On Overcommitting

do all the things

Allie Brosh / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0



It’s the final stretch of my third semester of library school, and I. Am. Exhausted. Between taking on several special projects at work, serving as an officer of one of my school’s student organizations, crafting non-required presentation proposals and letters of recommendation, keeping abreast of current events, scoping out jobs to apply to next semester, trying to stay informed of what’s going on out there in real-life libraryland, writing more papers than the last two semesters combined (who said library school was supposed to be easy, again??), attempting to have a social life, and now contributing to Hack Library School, it feels like I’ve been living in a haze of just fighting to get on to the next thing for the past four months. Maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed too.

As librarians-to-be, I think our tendency is to try to take on as much as we can until we reach critical capacity. We justify this by reasoning that to say yes is to help someone else out, or at the very least add something great to our resume, but saying yes isn’t always what’s best for you or the interested party. After some recent procrastination-fueled soul-searching, I’ve come up with some things we can all keep in mind for the next time some potentially awesome opportunity comes our way. So unless you’ve reached librarian enlightenment on this one (in which case go get yourself a trophy and please tell me all of your secrets), feel free to keep reading.

Comparison is the thief of joy (or don’t try to be superhuman if you aren’t one)

I have a lot of really impressive peers in my cohort. They’re in the midst of getting dual master’s degrees, or contributing to exciting, world-changing projects, or working 30 hours a week and managing to lead a student organization, work out regularly, and still somehow produce insightful comments in class. I see the accomplishments of my peers and all too often start panicking that I’m not doing enough to contribute to our profession or stand out above the rest, so I tire myself out taking on more responsibilities. But presumably the amount of work done by my peers works for them. Something that works for me is getting eight hours of sleep a night, but I won’t be able to do that if I try to push myself to do absolutely everything everyone else is doing. It’s great to take inspiration from others’ achievements, but aspiring to be them will only make you stressed out. I promise you that no one is doing everything. Choose the workload that poses a sufficient but healthy challenge to you, and be satisfied that what you are doing is enough.

Do what makes you happiest (or don’t you dare say yes to something just because it’ll look good on your CV)

Going along with that, make sure the workload you choose is made up of tasks and responsibilities you find personally fulfilling. Working on a project compiling text mining data may set your resume apart from other students’, but if your personal and career goals lie in taking on a public-facing role, you won’t be happy working behind the scenes no matter how great it looks on your resume. Prioritize your “yes”es. Others can tell when you’re just going through the motions, and it’s unfair to yourself and the people you’re working with to take on a duty you don’t feel truly engaged in. No matter how much time or effort you spend on it, you probably won’t do as great of a job as someone who feels passionate about the work.

Take “me” time

Finally, keep the work-life balance in mind. I strongly believe that in order to be your best self and do your best work, you have to set aside time to unwind. And keep yourself from imagining what productive, amazing things your peers are accomplishing when you do so (they’re probably watching Netflix just like you). If committing to yet another responsibility will get in the way of your ability to engage in self-care every once in a while, it’s not worth it.

Stepping back and realizing when to say no is a life skill worth learning. I know it’s hard in a tight-knit profession where everyone seems to achieve something amazing every week, but you’ll be in a much happier position once you realize the power of saying no when a “no” is needed.

What tips do you have for over-committers? What do you do when you feel like you’ve taken on more than you can handle? How do you reach librarian enlightenment, anyway?  

7 replies

  1. This is great advice Liz! What you said about comparing yourself to others is definitely applicable to my life. Great post!


  2. I am a fearless overcommitter, and it’s started catching up with me. Eventually the quality of your work starts suffering due to the quantity that must be completed. And then I go kayaking or hiking to rejuvenate myself. So, great advice!


  3. I totally feel Liz and everyone on this one. I think, too, it makes your time in school fly by and might keep people from really enjoying their experience. On the flip side, I feel like I learned how to be a better professional and consider other people’s time because of how absolutely everyone is juggling multiple things. Great post 🙂


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