When in Doubt, Take the Practicum
By Rose Noel, Senior Assistant, INALJ Kentucky
I have been in school since 2009; I am only just tackling my second semester of library school this spring. It would be an understatement to disclose that I’m feeling a little bit of burnout. In that time, I have gone through a pregnancy for baby number two, lost my dad and five in-laws (including my lovely mother-in-law in January), gotten married, purchased my first home, worked my first library gig, had my youngest child diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), learned the proper procedures for filing home and auto insurance claims, and chaperoned my first school field trips. I’ve been busy with the must-dos and can’t-avoids of being a grown-up.
Every time a school break looms on the horizon, I give myself goals (usually the same set); learn Spanish, practice playing the glittering ruby drum set languishing in the garage, workout more, make friends with other moms, study for the Network+ certification test that I have a voucher for, organize the house, and take the kids outside more. All of these goals continue to be completely unmet with varying levels of abject negligence and the accompanying binge watching of Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead that occurs when concern for my studies recedes for a bit. The only thing I faithfully accomplish over school break is leisure reading (probably because I abstain during school).
My leisure reading tends toward nonfiction these days. Self-help books, leadership manuals, and inspiring biographies have blinked across my Kindle and narrowly avoided spills while patiently awaiting return to the library. I have searched through thousands of pages looking to ameliorate the uncertainty I sometimes feel about my future. I found comfort in an unlikely place: the biographies of comedians. Maybe that isn’t unlikely, considering the stereotypical view of comics as privately morose, social outliers (as a socially-awkward introvert myself, perhaps it makes sense). What I’ve learned from funny ladies like Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Amy Poehler is that success is about leaving the self-doubt behind and doing the things that you may initially feel uncomfortable with, because leaving your comfort zone is the only way to expand it.
When I first saw the practicum option during my undergrad, I dismissed it. I had loads of excuses for why it wouldn’t work for me. I didn’t have the time, I don’t like putting myself out there, I didn’t know of any sites to work in, and I didn’t know anyone to ask about it. I recoiled at the thought of it, initially. Over the course of my studies, it occurred to me that my lack of experience was the glaring flaw in my plan to become an information professional. Decision point: I could take yet another traditional course or do something to enhance my experience (which just happened to be zero). I faked up the courage to do it, gave myself a firm push out of my comfort zone, and eventually learned that it actually wasn’t as scary or bad as I thought it would be.
One of the strongest and most influential memories from my practicum came from a conversation I had with the Director of Information and Library Services. I remember sharing my observation of and admiration for a coworker, and how she possessed a social ease with library users that I could never match. The director looked me in the eye, acknowledged my comments, but added “We only need you to be you.” It was such a simple statement of acceptance and confidence that I didn’t really know how to react. It is very similar to the lessons shared in the biographies of the comedians; warts and all, you have value, you can belong, and you can excel if you embrace your strengths without stressing about what you’re not. These lessons were:
Be yourself. What seemingly trite advice! How many eye rolls did teenage me waste ignoring teachers, friends, and dear old mom when they shared this simple truth? If you are constantly measuring yourself against an ideal, then you will always be disappointed. Skip the self-loathing and treat yourself as you treat others; with compassion, empathy, and appreciation for your personal and unique skills.
Accept that you can’t control the perception of others. Perhaps you have an inconvenient mole, a silly laugh, psoriasis, short stature, or even, *ahem*, a giant sternum tattoo. Whatever your stand-out characteristic may be (physical or otherwise), you’ll never be able to control the reactions that it garners in other people. Some people will never be your partner in progress because of their own hang-ups, leave them behind and find the people who can focus on your ability to make positive contributions.
Know when to stop. All endeavors come to an end; you need the ability to recognize the point at which you need to move on or let go. No matter the cause, eventually passion and support will diminish… be prepared to let go of your cause and find another. Budgets may disappoint your plans, but creativity and adaptability will help you to continue worthwhile work, even if it’s not in your preferred area.
Say yes. ‘No’ is easy, it’s safe, and it seems forgivable because a whole host of excuses usually follow it. Stop the auto-pilot “no”. If you want growth personally and professionally, then you need to be open to new (and maybe uncomfortable) experiences. Growth and opportunity live outside our individual comfort zones. You will miss out if you are a default “no”-er.
Fail with style. Trying new things will help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll try things that you ASA (Absolutely-Suck-At: make it an internet/text thing, I’ll be a trendsetter). Try it, learn something, and be more prepared for the next time. Picking yourself up after a failure is more important than patting yourself on the back after a success. Only those who can survive and learn from their missteps will truly appreciate their triumphs.
Conclusion: Take the practicum (especially if it makes you uncomfortable).
Rose Noel is a University of Kentucky graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science. She lives in Independence, KY with her husband and two young children. Rose’s professional interests are primarily in public libraries in the areas of outreach, technical services, digital preservation, and adult & children’s services. Rose is motivated by the positive interactions she has with library users, particularly when transferring technological skills to digital non-natives. She hopes to serve in a library that serves a diverse population, strives to develop web & information literacy skills amongst users, and supports lifelong learning.