I love my job; more importantly, I love my profession. More than half of the staff I work with love their jobs and their field of work. It is temporary work for some – they plan to move on to another career. The ones who dislike their jobs, but stay in them long-term, are the same kind of people who grumble about their jobs everywhere.
At university, I did an arts degree. I studied theatre, English, philosophy and Russian literature. The usual path after a B.A. was to complete a B.Ed. and go into public school teaching. As a student, I had a lot of experience working with children, as a babysitter, recreation leader and swimming instructor. But I was a quiet person and I didn’t have confidence I could deal with classroom management and parents. Halfway through my theatre major, I knew I didn’t want to spend my career moving from town to town, working on plays, one contract at a time, with no home and no job security.
I thought about my interests – working with children, books and reading – and decided I would become a children’s librarian. I had also done theatrical performances for children and I thought that would carry over into storytelling and puppetry at the public library. I found out that library science was a graduate program for which a bachelor’s degree was a prerequisite, so I could finish my arts degree, and then apply. Perfect! So, I met the qualifications for becoming a librarian at age 23.
After working as a children’s librarian for two years, dealing with children’s behaviour in the library, and managing cranky adults as part of public service, I realized I could have succeeded as a classroom teacher. But by then I was convinced of the mission of public libraries, and I saw a lot of potential in my career path in libraries. I never seriously considered changing professions.
In retrospect, I was enticed to stay in the field by opportunities for promotion. I became a specialist after two years and a manager after three. Directors respected my work and valued my contributions. Without that support, my choices would have been limited. I also found out I was keenly competitive where job advancement was concerned!
Another big realization was that I loved autonomy in the workplace. I could work 40 hours a week as a librarian, carrying out a program of activities determined by managers. Or I could be the manager.
As a manager, I work the same number of hours as a librarian, and have much more control. Of course, I have to take on hiring, training, supervising, and responsibility for results. I welcome the trade-off. I found that supervising staff one-to-one or in small work teams was within my capabilities.
Many years later, staff training and supervision are my favourite activities. Because public libraries have such a “worthy” mission, it is wonderful to be able to encourage it among staff. I find the grumbly ones are those who focus more on their working conditions than on public service, or those with personal circumstances that make work a lower priority in their lives. For my part, this requires attention to workplace conditions, and actually trying to improve the environment. It also calls for lots of personal support and damage control.
What I love about my job:
- The value of the work itself (promoting books, reading, education, technology, etc.)
- The management – which trusts me to plan and carry out my own work
- Autonomy – I mostly determine what I do and how
- Supervising and supporting staff – ensuring everyone has what they need to do their work
- The staff themselves – we are like-minded, and it’s wonderful to discuss books and movies every day!
- Public service – I really like meeting with our customers and helping them out
- Variety – I have lots of different projects and tasks
- Working conditions – a clean, warm indoor work environment with reasonable hours, breaks, vacation time and pay
- A female-centric workplace – in which teamwork, negotiating, compromise and consensus are the norm, and these practices are effective and productive
I meet so many people who either hate their jobs or are somewhat discontented and would rather be doing something else. Among people my age, it is harder to change jobs or careers because of age bias in hiring, or too great an investment in one’s employer retirement plan. I know people my age (early 50s) who spend a lot of time daydreaming about retirement. I expect a lot of them will get fed up with their jobs and take early retirement, choosing their freedom over a higher income in old age.
I also live in an economically depressed area in which many people have high educational levels, can’t find work in their field of study, and refuse to move away. There are a lot of under-employed, bored, and angry adults. But also a culture in which no one is judged by their career or financial success, and there is lots of time to “have a life” outside of work.
I have some questions for you.
- How do you feel about your work and your career? (including working at home)
- What do you love or hate about it?
- How long do you expect to stay in your current job?
- (If applicable) What is the likelihood that things will get better for you?
- (If applicable) What prevents you from making a change?