Having successfully completed the first official week of librarianship, this BatGirl spent her first official weekend (cue dramatic music) nursing bumps, bruises and blisters. Don’t fret, it’s just the latest lessons learned on the bumpy road to the romantic life of the librarian. Just like any job, there is a certain choreography to be learned. People who have worked together for a time develop a certain sense for what those around them will do. They’ve been dancing this dance for a while and can anticipate the actions of those around them with a great deal of accuracy.
Many, many, … many years ago, I worked in the gift shop of a popular aquarium. The gift shop was a little box, with a smaller box dropped into the center of it. In this smaller box, lived the cashiers ringing sales and taking money in exchange for trinkets. Outside that smaller box lived the hordes who could not imagine life without their aquarium pencil or t-shirt. It looked like chaos, but inside that little box, an intricate ballet was taking place. Actually, that may give you the wrong image. It was boisterous and loud, things often flew through the air, but there was a certain aggressive grace to it all.
But not when I first started. When I first started, it was a nightmare. I was ALWAYS in EVERYBODY’S way. I was the center of endless collisions and exasperated eye-rolling from the seasoned pros. Until I learned the steps.
This past week has taken me right back to those days of feeling like the hapless ball in a pinball machine. Bouncing off counters and rolling about without much will or control. Granted, the library lacks the mayhem of that little gift shop. There are no masses of schoolchildren all waving slightly damp money who have a bus to get on in five minutes – a mantra which I will repeat endlessly in the coming weeks. But that doesn’t mean that these library patrons don’t expect a certain amount of … grace, shall we say, from their librarian.
And so, in the coming days, I will continue to struggle to learn the dance of the library. It doesn’t come easy. I’m not the most graceful of girls. It’s not that I don’t like to dance. On the contrary, I have been known to dance with some pretty wild abandon … just not with any sort of grace, or sense of rhythm. So now we enter the awkward, the gawky, and the downright embarrassing stage of learning the new job. The coming days will be filled with banged-up hips and knees and smashed fingers and toes (hopefully mostly mine) as I throw myself into learning these new steps with wild abandon – or at least optimistic enthusiasm. And soon I hope to be dancing with the grace of my coworkers.
It’s tempting to observe the dance from a distance, but in truth, nothing beats jumping in and taking your hits to learn the steps.
It’s well past the time I should be in bed and getting a good night’s sleep before my first day … as a librarian … in a library ….
You’ll have to forgive me. I’m still a bit giddy about the whole thing. Hence the not slumbering peacefully. I’ve travelled a long and bumpy road to get here, with a lot of sleepless nights and panicky fretting and second guessing myself. All leading to this night before starting down a new path. It’s fitting that I should find myself here in the final days of summer. As a little girl, I can remember always having a difficult time settling down on the night before the first day of school.
Back to school season always signaled to me a time of new beginnings and new opportunities. It was an opportunity to redefine yourself. There were new wardrobes and new lunchboxes and anything seemed possible. Perhaps this would be the year that I would be cool (it never was).
And it seems that I never really get that far away from third grade, because here I sit, worrying about how I’ll do tomorrow.
Will I be able to learn things quickly?
Can I keep the mistakes to a minimum?
Will I get along with my coworkers?
You know, the last minute deluge of self-doubt. It’s there, but so is that thrill of the new and the unknown.
Time to learn something new.
Time to do something different.
Time to meet new people.
And so far, the thrill always wins out over the panic – well, except for that year that I lost my breakfast on the first day of school, but let’s not think about that right now.
It’s that need to move forward. To be an actor in my life. To do. So I feel the fear, and then take a deep breath and step into it. And here we go again.
Time for some new and thrilling adventures.
If you think about it too much, you just might lose your nerve. At some point, you just have to go.
For far too long I have been laboring over a post on the fool’s quest for perfection. I had recently become crippled by my desire to submit perfect resumes and cover letters to prospective employers. This is a perfectly noble and reasonable desire, until it becomes such a dangerous obsession (the result of having sent an application package in which “librarian” is misspelled in the subject field – true story) that I’m amazed I ever managed to click “send” ever again.
