Tips for Balancing Work + Life and Choosing Professional Commitments Wisely

It started slowly.

When I made this crazy, life-changing decision to become a librarian, I dipped my toe in the waters of professional service by blogging for YALSA’s The Hub. I’ve written 36 posts for The Hub since October of 2012 and I’m still writing for them now. It’s been such a great way to network with other teen librarians and the perfect starting point for involvement in YALSA.

Then I started getting asked to present at conferences and workshops. First it was RT Convention (that conference is nuts!), then a cool fellow Kansan teen librarian asked if I wanted present together at our state library association. Then a regional one. Then ALA. And it was so much fun! I met all kinds of cool librarians!

And, without even really seeking them out, opportunities to be involved in the profession keep coming my way. Mister BS is starting to get grumpy because I’ve always got something going on and I’m cancelling meetings with my writing critique group and have given up my volunteer hours at the DV shelter, two things that are really important to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I love everything I am doing and am excited for every new thing that has come my way. But I’ve been saying yes to everything, and it can’t go on forever. Before things get out of control, I’ve decided I need to take a step back and develop a plan for work + life balance.

But it can be hard, especially early in your career, to decide what opportunities are too good to pass up and what is simply too much. These are the questions I have started asking myself when considering a new professional project.

How passionate am I about the project?

Just last weekend, I was riding in the passenger seat while Mister BS drove us home from his grandma’s house (because obviously we visit grandma for pizza on Valentine’s Day) and so I was scrolling through my twitter feed and happened upon a conversation going on between a couple of librarians about a topic I’m really passionate about and I jumped in and we started kicking around the idea of developing a presentation. It would take time outside of work (perhaps more than the other proposals I’d been kicking around with co-workers) but it is something I personally believe in and that I think will be a unique topic. It did not take me a moment to agree to do it.

Passion is the single most important factor when deciding if I want to write about something or present about something or try to make something happen.

What will I learn from it? What further opportunities may arise as a result of working on the project?

I like a challenge. I don’t want to stay in my comfort zone. For example, when I got asked by my editor at NoveList to write about John Green read-alikes, I was hesitant. Could someone who was not exactly John Green’s #1 fangirl do that topic justice? The answer is yes. I really thought about the appeal factors for his books and made a list of titles—some seemingly obvious, some under the radar—of books for fans of John Green. (And when you Google “books for fans of John Green” it’s the first result. Even though it appears in a library newsletter and not the Huffington Post. I am ridiculously proud of that).

In January, when a call went out for a response to TIME’s top 100 YA novels for The Hub, I took it on. It made me really think about what YA is and who gets to be an expert. Instead of writing a pissed off rant here on my own blog, I pushed myself to write a thoughtful analysis. It was more work, but I’m glad I took it on.

There are lots of other intangible benefits that can result from participating professionally: the goodwill you feel from knowing you contributed or helped someone out and the networking opportunities and even friendships that can result from it (which I talked about earlier this week in this post on asking for help from colleagues). So, I tend to weigh the ability to work with someone new or learn a new skill more highly than just rehashing the same presentation or writing about the same thing over and over.

How much time will it take? What will serve as a trade off for the time that this project takes? 

Ultimately, as a librarian, the most important work is in your community. Actually doing amazing programs and outreach is so much more important to me than writing or presenting about it. My actual job always has to come first. I don’t want my colleagues grumbling that I’m more interested in developing a reputation in the wider library community than in the work I should be doing at my own library. I’ve written before about why I enjoy working at a public library: helping people find access to information and discovering beautiful books.

And you know, even though it doesn’t feel like it, I have a life outside of being a librarian. As Bryce said in this blog post on library-related resolutions, “librarian is what you do, not who you are.”

I am not the most balanced person. It helps to have someone to keep you in check, whether that’s a partner, a friend, or a colleague. Luckily, I have that, but hopefully remembering to ask myself these questions will help me better select professional professional colleagues and make sure that i don’t burn out.

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How do you maintain a work and life balance? What process do you use when selecting professional commitments and projects? 

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CC image by Jackson Boyle
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4 thoughts on “Tips for Balancing Work + Life and Choosing Professional Commitments Wisely

  1. You wouldn’t know from my personal blog that I am a MLS degreed librarian: special libraries for over 2 decades. Last few years have been in electronic records management systems.

    Yes, sure I should be publishing…which I have already elsewhere in the past. Anyway, there IS a life beyond a career. And it is possible personal benefits the professional.

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