I’ve heard some variation of this comment throughout my adult life: When I worked retail and became a Supervisor at 18; when I worked in publishing and became an Editor at 24; when I was hired at age 30 as a manager in a library system; and when I became a library director at 35. I have always been ambitious. I have always been an achiever. I always have a five-year plan.
I get that I am ambitious in ways that some others are not. I’m not an anomaly, and I certainly don’t think I’m special. I understand that everyone’s ambitions are specific to them–homebrewing or cooking or camping or fiber arts or comics conventions. I don’t judge them for what they choose to focus on, and I don’t think they judge me (too much) for focus on my career. People make choices, after all. But to be as focused and ambitious as I am, to work as much as I do, in the public library industry does make me different from most; I think all Library Leaders share this.
When I was interviewed by my library board they asked me where I saw the next stage of my career. I told them that I considered this to be a terminal position; my five-year goal to that point was to be the director of my hometown library, and that had been my focus. Now that I’ve been in my job for a number of years, I find that I’m being asked more and more often what my next position will be. The thinking is that I’ve led the library through a recession, we’ve won a national award, the library has a solid foundation of policy and governance and finances, so of course I must be looking for The Next Thing.
A former coworker, a very bright and talented and accomplished person, taught me about “plateauing.” She had achieved all she planned to in her career and made the conscious decision to plateau–to enjoy her current position and the challenges it offered, and to shift the ratio of work and family in her life. “I don’t want to do <that thing>. I’ve plateaued,” she’d say, leaving whatever the “cool thing” was to one of her more ambitious colleagues. Not that she is afraid of change, or has become an old fuddy-duddy, or retired-in-place; she continues to work hard, work smart, and dazzle in her job. She simply shifted her priorities a bit.
She’s my current touchstone. I’m working on plateauing my ambition, of savoring the place where I am now, rather than looking over at the neighbor’s yard and comparing grass. I’m struggling, I have to admit; I’m working on delegating more, letting people’s ideas percolate up to me rather than dictating them down. But I’m working on it, and working through it. Fundamentally, I am an ambitious person, so it will be interesting how this all plays out for me, if this is a permanent state or if I’m just taking a breather.
For the first time in my adult life, I have no five-year plan. My goal is to do my best to make this the finest public library possible, period. There is no Next Thing.
I know we have readers in various stages of their lives and careers–what do you think?