The inchoate lessons of 2010

In light of several thoughtprovoking posts about what we learned in libraryland in 2010, I’ve been wanting to write my own. Except I’m not sure “what I learned” is the right lens. Grad school was this giant chrysalis where I could process some of the intensity of my previous career as a teacher; now that I’m emerged (or am, at any rate, emerging), I feel like roiling waters behind a dam, looking for a direction in which to burst. (Which is to say: I need a job. Who wants to hire their very own Andromeda?)

Without that direction it’s hard to say what I’ve learned, but there have been some principles, mantras perhaps, which have recurred this year.

1) Let’s start with the ironic one for a long and navel-gazing post: It’s not about you. Yeah, it’s just really not. You’re the protagonist in your own story but not in anybody else’s. Your perspective is one, incomplete and flawed, way of seeing the world. Ditto for everyone else: it’s not about them either. Life’s more fun if I can see things from more people’s perspectives. I feel both less stressed and more capable if I can step back mentally from things far enough to take a not-about-me perspective: to note the ways my reactions are rooted in my own perspective as an interesting fact, and try to continue forward with a broader mind.

2) Running maybe counter to that: if I can’t be employed, at least I can be famous. Cold and hostile job market out there. Would sure like to be employed, but in the meantime I can keep myself busy and try to generate lots of proof — see below, or heck, my resume — that I’m someone worth hiring.

Along those lines, I’ll be part of a panel about personal branding at ALA Midwinter with a group of fascinating people: Brett Bonfield, Kiyomi Deards, and Lisa Carlucci Thomas, with Bohyun Kim moderating. They’re more famous than I, and I’m lucky to be in their company.

(Saturday, HIL-Aqua 304, 10:30-12. Y’all come down, y’hear?)

3) To round out the intrapersonal trio here: when something goes wrong, how can it be my fault? It’s not that I think every problem I’m involved in is wholly or even mostly my fault (it’s not), or that I like rampages of self-loathing (I don’t). Quite the opposite, actually: I’ve always been an internal-locus-of-control kind of girl, and making things my fault is empowering. When I can find a way something might be my fault I can find the lever I can use to learn something, do something, change something. Maybe I can’t fix it, but at least I have recourse. I’m not at the mercy of someone else, waiting fruitlessly for them to fix their flaws. I can — see below — fail constructively.

4) Looking outward: I adore librarians. There’s a lot of personal mooshy stuff I could write here, but what it comes down to is I’ve fallen into a set of people with broad-ranging passions, complex intellects, and astonishing generosity of spirit. People who have extended me opportunity after opportunity, kindness after kindness, while showing me models of better people I could be. People who engage both my mind and my heart. Thank you.

5) Following amazing librarian Andy Woodworth, there is no spoon. There are things you can’t do without other people’s buy-in. But there are so many things where it turns out you never had to ask permission in the first place; the only person whose permission you needed, the only person who was stopping you, was you. You and the hole in your perception, the place you didn’t see the opportunity that already existed, just waiting for someone to grab it.

6) And for my final mantra I go back to something I tweeted way back in March that I keep coming back to: fail more intelligently, build stuff, kick ass. I’ve been obsessed with failure this year. I think a lot of us here in libraries, and in my previous career as a teacher, are people who were good at school, and school, frankly, teaches us that failure is bad. I mean, that’s what we call the big bad outcome: failing. And the way we structure schedules and curriculum tend to mean there’s not a lot of opportunities to reflect constructively on failure and turn it into a roundabout route to success. The people who are good at school, then, are the people who are good at avoiding initial failures, and get rewarded for this, and become averse to failing at all.

But failure, really, is another word for innovation. Of course there are circumstances where the cost of failing is very high and it genuinely does need, insofar as possible, to be avoided — but those of us who are not brain surgeons or test pilots or so forth rarely find ourselves in those situations; we just think we do. I’ve been wondering how I can walk toward failure instead of away from it, how I can wade into the messy parts and take them as tools for discovering what I don’t know and can’t do so that I can fix that. I’ve been looking for ways to fling myself into the unknown in faith that — even though I will sometimes fail comprehensively and inevitably fail in little ways, sometimes big ones — I’ll muddle through in the end and learn something and make something.

Make something: that, too. I realized I have all these things I can do in theory — one of the things I’m best at is learning — but my resume is distressingly thin on things I have actually done. And why should anyone (e.g. those hypothetical future employers) believe me that I can do stuff if I haven’t? And why should anyone care what I might be able to do if other people actually have? And what point is there in my being on this earth with talents if I don’t make something with them?

A goal for 2011: build things with my talents. In a career, with a job. Kicking ass.

5 thoughts on “The inchoate lessons of 2010

  1. “But failure, really, is another word for innovation.”

    Amen. I’ve been trying to find a way to work “constructive failure” into my teaching and my teaching philosophy statement (Hello, looking for a job too! đŸ™‚ without it sounding all crackpottery.


  2. Amen to failure. As another one of those people who was a teacher and is now a school librarian and was always “good at school,” I really internalized the idea that failure is THE end. But the longer I work at this the more I internalize the notion that failure is AN end, but also the beginning of something new.


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