I have a confession to make: It has taken me twenty years to recognize that I am terrible at multi-tasking. I have lived in complete denial for two decades. The truth is that I am not invincible, uber-organized, and full of energy and enthusiasm for everything I do. From a young age, I have taken on more and more, both professionally and personally. I built my self-awareness around putting my best effort to even the smallest tasks and responsibilities. I am always setting goals, adjusting goals, striving to achieve goals, and revising strategies. Please know that I am never ruthless toward anyone, but I set high self-expectations and am very disappointed when I trip up.
After twenty years in librarianship, I have seen and done a great deal, and I still love being a librarian. In previous columns I have talked about motivating employees, leading by example, doing the right thing even on a rough day, and the value of partnering with others. As a result of my driven self-expectations, I work at consistently modeling these characteristics.
However, for the past several months, I have felt “off balance.” I began reflecting on my internal drive to do more and more and to do it all commendably. I started with my current role in our profession. As a mid-level academic library manager, I am very fortunate to work with dedicated and self-directed employees. I regularly express my appreciation for their great work because their commitment makes my job as a leader all the more rewarding. My managerial responsibilities have increased significantly since my initial appointment as a reference librarian in the mid 1990s. A typical work day for me twenty years ago included significant public contact time and a meeting or two. A typical work day for me now includes significant staff contact time and several meetings. I like variety, and I like working with people. Both aspects of my work keep me fresh, on my toes, and help me regularly re-focus my attentions. So, my lack of balance is not as a result of burnout or fatigue with my job.
One day recently, I had an unexpected inspiration while speaking with an employee in my department. She shared her concerns about her new research project. She feared that the project would overshadow her other important responsibilities. She also expressed fears about her project failing. I listened carefully and suggested that she approach the project one step at a time, breaking it into manageable deadlines to tackle each day.
I told her that I respected her and her work and that I would help her make any necessary scheduling adjustments. I also suggested that she set boundaries to ensure that she would achieve her scheduled deadlines. Lastly, I told her to simply try her best, and that if she did her best, her work would reflect it.
When I spoke those words, I realized the cause of my balance issues. I had just advised her on the very thing that I am struggling with myself! Instead of setting boundaries, I take on more and more. Instead of breaking things into manageable deadlines, I constantly juggle multiple number one priorities. Instead of accepting my individual limitations, I have been pushing myself in so many ways for so long. In other words, I am my own worst enemy, and it has finally caught up to me.
Just realizing what has caused me to feel out of sync has been therapeutic. However, changing a fundamental part of myself seems daunting. My immediate fear is about failing. So, in typical librarian fashion, I started researching this and discovered, to my great relief, that the majority of professionals experience similar feelings. While I am certainly not wishing my problems onto anyone else, it is comforting to know that what I am experiencing is pretty normal. The literature suggests that boundary-setting will be challenging because old habits die hard.
Because I want to be a part of our profession for many years to come, the best way to ensure I am here is by taming my internal overdrive. I must remember that my current state has been years in the making, so an overnight turnaround is an unrealistic expectation. I also recognize that I must change because continuing to run on overdrive has not only caused me to feel off balance, it is also life shortening! I will have to accept that I might not like some of the things I discover about myself during this process. I will also have to accept that I will experience, as the old adage says, “one step forward, two steps back.”
Evolving from a driven multi-tasker to a more balanced individual will be a tough journey for me, but I am committed to do this. I am saying goodbye to the old me and looking forward to becoming the new me. I will put together the tips and suggestions that I learn along the way and will share them in an upcoming column.