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Four Years

Since the age of 14, I’ve been measuring my life in four-year increments. Each increment had its own challenge, and each one culminated in its own major life transition. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m not going through a major life transition after 4 years, and I’m not reaching toward some tantalizing, terrifying, and fascinating goal four years distant

First there was high school. I’d decided to continue being home schooled, which terrified me. How could I be sure that I’d learn enough to get into college if I stayed home? I couldn’t. So I learned absolutely as much as I could, fueled by a deep smoldering panic that I’d be horribly under-prepared for college. As it turns out, I wasn’t under-prepared. So I graduated from high school and went to college.

Then there was college. That terrified me. How could I possibly both figure out what I wanted to do with The Rest Of My Life (in my head that phrase was always in capital letters) and also learn enough to do whatever-that-was in only four years? As it turns out, I didn’t. And as it turns out, this is normal. So I graduated from college and, since I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do for The Rest Of My Life, I went to grad school.

Grad school terrified me. All these smart people, all this work, all this pressure. I had no idea how I’d make it through the reading assignments, let alone the term papers that were twice as long as any I’d written before (with the exception of my college senior thesis). After two years of that, I’d learned enough to decide that English Professor was not going to be my title for The Rest Of My Life, so I skipped out with a masters and moved over to the School of Library and Information Science… which terrified me for a whole different set of reasons. The classes didn’t inspire me, and I’d never worked in a library, so I wondered what people did beyond sit at a desk and answer questions all day, which seemed like it could be unendingly dull. But just as I was going to quit and go back to the English Professor idea (the program had said I could come back any time), I got a job in a library and decided that this might suit me after all. As it turns out, it does suit me. So, after 2 years in English and 2 years in library school, I left graduate school and started my first job.

This Carleton job terrified me, so when I took it I promised myself that it need only be for four years. (After that, I planned to find a job closer to my family.) It was a job full of all kinds of opportunity, but also all kinds of responsibility. The people here were wonderful, but I worried that I’d be the weak link in their exhilarating, intense, and creative chain. As it turns out, our individual strengths and weaknesses seem to complement each other pretty well, so the job quickly grew to become my dream job. And so, as it turns out, I’m not looking for a job after my allotted four years.

And now, on this, the anniversary of the day I started here, I feel nearly qualified to hold the position I have. I’ve done a lot (started this blog, taught dozens of classes, met with hundreds of students, given conference talks, written articles and a book chapter). I’ve learned to negotiate tricky situations with at least outward confidence. And I’ve made fast friends for whom I’m continually grateful. These friends have talked me into confidence I’d never have found on my own, and they’ve talked me down when things seemed to be too much to handle. If it takes a village to raise a child, it apparently takes a sizable chunk of the internet and fair few face-to-face friends to raise a librarian, or at least this librarian.

I wonder what the next four years hold.

P.S. If 4 years seems about long enough to train up a librarian, I wonder how people like presidents feel.

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4 thoughts on “Four Years

  1. Congrats on navigating the first four years of your career with such success!!

    I can really relate to much of this post, except I measured much life in 5 year increments prior to working at Princeton PL (and now I have been here over 10 years). I always thought that I would go back to Canada and gave myself a 5 year max to living in the USA, but sometimes we find our place in the world when we are least expecting to find it.

  2. Keep at it, V. Viola! Job searching is the pits, but hopefully you'll land one you really like, like I did.

    Turns out I may have a semi-major life change after all. I'm seriously working toward moving to a different city (not changing jobs, just moving myself and my stuff). I HATE MOVING, but hopefully this will be a good move.

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