Protecting You from Yourself: Asking for Help is Not Failing

This post is especially for those librarians who are still newish to their jobs. I mean, it can be for other people, but I think newer people fall into these traps more easily or at least they do in my experience.

Tell me if this scenario is familiar. You’re still one of the new people around and you’re determined to prove yourself (even though people outside of your organization and inside have told you how great you’ve done). I mean, you’re an A student. You can take on more. So, your boss gives you a project to work on and you work on it tirelessly and you also work on this other project you get asked to do because now Another Important Person asked for your help because you have great skills. Then, there’s all of your regular work. Pretty soon you’re juggling a long list of projects and you’re a little maxed out.

You have your regular meeting with your boss. Your boss says, “How are things?” Do you say:

  1. Oh, fine.
  2. Well, it appears I’ve become really busy and I need some help prioritizing.

Pretty sure if you’re still reading this that you, like me, probably go with 1.

Do not do that. 

I’ve worked in quite a few libraries now and I can say with some authority that no one is probably ever going to tell you that you’re doing too much work. But, people are probably going to ask how things are going and maybe even ask if you need anything.

And let’s be honest, we live in a culture of work, work, work, work harder.

I’ve come to feel that one of the most important things I do as a director is help protect my Shiny New Librarians from themselves. What I mean by that is while I consider myself head cheerleader most of the time (You totally got this!), I also think I’m the one who is supposed to say YOU REMIND ME OF ME and let’s talk about these things and what we can do to make you feel more balanced.

I wrote about Asking For Help last week. It’s hard to do. I often fail at this royally. But, this is even one step further. It’s about protecting your sanity and not burning yourself out. I mean, if you have the energy and the time, do all that you can do. Be you. But, when it starts to feel like the wheels are coming off, ask for help. Ask for perspective. Ask for opinions.

None of those things mean you are failing. In fact, as a director, I see those things as signs of success and markers of a future leader.

Hey, I’m the first person around here to set lofty goals and want the bar to be high. But, it’s my job to also be the first person to make sure no one is burning themselves out.

This is just a library. It’s not heart surgery. This work will all be here when we get to it.

So, take a minute and assess your workload and your projects. Are any of them emergencies? Ask your boss for a meeting and ask for help prioritizing the work if you need to. Whatever you do, Shiny New Librarians, do not try and be the hero and overdo it because we need you. We need you to do all of the cool great things you’re doing now, but we also need you to make it into management without being burned out and angry. We need you to run the next generation of libraries and protect the new people from themselves.

PS. A million years ago when I was a Shiny New Librarian, @lisalibrarian told me to ask my boss to help prioritize my work and while I didn’t do it quite the way she said to (surprise!), it did change my life.

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