I’m well into my second job in librarianship (2). This is a position which, according to this theory by Ned Potter, can be the most important in one’s career. I’ve had most of the major ‘firsts’: first professional post, first big conference, first epic US conference, first award. I’m into the habit of presenting at conferences and writing articles. I’m active and semi-well-known within the LIS blogo- tweeto-sphere, etc. I’ve made professional contacts and good friends throughout the profession. I’ve paid my dues and now I’m settled and happy in a post that plays to my professional interests, that is helping me develop my skills, and that I enjoy doing every weekday.
|The goat is a metaphor. From Flickr user: Jungle_Boy|
You are young. You will get your recognition. And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas. Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day.
Don Draper to Peggy Olson in the seminal 4x07 episode of Mad Men.
This is the midpoint: where I want to be but not quite able to make the changes I want; overeducated and overworked but underpaid and – it feels – underappreciated; reaching for some vague next step but not sure where or what it is. The goals I had as a new professional have been reached and so I need to begin the process of redefining my identity and my surrounding support network of formerly-new professionals (or soon-to-be-formerly-new professionals).
And being in the midpoint is affecting me psychologically in a couple of interesting ways: in terms of impostor syndrome and in terms of ambition.
The midpoint is making my impostor syndrome more acute. A Google search for ‘impostor syndrome librarianship’ brings up hundreds of relevant results including the one I was looking for: this excellent summary post by Laura Woods. Impostor syndrome among librarians is a well-documented psychological malady in which one feels that one is an impostor who has managed to trick his/her way into being successful despite not really knowing what one is doing at any given moment and that there are people far more qualified, hard-working, and better at their jobs who simply haven’t been as lucky and that if one doesn’t continue to work myself to exhaustion every single day and blog something insightful and important every single week that everything will fall apart and people will see through the façade and so any minute now everyone will realise all this about me which will lead to humiliation, ejection from the profession, and being shunned by all my friends and colleagues who will realise just how fucked up I really am and how I’m not special or deserving of praise and how everything would be easier if I just kept myself to myself and lived a quiet life of non-ambition but I can’t because of this desperate narcissistic desire for the love and adulation of a wider community and the need to prove myself, be the best, etc. etc. as some sort of compensation for being the proverbial ‘Ugly Duckling’ when growing up. And so, as more people rely on me and call on me to do things, this feeling grows rather than, as it should rationally do, diminishes. I’m pretty sure this is just something I’ll have to live with while gradually adjusting my self-identity to be the person that people think I am.
'The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for… After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are… LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang’s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal.'
'You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.'
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.
I recently read D. T. Max’s new biography of David Foster Wallace who, in the midpoint of his career, not only wrote about ambition and the cage that success creates but felt himself to be trapped by them. Wallace worried that “to know him too well would be to dislike him. Or at least dislike him as much as he disliked himself. He felt a fake, a victim, as he would later write, of “imposter syndrome.”” David Foster Wallace was a genius – who I’m sure would hate the fact that I idolise him to such a great extent – and his writing, particularly Infinite Jest and the short stories 'Mister Squishy' and 'Good Old Neon' (4), truly captures how I feel better than I can express it myself. I read his biography in an attempt to discover how he lived with his impostor syndrome and his raging ambition even though I knew that ultimately he didn’t and took his own life in 2008.
The best advice he gives is in his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College where he says that “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” Life is meaningless and so you have to learn how to choose to your own meaning as in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism. You have to learn to see the invisible cages that you’ve built around you – ambition, relationships, self-identity, doubt, fear, etc. – and you have to choose to not be in them anymore.
So now I’m in the midpoint. I’ve run so far and so fast to get here that I can’t see where home is anymore. I’ve reached all my destinations. I’ve had the education; I’ve got the good job; I’ve made the friends; I’ve got my independence; I’ve won the award; I’ve proven myself. Now what?
(1) Which discovery involved realising that there are people who care about the same things I care about, that librarianship can combine a love of books and computers, and that there are organisations which will pay me to do things I enjoy. In one of my (digital) notebooks, I have the date jotted down as ‘Either the 8th or the 15th July 2009’.
(2) Second full-time library job. If we include part-time pre-qualification positions, I’m on my fourth (or arguably sixth (2a)) job.
(2a) Long story.
(3) ‘Midpoint’ is a poor choice of words but I have nothing else. I'm well aware that I'm actually very much at the start of my career. I’m 25: if this is the midpoint of my career then it will last until I’m about 50.
(4) Which is about a “young man whose personality is built on the need to impress others. And the more he succeeds in impressing them, the more of a fraud he feels.”