off (or better to fail or succeed at the right thing than be successful at the wrong one) – When I first considered the possibility of leaving the social work field for librarianship, I was extremely nervous about it. I’d already gotten one graduate degree that didn’t lead to a satisfying career, and I didn’t relish the idea of getting (nor could I afford to get) another one in a field that I may not end up fitting into either. But something in my gut told me I should do it; that it would be a right fit for me. I took that leap and have never regretted it. I’d gone to graduate school for social work more out of fear than anything else — I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after college, but I was interested in mental health issues and dove into that for lack of a better idea. Grad school was a safe space away from the scary world of work. Going to library school was the opposite of safe — leaving a professional psychotherapist position to go make $10/hr at a public library while paying for graduate school.
That leads me to the second lesson I learned — 2. the biggest growth experiences come from doing things that scare you – I spent so much time in my earlier years not doing things out of fear. In college, I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories, but I never submitted them to any of the literary magazines at Wesleyan. Because I was afraid of speaking in class, I avoided a lot of great seminars and instead took larger lecture classes that were far less interesting/satisfying. I let fear make my decisions for me. I guess now I do that too, only in the opposite way. I was so afraid to speak in public; more afraid than I can express. But because of my blog and book deal, people kept asking me to speak and I felt like I’d be a fool to say no. Anyone who saw me before my first talk at Computers in Libraries in 2006 can tell you that I was nervous beyond reason. But I gave the talk. And it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I found that I rather enjoyed the excited/nervous adrenaline rush I got from the experience. I’ve become a much better speaker than I was then, but I still get that nervous adrenaline rush before I speak, and I think it makes me a better/higher energy speaker for it. From leaning into my fear, I’ve learned that I’m so much more capable than I initially believed I was.
Recently, a colleague of mine forgot that he had scheduled an instruction session for an English 101 class at 11am and was not planning on coming in that day until 1pm. I only found out about this when the professor and her class showed up at 11am and no one was there to teach them. I had to sprint to get set up and taught a class I had done literally no preparation for and just found out about their assignment that very moment. And, ironically, it ended up being one of the best classes I’ve taught in recent memory. I was high-energy and I think the students really fed off that because they were much more engaged and involved than in most classes I teach. I realized that perhaps I’ve gotten a little too comfortable with my instruction work and that maybe I need to shake it up a bit and try new things that might be a little scary and that might blow up in my face. Because I’m at my best when that adrenaline is flowing.
3. Don’t sell yourself short – What in the world could someone who just got their library degree possibly have to teach experienced librarians about social software? What makes you think you could write an entire book and who in the world will read it? These were just a few of the negative thoughts that swirled around my head at the start of my library career. I didn’t think I possibly had anything useful to offer people, having only been a professional librarian a few short months before getting my book deal. I remember when I was going to give a keynote at UC Berkeley on what the 2.0 organization looks like, I thought I’d get laughed off the stage, since what the hell do I know, not having even been a manager? Even recently, I was asked to write a brief essay for a symposium at ALA Midwinter and wanted to back out when I saw the list of heavy hitters who would also be contributing. While I’ve heard some librarians call me a “rock star”, I still often feel like I just graduated from the kids table.
I may not have the depth of experience of someone who has worked in the profession 30 years. I may not be as tech-savvy as a John Blyberg or a Jason Griffey. I may not be as humorous as a Steve Lawson or an Andrew Pace. I may not be as brilliant and articulate as a Dorothea Salo. But I’ve learned (and am still learning) that it’s ok. I don’t need to be all those things. I don’t need to have all the answers. I bring something different to the table that also has value. People find my perspective unique and interesting, so I don’t need to be like all of those other people as long as I am myself.
I remember being on a panel last summer with a colleague whom I admire greatly. She said that she was so nervous being on a panel with “rock stars.” Funny, because she’s a rock star to me with her passion for the profession and effervescent personality. The fact is, we all have moments where we feel intimidated; even the people we admire do. We all bring something special to the table, and as long as we’re being ourselves and not trying to be Dorothea Salo, Roy Tennant or John Blyberg, we’re probably going to rock it. Because the other lesson that I learned is that 4. you’ll be much happier and more successful when you stop trying to be like other people and start just being yourself. Trying to be like someone else is a lot of work and is rarely satisfying. Embracing who you are and what you have to offer the profession/your community/the world is the best thing — both for yourself and the people who will be able to benefit from your “you-ness.”
5. Don’t get too stuck on a specific vision of your future – My husband is nothing like the kind of guy I thought I wanted to marry. I was into the “sensitive guy” type who liked literature, jazz, indie films, etc. My husband listens to Metallica, likes movies like “Escape from New York,” and hasn’t read anything remotely literary since high school. But he ended up being my soul mate, and had I been stuck on that vision of the sort of guy I wanted to be with, I would never have gone on a second date with him. I had a friend (in her 30s at the time) who was so stuck on a specific vision of what the man she would consider getting serious with should be like that she was constantly rejecting perfectly nice guys she’d date for the silliest of reasons. As a result, she was lonely, but felt that she could not compromise on these silly standards of hers.
You might think that there’s only one type of job that is right for you in the library field. You might be sure that there are other things you would hate doing, based on a hunch. Consider for a moment that you might be wrong. I thought that I absolutely did not want to do face to face instruction when I got out of grad school, and yet, once I gave it a try, I found it was one of the things I most enjoyed. Now I’m the head of instruction at my library — go figure! Open yourself up to interesting possibilities. In this job market, there may simply not be any positions in the area in which you’re interested in working. Being flexible does not mean doing something you absolutely won’t enjoy (just like being flexible doesn’t mean dating someone you absolutely aren’t interested in), but it means being open to the possibility that there could be other options out there that you’d like as much (if not more!).
6. You don’t need to keep going to school to keep learning — I remember thinking when I was in college that I’d like to go to school forever so that I could keep taking classes and learning new things. I wanted a PhD in History, not because I wanted to teach, but because I wanted to keep learning and researching and writing. While I’m not taking classes anymore, I’ve discovered that it’s easy to keep the learning going and recreate the experience of the classroom in the online world. While I may not have one specific teacher, the whole Internet has become my teacher. I’ve created my own personal learning environment (PLE) through blogs, RSS feeds, journals, books (well, not so much lately), and — most importantly — my network on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and in the blogosphere. Because it’s the conversation that really makes the learning meaningful — the reflection, discussion, disagreement, sharing of experiences, and learning from others’ experiences. I am so grateful to be part of a community of brilliant, thoughtful and generous individuals who have taught me so much over the past 5 years.
I’d meant to publish this on December 31st or January 1st, but, as usual, life (or Reed pulling books off the shelf, trying to open the kitchen cabinets, or climbing me) trumped blogging. I’m glad my life is trumping blogging, because it’s an awesome life and watching Reed grow up is a fantastic reason to not be online. That’s not to say that I don’t miss blogging. I miss having an outlet for my thoughts and the time to write them out/work them out online. I miss the conversations. I miss a lot of things. But I’m coming to accept that I can’t have it all. I hope finding a better balance between work/teaching/speaking/baby/husband/friends/blogging/etc. will be one of the things I learn next year. And hopefully as Reed becomes more independent (he’s crawling, standing and cruising already!) I’ll have more time for non-Reed things.
My New Year’s wish — may the good things in all of your lives trump blogging, tweeting, etc. this year. We should all be so lucky.