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On Finding Your Dream Job

After my last post loosely based on my reading of Meg Jay's The Defining Decade, I realized what's really bothering me about that book and a lot of the writing about what's wrong with twentysomethings is this idea that we're not doing enough important things. I think one of the things our generation is struggling with more than previous generations is the idea of how to make your dreams come true as an adult. It's true that we are a generation that was raised to believe that we're special and we can do whatever we want, but sometimes what that feels like is pressure to do something amazing because no one's going to tell you you can't try reaching for the stars.

The thing is, we need people doing the mundane everyday work too, and if you're doing something you love, then boring work doesn't feel boring to you. It's all about perspective and realizing that doing something that excites you, or at least fills you with satisfaction is infinitely better than something flashy and high-profile that makes you feel horrible.

My husband has had to deal with this pressure from his family for most of his life. Because he was always "the smart one" he was supposed to go out and do amazing things with his life, and certain members of his family can't help expressing disappointment that he works an "ordinary" job. From my husband's point of view, though, he's in a position where he gets to work directly with students to help bridge the gap between their classroom experience and the jobs they hope to get after they graduate (he works in career services at a local college). To him (the most important person in this scenario), what he does is important.

Personally, I know the reason I never went down the cataloger path is because that many hours away from the desk would make my head explode. However, there are other librarians who think the time I want on the desk is crazy and teaching would cause them to have a nervous breakdown, but spending the day cataloging would be a dream for them. What works for one person is not necessarily the same thing that will work for another.

In my own life, I haven't dealt this problem for a long time. Once I figured out I wanted to be a librarian, it was like fireworks went off inside my head announcing that I'd won the prize of picking the perfect career for me. It didn't hurt that one of my favorite aunts is also a librarian, so I already thought it was a cool profession to get into, as well as one that I had some talent for.

So for a long time I saw this as an issue other people in my life were dealing with. There were the people who graduated with a degree in one field who immediately discovered they wanted nothing to do with that in their work life, or those who graduated not really knowing what they wanted to do. They all spent a few years trying different things, seeing what stuck. For some this process had to be repeated a couple times, or may continue to be repeated in the future. And I think the thing we all need to hear again and again is that that's okay.

All of this is reminding me of my favorite career book of all time, Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? where the author tells the stories of several different people's often roundabout career paths. It's a feel-good collection showing that nobody is born knowing what they're going to do for a living, and sometimes there are false starts along the way, but as long as you keep asking questions about whether the work you're doing is worthwhile and keep looking for positions where you can answer yes to that question, then you're doing okay. Luckily I have always thought that being a librarian offers me the opportunity to do worthwhile things.

While I've generally been in tune with the idea that the work I do needs to be worthwhile to me, Bronson's lesson that Callings are nonsense hasn't stuck with me as well. He argues that we simply aren't born knowing what we're going to do with our lives. I suppose I should have known I would become a librarian when I was obsessed with books and reading as a kid, but there were actually a lot of other things I thought I wanted to be first - nurse, writer, teacher, museum curator, to name a few - before I realized after working in my college library that librarianship was a career that would work for me. And that's the way it is with most people. You pick something that sounds okay and as you work at it, you either get better at it and decide to stick with it, or you realize it isn't for you.

This is coming home to me in a very specific way now. Ever since I'd decided to become a librarian, I'd really secretly meant a librarian in a public library. Working over the summers when our college library primarily turned into the public library for the town (we didn't offer summer classes) was what got me excited about being a librarian after all. When I landed a job at a public library in my area after grad school I thought I'd hit the jackpot.

So I'm as surprised as anyone to see that now I have just as many, if not more, opportunities to continue my career in academic libraries. I currently work in a community college, which in some ways is a nice mix of the two. I tried to tell myself that that's why I enjoy it, but the truth of the matter is, I think the research and information literacy skills we teach to our students are important and I can get almost as passionate about that as I used to get about the importance of the public library as a vital community resource.

On the other hand, realizing that I could be moving away from my first library love to a facet of librarianship I used to consider my backup option makes me a little sad. However, I'm getting set to start working at another school (the fun of part-time positions is that you get to collect multiple ones to earn a living), this time at a university serving not only undergraduates, but graduate students as well, and, honestly, I couldn't be happier about this particular position. The people I'll be working with are top notch librarians who are fun and engaged in the work they're doing. And the atmosphere on the campus as a whole seems pretty positive, too.

Both of these positions give me the opportunity to work directly with students and offer them real assistance with their research needs, which is key to making me feel like I'm making a difference, so both seem like great fits for me. Maybe I just need to focus on that while I get over my old hang up of thinking that academic libraries aren't for me.
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