Plateaued Ambition

Eva —  July 6, 2015 — 4 Comments

plateau-in-arizona-desert“I could never be the kind of person that works 50, 60 hours per week. I have a family and a life. Oops, sorry, Eva, I didn’t mean you.”

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?



Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

4 responses to Plateaued Ambition


    We have two new middle management opportunities coming up at my library in the next year. Having been here for 10 years, I can see what that position would bring me– separation from the front line and days filled with meetings. Granted, those meetings could have some exciting I am an ambitious person and am surprised I’m “still just a librarian” 10 years in. It feels like I have more opportunities for professional and personal growth where I am now, lots of opportunities to lead from the middle, etc. It’s hard though, because I definitely feel like I should apply, because career advancement. Thanks for writing this post, I’m always interested in what you have to say about life and libraries!
    -April W


    woops, missed an edit..”Granted, those meetings could have some exciting outcomes…”


      I’ve read that your salary tends to top out at 40; what you are earning at that point is likely to be the most you will earn over the rest of your career, other than small annual increases to keep up with inflation. So maybe my “sprint” to the top made sense in the end?

      Also, do not discount leading from the middle. That is a legitimate move! Especially if the scheduling, evaluation, paperwork, meetings aspects of management don’t appeal. There is a lot to be said for being an excellent manager of projects vs. people.

    Megan Hartline July 8, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Oh, what a great topic. I had a hard time with plateauing ambition right after I became a librarian, because that had been my goal for so long! It was a few years before I came up with a new five year plan (more on that soon).

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