Signifying Nothing

or, “ego lost.”

Three years ago I wrote about ego and librarianship, a howl of anguish of sorts, a call to action, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t even recognize that person anymore–who was that woman, so full of words and opinions? Where has she gone?

I remember, faintly, caring a lot about what I did. I remember being a brazen, mouthy jerk, whose reach exceeded her grasp. I remember being ambitious and eager to make my mark, hungry to build connections and have conversations, anxious to do my very best work and do great things for the profession at large, as well as in my own smaller realm.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about this quote from Edward Albee’s (unpublished) play about Federico García Lorca. Lorca is speaking here:

Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you?
Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood?
To love your family so much the last thing you would ever want to do is to hurt them?
Do you know what it’s like to know you’re not like anyone else in the world in any way?
To want nothing more than to share, and give, and touch?
Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?
To live in a society so … so rigid, so set in its ways you don’t dare be yourself …
except deep inside?
Do you know what it’s like to be filled with poetry, to be filled with music, to be filled
with love, and pity, and fear, and anguish, and a deep, deep … terrible dread?
Do you know?
Do you know what it’s like to be me?

I’ve long felt–and have had confirmed by outside sources–that I have valuable talents, skills, and capabilities that are being vastly under utilized–but what do you do? What can you do, if you can’t find anyone who wants to take advantage of all you’re capable of?

I tried a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, and they all failed. I was rejected, a lot, and I’ve been trapped in a holding pattern for way too long. I’m a curious person, always seeking fresh challenges, and when that doesn’t happen I get bored, and when I’m bored I get into trouble.

To illustrate: In high school when I was bored, I decided to collaborate with some friends of mine and throw an anti-prom to protest the terrible theme of the actual prom: Moonlight Diggity. I started the whole project, and soon we had a local band booked to play at the VFW on the night of the prom, and our advertising included a hand drawn poster of a car on fire.

My principal called me into his office to talk about how I’d gotten caught up with some “bad influences.” I nodded and listened, thinking all the while about how I was so pissed that he was underestimating me– I was the brains behind this project. I was the one in charge here. I was the rebel with a cause. I was having my very own Frankie Landau Banks moment, if you will.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to work with this boredom without an outright rebellion, but sometimes even that strategy doesn’t work, and I find myself longing for the mouthy, outspoken person from just a few short years ago who was so eager to do great things. But I don’t know how to get that feeling back, and there’s only so much a person can do without the proper support.

It makes me wonder: how do motivate high achieving, self-motivated employees? How do we recognize talent in the profession and reward it? How do we nurture talent beyond those “emerging” years?

Of course I’m grateful to be working in the field, yet isn’t there always something more to strive for? Shouldn’t we always be trying to improve ourselves, our services, our profession?

If not, then what should we do?

I wish I knew.

2 responses to “Signifying Nothing”

  1. I hear you talking! My own career experience was full of cycles of burning-down-the-house crazy opportunity mixed solidly in with working steadily and very anonymously in the background. When things were particularly difficult at work I spent more time in association work and with my peer networks – and visa versa. The final ten years of full time work were a whirlwind of great opportunity that had built very slowly and steadily over the previous 3 decades They were sweeter for the long slog than they would have been as a young or even mid-career librarian. Julie, your blog has been a beacon for me over the past few years as you think about and look at librarianship through your very powerful lens. You plant seeds through it, through your day-to-day work, through the influence you have with peers near and far. Those seeds grow and you help people change and grow as your focus and thinking changes. Hold on to that in these more challenging post-emerging librarian years. There will be great times ahead!


  2. Yes, girl. I hear you. I’ve had my own struggles in my career for almost two years and I often have days where I think, “If this doesn’t get better soon…” I can’t imagine what it must be like for you after an even longer period of feeling held back and bored. It’s demoralizing for me.
    I feel like a lot of the burden rests with older generations of librarians who probably started out with the same energy and found themselves in the same struggle of new vs. tradition and innovation vs. bureaucracy. Maybe they had the same fire but they were held down for so long that they just accepted it and now find themselves pushing new generations into the same box. I don’t think that people are generally averse to the ideas of new professionals, but I don’t think they always recognize when they’re squashing talent and ideas. I think that they believe they are helping and guiding when they’re sort of passing on sameness.
    I don’t know how to fix that, but I think it requires a culture of improvisation. That “yes, and…” mentality balanced with the hard work of knowing when someone needs help finding their boundaries and limits. I would think that if you can find someone in HR willing to listen, you may be able to convince them that new professionals need a little nurturing and that even people recently hired from other libraries can bring excellent ideas. I think it would be smart for large library systems to have a new staff round table/young professionals group that could act as an advisory board to the administration. It’s in everyone’s best interest to give the next generation room to speak and grow.


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