Grieving an Identity

Image of a stenciled girl in black letting go of a red heart balloonPhoto by Karim Manjra on Unsplash

After three years at the University of California Merced, I returned to Merced College in August, though to the main campus in Merced instead of Los Baños. It has not been an easy transition. My work / life balance is much better (I get winter, spring, and summer break again), but the problem is that I don’t what to do with myself. When folks ask me what I’m up to, I, frankly, don’t have much to say because, for so long, work has been my identity. In trying to make peace between the life I thought I wanted and this new trajectory, I haven’t been the easiest person to be around. Managing my anxiety and depression has been difficult. I am grieving.

I had imagined a life where I would be working on research and writing articles and book chapters, maybe even co-editing a book or two.  Even though research wasn’t necessarily required at UC, I knew I would be part of a network of librarians engaged in this kind of work. When I was a solo community college librarian, I got involved in ACRL committee work, and it exposed me to folks doing great things in the profession. I felt less isolated. Slow but sure, my confidence grew. I continued this work at UC Merced. I finally got the courage to submit lightning talk proposals, and I actually presented at a few conferences, even though I didn’t feel like what I was sharing was groundbreaking. I even wrote a couple of short trade pieces.

In early 2018, as I was preparing for a two year review (for 18-months of work), I felt, strangely, unaccomplished. I was doing things but not THE THINGS. I was constantly busying myself and worrying about my review. Honestly, coming across Abby Flanigan’s blog post, “Vocational Awe and Professional Identity,” which was about Fobazi Ettarh’s article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” made me realize that I had turned my job into a lifestyle. I had pushed myself, and I got the standard merit increase, which is the norm at UC, but when I learned that a colleague who wrote a book also got a standard review, I knew I couldn’t continue this pace. Ultimately, I had to ask myself whether this professional activity was actually that important.

But I am sad. I was able to grow as a teacher at UC Merced, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and from various professional development opportunities. I enjoyed our instructional brown bag sessions and various projects. I’m a better librarian because of my time there.

I know this change doesn’t mean that I can’t do some of those things I had previously imagined, but I also know that I want a life that isn’t consumed by the next best thing in academic librarianship. Though I will probably always be a bit of a workaholic, I want to lead a healthier life.

I’m currently on winter break, so I’ll be taking time to figure some things out.