Not surprisingly at all, that post, while I liked it, was never quite good enough, or finished enough, or perfect enough for me to ever click the “publish” button and post it. And now, it seems a bit superfluous and not really relevant to this BatGirl’s story because misspellings, awkward interviews, and assorted assumptions aside,
THIS BATGIRL HAS BEEN OFFERED GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT!
No, seriously. Like a job-job. In a library-library. For real.
As you can see, this new reality is taking a while to sink in. Because, in spite of my hyper-organization and exhaustively consuming everything I could get my hands on concerning finding employment in the Information Professional Arena, my experience was not what I expected … at all. Just about all the truisms that I had accepted as truth about the job search did not hold true for me. I had paid close attention in class. I had done my research. I knew that the job landscape was not exactly rosy, and the statistics struck terror in my heart:
– Expect to send out more than a hundred applications. I was averaging 2 submissions a day (I managed 3 one day and was so shocked that I was unable to submit any the next day). At this rate it would take months for me to hit this milestone.
– Achieving full-time employment as a librarian within a year of graduation is considered success. I would most definitely run out of food well before the one year anniversary of graduation.
Be flexible, they cautioned. You most likely will not get your first choice of job or location. Which broke my heart because the first position I interviewed for resulted in a case of love at first sight. A quintessential public library in a smallish town on the seacoast within reasonable commuting distance of the BatGarret, I immediately declared it the Platonic Ideal of public libraries.
And was heartbroken when they turned me down.
But here we sit, just under 3 months after graduation. I have submitted well under a hundred applications. And that perfect public library? It’s my library. They called me back, wondering if I’d be interested in a different position which had subsequently opened up.
And so quickly that it made me dizzy, this BatGirl found her library. But isn’t that how true love always feels?
So, what’s next? I imagine there will be some bumps on this new road, but it’s a new road and whatever it holds is sure to be interesting … and certainly better than proofreading those cover letters for the umpteenth time, searching for the misplaced comma or misspelled name.
It appears that the ingredients for a successful job search are different for everyone.
With a couple job interviews under my belt, I …. am as confused as ever about this whole process. I know that the very act of making it onto the short list of interviewees is an achievement. Walking out of the interviews, I felt good about the process. Was it perfect? No. Were there some questions that I’d like a second go at? Yes. But I felt that I had presented myself well and given them a good sense of who I was and what I could bring to a team. And yet …
And yet, they did not result in employment. And this is hard for me. I know that I don’t get the job with the first interview. Just like I don’t get the interview with every application. But with each interview, I walked out really wanting that job. Really hoping that I had done well and succeeded. But the sad reality is that I had not. They may not have been terrible interviews, but they were not good enough to set me apart from the rest of the pack. At least not in a good way. And that’s going to take a little getting used to.
School had been labor intensive. I worked harder than I had in years, but the payoff for that labor was relatively immediate. These uncharted waters of cover letters and interviews are terrifyingly foreign to me. Results seem to take forever – doubly frustrating in the land of immediate gratification that is 21st century America. And I’m faced with a quandary. All around me people preach patience and confidence:
– The right job is out there.
– Any library would be lucky to have me on their team.
But those words of comfort can be mortally wounded pretty quickly by rejection. I start to question everything. Am I going about this all wrong? Have I made a horrible mistake? What was I thinking? I don’t want to be patient. I don’t want to wait for the right job.
There’s nothing quite so poisonous as the loss of self-confidence and its accompanying panic. Now, make no mistake, these are very kind and gentle rejections. We are talking about librarians here. But still, they awaken a shrill and panicked voice that is terrified of patience and just wants to do something. Anything.
But when I embarked on this journey, I made a promise to myself of patience. At too many points in my life, I felt that I had taken the first opportunity, out of impatience and fear. Crying over lost mythical opportunities is not productive and not something I tend to engage in, but I did feel that I would benefit from being patient past my comfort zone and not snatching at the first opportunity that presents itself without the promise of a reasonably good fit. All of which sounds far more terrifying now, than it did when this day was two years away.
