Some of you may remember my decision to tackle my weaknesses head-on during the Spring 2015 semester. My database and cataloging skills were weak to non-existent, so I signed up for a database design class and a cataloging internship as a sink or swim method of improving. Fortunately my plan paid off; I finished with good grades and markedly improved my skills in both areas. But what if the gamble hadn’t worked?
I ask because I carried that same mentality on to my compressed, 12 week summer semester. One of my courses is required, but for my final three credits I signed up for a challenging, non-required class that’s really pushing my limits. It seemed like a great idea on registration day, but in reality it caused a tearful, panic-stricken fit at 10:30 PM in the middle of week 7
Things have gotten much better since that night. Some honest e-mails with the instructor addressed my worst worries and cleared up a lot of my biggest confusions, and my very supportive husband has shouldered basically all of our domestic tasks. But it’s not been a walk in the park. I pulled a similar move last summer, taking on a work-heavy elective to gain skills that turned out to be decently covered in other courses that I’m required to take. Know what else I did last summer? Wrapped up some big projects at work, moved house, got married, and went to Canada for two weeks. If ever there was a time for a slightly less demanding courseload that would have been it.
I took these classes because I felt like I’d be a bad library student if I didn’t push myself almost to the breaking point whenever possible. “Find the hardest class and take it” has been my motto for each and every elective, and until now it’s served me really well on the GPA side of things, if not in quality of life. But in my final semester I’m starting to realize that this might not always have been the best solution. All of the courses my program offers are worthwhile, and I’d still be a good library student if I’d picked a summer schedule that was slightly better suited to my strengths. I’d certainly be less stressed.
The theme here is bad timing. Challenging yourself is awesome, and you should do it often enough that you grow steadily both as a library student and as a person. But there is serious value in recognizing the other commitments in your life and knowing your own limits. This doesn’t mean don’t challenge yourself. It means consider when challenge will be helpful. This is a Master’s program, so sometimes being overwhelmed just can’t be avoided. But that’s where you learn to pare back where you can and take the help that’s offered.
To use myself as an example, the challenging class was not a bad idea in itself. The skills I’m gaining are real, measurable, and could be applied in a later job. But I probably should not have taken it during the summer semester, when 16 weeks of work are compressed into 12 and the rest of life is super busy. I’m decent at the subject but I’m not a whiz, so taking the course now might have been asking for trouble. Last summer’s course was also not a great choice, and had I paid more attention to my program requirements I probably would have realized that the most important of the skills it gave me would be gained elsewhere. Last summer I ground it out on my own, and while I earned a good grade I didn’t have a great time of it. This summer is going better largely because I finally asked for help, but there’s been some unnecessary misery here too.
So the next time you feel like taking on a big challenge, ask yourself a few things. Is this the right format for you to learn this skill? Do you have the time and mental bandwidth to devote to this? Is this something you can only learn now, or will it be available at other times? Do you have any interest in a career that will require these skills? If all the answers are no and you still want or have to do it, go forth and conquer. You can do it. But please know that you might not have to, and that’s okay.