work travel and acting exercises

June 26, 2012

I traveled this past weekend, to the American Library Association’s annual conference. It was in Anaheim, CA, home to Disneyland, which made leaving N and Dot behind seem especially strange, somehow. But leaving them behind was the only way for me to focus on my professional-librarian-at-a-conference persona.

And I did focus on that persona. It felt slightly uncomfortable at first. The networking and glad-handing, the element of self-promotion that colored what meetings I attended, what questions I asked, what connections I made. Not that it was all self-promotion – a lot of it was just connecting with librarians who have worked with things I’m interested in, or that might benefit my workplace. But I’m not used to promoting myself, to asserting myself as an equal to people who’ve been doing really cool things in my field.

It got easier as the first day went on, and it gave me results – new members for the committee I co-chair, new contacts for some projects I’m working on, and more people know who I am. I came back to work more confident than I’ve been in a long time. I feel more collaborative, sharper, ready for the battle of putting my tenure dossier together. I am good at this job. And even though I haven’t always been as actively good as I wanted to be, I can make a good case – a very good and persuasive case – for myself.

But it only got easier after awkward periods where I questioned myself. I think one thing that happened is that I decided who I’d be for the weekend – successful librarian person – and the small decisions I made while I played that part were like exercises, strengthening my confidence and ability to be that person. (I was also very lucky that the people I was doing this with were largely kind and interested – a rejection could have sunk the whole endeavor, I think.)

I’ve been pondering this over the long plane ride home, and thinking of how, every day, my choices make me more who I am, whether I want them to or not. How it has always been this way. Not that I (or you, or anyone) gets to choose who they want to be and that luck plays no part in that. Just that small everyday decisions and actions can strengthen our perceptions of ourselves. One of the big changes I’m seeing this year, almost four years since Teddy’s death, is that I’m starting to see how some of my small, repetitive actions have made me feel like a creeping, timid sort of person. I’m not angry with myself over this. I don’t see how, really, I could have gone through that huge fight for Teddy’s life, followed by the need to stop fighting – for his benefit, not mine – and not be changed, not be fearful. But I don’t want to be a creeping, timid sort of person. I want to be the sort of person who talks people into wanting to join her committee by giving a 30-second spiel about it that makes committee work sound worthwhile and fascinating. I got to be that person for a day and a half, and it was exhausting (I’m not used to this kind of exercise, to taking the kinds of actions that successful professional me would take) but I enjoyed it.

And I think in order to keep that feeling, I have to play some roles for a while – “successful academic librarian,” “successful working mom,” for instance. After a while, maybe they’ll feel more natural and less like roles. Maybe my “successful” muscles will toughen up.

And then, come August, maybe I won’t collapse in a sad and mushy heap.




  1. I don’t think these are small victories. They are true victories.

    Trying to build up my own “succesful” muscles. And yes, before August would be nice.

  2. How is it possible we’re on another downward slope until August? Can hardly believe it.

  3. Thinking of you xoxo

  4. It sounds like you did really well and I agree with Catherine, they don’t seem like small victories. I definitely agree that the “fake it ’til you make it” approach has merit.

    Thinking of you lots as inch towards August.

  5. I remember sudden flashes of “wow, I guess I am cool” at various conferences and workshops in the before. Feeling competent has always been a high for me. But in the after, it’s been a lot more shaky and tentative, and the flashes have been hotter for it, I think. I like small steps too– noticing that at a certain point I stopped needing to look at my notes in class. I guess what I am saying is go you! These are not small things, and I am so very happy the conference went the way it did for you and that it got you thinking about taking these very important steps. Go you! 🙂

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