Earlier this year, after my fourth failed job interview in a row, I decided it was time to step off the ambition escalator in pursuit of career goals that remain out of reach. I wanted to write about this because I am convinced that there are more than a few of us mid-to-late career library professionals who have had similar thoughts, but — and maybe this is because I don’t get funding to attend large library conferences — I haven’t noticed many people talking about this phenomenon and how to come to terms with feeling like a professional failure. I don’t presume to have all the answers, but here are the things that worked for me:
- Remember that you are not your job. Unlike several of my peers, I never felt a particular calling to librarianship. I decided to pursue an MLIS degree because a friend told me it would be easier for an immigrant to be hired in Canada if I had a degree from a Canadian university, and library school seemed like an easy enough barrier to clear. Your skills are transferable to a world outside of librarianship. You can go home again.
What can this failure teach you? Try to let go of defeatist thinking that keeps you feeling demoralized and hopeless. I learned that my definition of success was largely shaped by a profession that I was deeply ambivalent about, and one that felt inhospitable at best, and hostile at worst. What would it look like to view failure with a different definition?
How important is it to you to leave a legacy in the profession? Brainstorm ways that you can make a difference outside the walls of the library. Broaden your view.
Yet even through all of this, I kept some fleeting hope that I would find that one position where my thoughts and ideas would be valued, where I wouldn’t have to endure toxic work environments and unchecked white fragility, or the ever-present feeling that I would never belong, I would never succeed, and I would always be at the mercy and whims of white women. And that is a burden that no Black woman who values her mental health should ever have to face.
I want to keep writing about this phenomenon publicly, even at the risk that it will further stigmatize me in the profession, but then I pause and think “Well, you’re already stigmatized, have already been penalized, and your mental health and fears have made it so you don’t want to try again or get hurt again. What more can they possibly do to you?” I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question but I feel like it’s important for me to say to all my well-meaning friends who have wanted better for me, who have asked me to apply for positions yet I’ve politely declined that I can’t do this anymore, and it’s past time I stopped.
All I’m doing now is counting down the days until I can retire. Once that day arrives, I’ll have a better idea of what my next move will be.