“I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will.” — Sylvia Plath
While indulging in dessert at Snow Meets Coffee, Kristina Williams, Hack Library School’s lovely and fabulous Managing Editor posed a question to me: What is your dream library job? The scene was set…ice cream and dreams…swoon!
I have posed this question to myself in so many contexts including careers, relationships, clothes, vacations, etc. The ultimate metadream…to dream about our dreams. And, in my typical scatterbrained thought process…my mind wandered theorizing about Kristina’s question and the idea of dreams. I did provide an answer to her: I would love to do reference and instruction in an academic library and focus upon critical librarianship and social justice issues. And this is true. This is what I dream of…right now.
Librarianship will be my third career. I graduated from Northwestern University and battled the stereotype of becoming a South Asian doctor (I had no desire to be one)….and then I battled the idea that I should be an investment banker or management consultant (these were the main companies recruiting on campus). I did end up working in consulting briefly. However, as an undergraduate, while I could “do anything”, the pressure to produce from such a well-known school, the pressure to make my immigrant parents who sacrificed the world for their kids, the pressure to achieve academically, and the implicit competition between other South Asians and myself was stifling. I didn’t want to admit it, but my dreams were constrained (I guess that’s why they are dreams?). They were shaped by academia, cultural expectations, and dreams of Pottery Barn furniture (aka capitalism). And it didn’t start here. While growing up, the only librarians I knew were white ones at the public library and my school library. There aren’t too many South Asian, or even Asian American librarians, in the U.S., and there is a reason for that. From my experience, I didn’t even know they existed, or that it was a career. I was surrounded by doctors, engineers, and businessmen. On top of it all, not many of my South Asian friends’ moms had careers outside the home that were very compelling to me. So as a South Asian woman, it was difficult to navigate my dreams.
Kristina’s question made me think of how my dreams have been shaped. I always struggled with choosing a career (did I mention I’m on my 3rd?), and a lot of this has to do with the pressure I described. After I dabbled in consulting and recruiting, I got my Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. This was shaped by my love of neuroscience and language. However, my decision to become a speech therapist was also shaped by my upcoming nuptials, job flexibility, and “desire” to have kids (I was supposed to, right?). Yes, I am getting personal here, but dreams are personal. This question really made me wonder how much my dreams were a product of my personal passions or of wanting to escape my current realities. How are my dreams shaped by expectations of me or expectations of my future? How do dreams change? Do dreams assume that there is a stopping point? How are they different from goals? How are they different from passion?
I have always struggled with this question, not because I think we can’t have dreams (I think we have them whether we want them or not), but I do wonder how dreams can stifle our process. I am genuinely frightened by the idea of not exploring a possibility because I am focused on another. Even though I would love to know and control my fate, I also revel in not knowing. What can happen in between achieving what (I think) I want and possibly never knowing about possibilities that might be better suited for me? Because…my marriage ended. Because I realized I never really wanted kids. I realized I didn’t really enjoy speech therapy. Because things change…and here I am now. I don’t regret any of it. And I know we can’t do it all (actually, this is one of the biggest life lessons I have learned thus far), but this is why dreams kind of scare me.
Nevertheless, in the background “follow your dreams” has subconsciously guided me along the way. This may have been vis-à-vis fancy car advertisements, through guiltily feeling that I must pay my parents back somehow for all they have done, from TED talks, from Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, and other similar motivational resources. I am an overthinker, but I think it is very important to better understand what is influencing what we strive for. Because I do think we should do what we love if we have the privilege to do so. I do think we should help others that are unable to because of systemic injustices. But I also think that trusting in the present process can be more valuable than living for the future.
So…on to the practical part. How do we do this in library school? Well, I am a firm believer that it’s valuable to say yes with good intentions. I think this is a great first step to prevent being tunnel-visioned. I will also echo my own advice to be lazy and our former Managing Editor’s advice to call yourself out if you feel like an imposter. And as much as I think it is important to think about how to apply future interests to current classes and/or work, I also think we should be process-oriented and reflective:
- Find a therapist to talk about how you have gotten to where you are. Hopefully your school offers these resources at a reasonable rate!
- Read that article that you are not as interested in to learn something new and outside of your comfort zone.
- If you want to work in academic libraries, visit public or school libraries (or vice versa).
- If you want to work with adults, have coffee with a library friend interested in kids (or vice versa).
- If you love behind-the-scenes work, shadow someone on the front lines (or vice versa).
- If you’re tech averse, take a technically focused MOOC or chat with a technical services friend about their work.
- Do something that has nothing to do with libraries!
What are your thoughts on dreams?
Nisha is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Find out more about her at www.nishamody.info.