Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It takes an ocean not to break

I feel like academic libraries, in some measure, feed off the energy of their users. Specifically, I think that people who work in academic libraries feel pressure at the end of each semester because the people they work with feel that pressure. In every academic library where I've worked, the nervous energy that students exude at the end of the semester is palpable as soon as you walk into the building.

Because I do not work directly with users, my work life remains relatively steady during this time of year. I'm trying to get loose ends tied up before leaving for the end of the year break, sure, but my workload doesn't increase in the same way as my public services colleagues. But for some reason, I find myself feeling bogged down and stressed out this year.

My friend, Michelle, calls these feelings "crisis mode." And she wrote a really great blog post about the tools she has moved away from operating in crisis mode. One passage in particular resonated with me:
I generally am trying to purposely integrate reflection into my day. How is this project making me feel? Do I need help? Do I have the mental energy I need right now to do this? Am I the best person to do this? Can it be done this semester or do I need to push this deadline? 
This resonated with me because I am terrible at this kind of reflective practice and evaluating whether I have the mental and emotional energy to push any given project forward. Instead, I go-go-go until I break.

After I read Michelle's post, I had a conversation with someone (okay, my therapist) about my go-go-go tendencies and she said that she feels like there is a difference, energetically, between doing things that we feel passionately about and things that we don't. Even when they're challenging, she reasoned, we still feel good when we're engaged in things that excite us. And when we're engaged in things that don't excite us, we feel slower and sluggish.

We agree to be involved in things, in our personal and professional lives, for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes those reasons are related to a real and genuine passion and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes we want people to notice us, so we agree to get involved in an initiative. Sometimes we are afraid of missing out, so we join a committee. Sometimes we step up because we're afraid that nobody else will.

Michelle's post and my subsequent conversation with my therapist lead to a place: it is worthwhile to check in with yourself to identify the projects you're involved with that leave you feeling stressed out or sluggish and find a way to either stay involved and change how you feel or find someone who is better suited to take the project on. After all, your saying no about something that causes you discomfort means that someone can say yes to something that makes them feel energized.

I put up an index card next to my work computer that reads: Why are you doing this? Does it make you feel: interested? Energized? Excited?

There are, of course, times when you have to accept a project even when it isn't something your passionate about or excited by. And in those times, you have to do what you can to get the job done. But sometimes, you get to make a choice. And I"m hopeful that by checking in with myself, I can make space to devote more time and energy to the things that make me feel excited and energized--even when they're difficult.

Maybe you don't need an index card to be mindful. But I'd encourage you to try out the questions that Michelle poses in her blog post. And if you need an index card, that's okay too.

Stay positive,

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