The real issue is that this is all far scarier than I had anticipated, or even prepared myself for. And every morning as I open my email, looking for responses to the numerous resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out, I have to remind myself to be calm. That I am looking for a team, not an employer. That I am looking for a community, not a paycheck. That I am looking for the right job, not a job.
It’s all a bit Stuart Smalley. But it’s also true.
Some days the temptation to fling yourself at the moving merry-go-round is overwhelming, but I swear, this time I’m going to wait for it to stop and choose my steed with care.
Recently I stepped away from the self-absorbed world of the quest for employment and ran off to the adorable city of Quebec for a long weekend with the Limoncello Ladies. Our annual get-togethers are cherished opportunities to step out of the everyday crush of existence and look at our lives and the world around us from a fresh perspective. It all sounds slightly glamorous and certainly our original outing, a week in Florence, had its share of exotic experiences, but to focus on those aspects is to miss the really extraordinary thing that was happening. In between the art and the food and the architecture, we were talking, sharing, letting the chinks in the armor show. Being real. Being real in the kind of way that you can’t always be in a world where you have responsibilities and people relying on you to hold it together. While we may not have all been the closest of friends before going to Italy, by the end of that week, some extraordinary bonds had been forged. And the experience had been enriching enough to make an effort to make this a regular occurrence.
That may not sound like all that big a deal until you think about it. Think about how little free time there is in your life. Think about how you guard those precious vacation days. Think about how much time and effort goes into planning a family vacation. Numerous people have told each of us how lucky we are to do this on an annual basis. And yes. Yes we are. But it doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. We commit to the friendship. We nurture the friendship and we make sacrifices to keep the friendship growing. It’s not all “Sex and the City”. In fact, with the exception of regular cocktails, it’s not “Sex and the City” at all. It’s not about the search for external connections, but more about the internal journeys that we’ve been on for the past year. Celebrating accomplishments, commiserating about frustrations, and finally, encouraging each other to excel.
While in Quebec, we visited Montmorency Falls. At 275 feet high, they are almost a hundred feet higher than Niagara Falls, and as you stand at the base of the falls, you can see a little bitty bridge crossing along the top of the falls and to your right, a series of rickety switchback steps criss-crossing up the side of the cliff face to gain access to the bridge. Of course we needed to get up to that bridge. The view would be spectacular, and what a rush to watch the falls thunder down the side of the mountain from that perspective. And there were two options: we could pay to ride a tram up the side of the mountain, or we could climb up all those steps. For the sake of argument, we’re going to call that the equivalent of walking up 26 flights of stairs (10 feet to a story, blah blah blah math). Now, I don’t know about you, but my rule of thumb on walking up stairs is that once we go above 5 flights, I’m looking for another option. Add to the equation, the fact that the last two years of grad school have been highly sedentary and have seriously impacted my ability to scamper about like a bunny and the result was that I was highly sceptical of my ability to actually make it to the top. But the group consensus (also known in other circles as peer pressure) was that we should at least climb partway up (the view from the steps would be far more spectacular than the view from the tram). We could always turn around and go back down if it got to be too much.
And so we set off at four different paces (we are independent capable women and not joined at the hip or herd animals, after all) all affirming that no one would be judged for any choice they made along the way. No less than three times, I decided to throw in the towel. But every time I looked up, there was someone from some point in the climb, looking down and giving a friendly and encouraging wave. And I would make it up another half flight. And at some point it looked easier to make the rest of the climb up than it would be to climb back down.
And then, on a day that had already seen me nab my first job interview (with the ladies very discreetly cheering me on), I also discovered that as long as speed and elegance were not an issue, I could indeed haul myself up the side of a mountain. And that’s why we keep carving time out of our jam-packed lives, and why we sacrifice some of that hard-earned vacation time, and why we put the effort into coordinating four different schedules. Because we are better for having been with each other.
But you know, of course, that we took the tram back down. There are limits to how much improving I can handle at any one moment in time.
Apparently you can get me to achieve just about anything with the promise of natural splendor.
