At this stage of my career, I wish I could go back and share all the lessons I’ve learned with younger me, especially what I’ve learned about imposter syndrome (which is something I struggle with) and how to deal with my depression. If I could go back, I’d talk about how I was good at what I did and that I needed to get out of my own head.
My first job was as a library page when I was 16 years old and I’ve pretty much continuously worked in libraries since.To my surprise, I got accepted to every graduate program I applied to. When I graduated from school, I felt completely lost. It seemed like everyone else had their life together. All of my graduate school friends were happily paired up romantically and had an idea of what their futures would be. I applied to work at colleges all over the country and felt utterly tetherless. I felt I wasn’t competitive enough to get a job. I would wake up in a cold sweat about how I was going to pay back my loans. I felt like I was a B person in a field where you needed to be an A + person to stand out. All through graduate school I had thought it was some kind of fluke that I got in. Now I was in a competitive job market where I felt I wasn’t good enough to get my foot in the door. When I was in high school and I wanted to be an actress, I had this fear of being constantly told that my nose was too big and I couldn’t do it. This felt the same, only I wasn’t smart enough and I was begging for menial jobs. It was like the world shrugged and said, “you tried. Here’s what you get. You peaked here and the rest is disappointment.”
I fell into a depression so deep my parents paid for me to ship my clothes to their house and told me to give my furniture away rather than stay for an extra two weeks and wait for them to pick me up when my lease expired. The original plan was to get a small apartment in my college town, work at a non-professional job, and then slowly apply for a professional position. My depression was too great and I was barely functioning. When I moved back home to Ohio, I found out that my license had been expired so long I had to take my driver’s test again. Nevertheless, during those six months I applied to about 80 jobs. I made a list and then would highlight it either red, yellow (for interview), and green if I ever got offered the position. I did a few phone interviews. I was told, “I was going to get hired soon but this wasn’t the right job for me.” I felt desolate. I called it being “funemployed.” I wish I could say I had this unshakeable sense of self, but I didn’t. I just narrowed my focus for applying for jobs. I realized that I wanted to stay in Ohio because my family was there and I had a network of friends nearby. I kept on adding to my spreadsheet and learned about new technology to add to my resume. I cooked all the time. I figured if my parents were letting me stay there, the least I could do was cook for them. Once I passed my driver’s test as a 26 year old, I went on road trips all over. I made sure to see the people I wanted to see. I read all of the “Game of Thrones” books. I got really close to both of my parents. I kind of re-centered myself.
Even though it was such a time of uncertainty, I can actually look back on it fondly. I learned that if you like an organization, it doesn’t hurt to get your foot in the door. You have no idea where your life will take you and the best thing you can do is not compromise what you truly want. Sometimes what you really need won’t look like your vision board. Librarianship is a really big tent. You can dive deep into a really specific collection. You can hang out and catalog to your detailed heart’s delight. If you have the stamina to make it through graduate school and work hard, you can be a successful librarian.
I love having a job where I can think creatively and I learn something everyday. (Yes, I did eventually get a job.) When I graduated and was scared that I had made a terrible mistake. I didn’t realize that some things are worth more than a ton of money. Get paid what you are worth, but make sure you are happy in your job. Has my depression snuck up on me? Of course. But now I know how to brace for it. I wish I had learned more about handling mental health when I was growing up because depression and anxiety is made to seem like a weakness. In reality, it’s a way of viewing the world and it has made me a more intuitive and empathetic person. These are good skills to have as a librarian. This is not to say my anxiety and depression is a cakewalk but I have to see them as part of myself and not something to be ashamed of. This was the time I really learned the meaning of Anais Nin saying, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Blossoming and accepting that my life was changing was not an easy process but I did it and it made me a better person. I hope this helps someone who is struggling. I’m a big fan of being truthful and open. Please know that sometimes when things seem really bleak, you need to remember that you’ve got a drive in you and you are going to be in a career that is fabulous and important. Oh and the imposter thing? As someone who has now been on job search committees- if you are chosen it is not a mistake. You are worthy of earning what you worked for. If you got into graduate school, that was not a mistake. You worked for it and got in. This seems really simple but when you are depressed you are lying to yourself. We need more thoughtful and reflective people in this world. Welcome to a profession that celebrates that.
Alison Gehred is a reference librarian at the Grant Morrow III Library at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She blogs at Radiance Reflected and Columbus Moms Blog. She is also on Instagram @radiancereflected where she shares pictures of her cats and various food she has made. She graduated from Bowling Green State University for undergrad and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her MLS.