Finding Career Contentment

by Patty Petroccione
Attending the AALL Annual Conference is a valuable experience for all law librarians; however for a “solo” like me it is essential. It is not only important for my professional growth and well-being; it is for my personal sanity as well.
Other than reading list serve messages, and when time permits, occasional professional blogs and the AALL Spectrum, often a month or more may go by without my having any direct or personal contacts with my professional peers. Granted, there are interactions with the “other” professionals: lawyers, judges, deputy sheriffs and other courthouse personnel, but what do they know, understand or care about the world of libraries (generally, not much)? So I was very grateful to be awarded a VALL grant to attend the 2013 Conference in Seattle.

And I appreciated all that the Conference had to offer -- I attended many informative programs, observed vendor demonstrations of existing and new products, reconnected with colleagues and made new connections. I attended the State, Court and County Law Libraries’ breakfast meeting and the VALL luncheon. I took notes and collected business cards. To me, this is the real value of the Conference, the hands-on aspect and face-to-face interactions that one cannot replicate from blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and webinars.

Appropriately, it all culminated in my attending on the last day of the Conference, in the last time slot, the program “Is It My Job, or Am I Burnt Out?”: Finding Career Contentment. Despite the 3:45 p.m. time slot and the weary look on the faces of many of the attendees, the panelists Wendy Moore and Francis Norton, Jr., captured our attention from the beginning with their great repartee and humor. It didn’t hurt that they were tossing peppermint patties into the audience (surprise, chocolate at the AALL Conference)! The theme of the program was mid-career challenges, how to identify them, and what approaches to take to improve your situation.

They explained that our relationship to our jobs could be described in one of five ways: 1) clingy, we expect our jobs to give us everything; 2) vacant, the pay check keeps us there; 3) BFF, things are okay but there is no passion; 4) arranged, pushed together by external forces; or 5) open, can only find satisfaction outside of the job. What are some of the challenges? Does it seem like everyone else is happy and successful? It may feel that way, especially while at the conference. Others appear engaged, they are presenting, attending special meetings, receiving awards. It may feel like time is passing us by and we are “stuck in a rut.” It is easy to simply accept our situation and proceed with our day-to-day tasks “for the rest of our natural lives.”

Wendy and Francis reminded us that negativity breeds more negativity and is reflected back to ourselves and to our co-workers, patrons, and vendors. The panel tried to teach us some tools we could use to reinvigorate ourselves and our jobs, instead of choosing to “sit around and be grumpy.”

One simple exercise is to identify three positive things you can do to improve attitude and relations with staff and users, and then actually put them into practice. One suggestion was to proactively approach patrons instead of hiding in your office until they find you. Another was to smile when approached by another staff member or patron, even if you are busy. Set up a specific time when you will be able to help them later. Try not to scowl or growl! If someone is encountering a minor problem, help them so things run more smoothly at work. It will be less stressful for both of you. When someone else is negative or bad mouthing others or a project, redirect or disengage. Hopefully they will stop their negativity, or at least leave you alone since you will not “play ball” with them.

We learned that there are many ways to find renewed interest in one’s work life. Look better - improve your professional presence with an updated resume, then you will be ready for opportunities, such as grants, leadership positions, projects at work. Keep your online profiles current and relevant using LinkedIn, AALL My Communities, and social networks. Make work more interesting by getting active in professional organizations and special interest groups, follow blogs and write for blogs. These do not necessarily have to be library-related. You will feel more connected with those in and out of the profession.

I thought an excellent recommendation was to do something new at work. Ask yourself “if I had time at work to do something of my own choosing, I would work on ________” Practice a version of the Google “20% time rule” (which says to set aside 20% of your time to work on projects other than your normal work). Take the time to innovate (this was how Gmail was born). One suggestion was to block out two hours a week. Perhaps call it “Friday afternoon fun-time.” Use the time to work on your novel, prepare a history of the library, develop a rare books display or invent an app for your patrons. Many of us (especially those attending this presentation) are already overwhelmed by our work load. But the hope is that by spending some time on a new project that we’ve chosen, we will become invigorated and that will spill over into our daily tasks.

Other recommendations to refresh one’s work attitude include -- set specific, measurable goals for yourself. Track your accomplishments, including thank you notes from patrons, judges, professors, and completion of projects. Help someone else with their job. Be a mentor. Get involved in the new AALL mentoring program. Most importantly, a piece of advice we all know but tend to ignore -- do not let your work define your life. Be a volunteer in your community, exercise, take vacations, and pursue your passions outside of the office.

Sadly, sometimes it isn’t a mid-career slump we are experiencing, just a bad job fit. If so, then it may be time to move on. But for those of us who may only be weary, yet determined to stay the course, there are tools we can use to refresh our jobs. Though I was tired after all the activities of the four conference days, I was reinvigorated after attending this program. As several of us walked away from the Seattle Convention Center we talked about plans for our own Friday afternoon fun-times.

Patty Petroccione and Terry Long at the SCCL reception at the Federal Court House

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