So here we are, a month after completing my last library school assignment and clearing off my desk, and we appear to be right back where we started. Turns out, looking for a job doesn’t look all that different from writing a paper. Files and reference books and pages filled with scribbles are strewn about. A log tracks progress on numerous fronts. Resources and leads are followed and eliminated. Obscure information is tracked down
– The address of my elementary school in Hawaii?
– The telephone number of the now-bankrupt company I worked for in the early 90s?
Turns out that applying for jobs is one more way to stretch and hone those librarian skills. Can I include that on my resume?
The job search process is not one that I’m enjoying. I’ve never been one to market myself or shop myself around. I wasn’t one of those kids who ran for office in school, relishing the thrill of the campaign. But kids, it’s not a bad skill to start learning early. The job search process seems to be one designed to beat the self-confidence out of me. Hours are spent dissecting job descriptions in search of keywords. Then more time is spent shoehorning those keywords into the resume. After that, it’s time to craft the dreaded Cover Letter. Make it sparkly! Perky, intriguing, irresistible, and above all, the very soul mate of the referenced job description.
Well, no wonder I’m so cranky. It’s just flirtation of a very specific sort, and I think we’ve already established that flirtation is not on my list of mad skills. And do you see how quickly we managed to transition from celebrating my super search capabilities to realizing that I should have spent the last two years honing my dating skills?
It’s a continual struggle to avoid being bashed on the rocks of what I lack and to put my faith in those qualities that I absolutely possess with confidence. Confidence can be the tricky part, but that’s okay. Because one of the skills that I have been honing for the last two years, is self-confidence. It can definitely still use a little work, but I’m up for that.
Because library school taught me one other thing.
Not to give up.
The employment landscape can be daunting and I’ll take all the assistance I can get.
The last few days have been a whirlwind of excitement in my little corner of the world. On Friday, under a big tent on the waterfront, academic regalia was donned, “Pomp and Circumstance” was played, rights and privileges were granted, and a stage was successfully traversed. Waterworks were kept to a surprising minimum, and at the end of the afternoon, I drifted away from that big circus tent on a cloud of euphoria, tightly gripping a certificate that affirmed that I had, indeed, successfully navigated library school and had attained the rank of Master of Science. Best of all, while much of the work toward this degree has been done in relative isolation, the celebrating was not.
While I have been toiling away in the BatGarret, my mother and sister have been watching from down south. Supporting, comforting, worrying and encouraging from afar. This weekend, they made the train trip up, sat in the audience, cheering, celebrating, making a big deal of my accomplishment, and reminding me of the importance of family. The moment during the graduation ceremony which came closest to causing a complete mental breakdown, was the moment where family stood for our applause.
Because truly, this could not have been accomplished without them, and yet they are the ones that get the least credit. I don’t know about the rest of you, but they are the ones subjected to my worst behavior. I keep it together for the rest of the world, but they have to endure sulking, whining and standoffishness. They’re the ones for whom I don’t feel compelled to behave. They see the jagged nerves and the brattish tendencies.
And vice versa. In the highly emotional hours leading up to the ceremony, personalities clashed and erupted, leading to meltdowns, shouting, slammed doors, and sulking. Followed by apologies, hugs, and forgiveness, shortly thereafter. Such is the safety of family. The safety to be without the necessity for performance.
In Hawaii this is expressed as ohana, the absolute safety net and support provided by family. At the end of the day, temper tantrums aside, your ohana is always there for you, in both good times and bad.
Graduations in Hawaii are particularly joyful celebrations. They are marked by an abundance of well-wishers, flower leis and food. And while my ohana bemoaned the absence of flower leis, we made up for it with some extraordinary food and a lot of talk. Talk both of joyful events and sad events from the past and talk of the hopeful and admittedly scary prospects of the future. We did what ohana does. We hung together.
At the end of the weekend, I tucked them back on a train headed south and returned to the BatGarret, where, while graduation is over, there is still much work to do and many challenges to be faced.
But I did so with the knowledge, that I’m never quite so alone as I may think.
Many things are up in the air right now, but whatever the future holds, I know that my ohana will always be right there.