A lifetime ago, in US Army Basic Training, there was a private in my platoon who took it upon himself at the completion of every long march, equipment inspection, or collective dressing down by a drill sergeant to exclaim, with a tone of comically exaggerated enthusiasm, “We’re gonna be SOOOOL-DIERS!” It was hyped up for a laugh, but it wasn’t sarcastic in the least, and in those moments you could watch something switch on behind people’s tired, frustrated, resentful faces—a memory of why they had come and of what they still hoped to achieve. I don’t know if that young private ever realized how much he did for the morale of the platoon, but more than a few young men probably graduated because of him.
Library School is not Basic Training. There are no push-ups or sit-ups (though I could probably use a few). There are no 18-mile marches until 4 am. Professors do not instantaneously close distance with you and scream until your face is flecked with their saliva, telling you that you are a disgrace to your chosen profession and that you will get all your colleagues sent home in body bags. (Or at least mine don’t; maybe you should start turning your assignments in on time.)
That doesn’t mean it isn’t demoralizing, though. I’ve written 18-page papers until 4 a.m., to be sure, and gotten my fair share of conference proposal rejections. I’ve calculated the lost pay from the hours I spend on schoolwork, and I’ve not dared to calculate the interest on the loans for it. I’ve pulled overtime just to rack up experience for jobs that people whisper in my ears will not exist by the time the ink is dry on my diploma. We all have, and we’ve all had those tired, hungry moments of asking ourselves why on earth we thought we could do this.
But my new platoon-mate is a four-year-old boy who thinks his papa can do anything, and who randomly stops conversations with friends at parties or strangers at grocery stores to interject the entirely left-field fact that, “When my papa is done with school, he’s going to be…”—and here he actually pauses for effect, as his fingers clench and his hands vibrate with anticipation in front of him—”a LIBRARIAN!”, with an intonation that strongly implies this is a superpower. That’s when I can feel in my heart what I once saw on those young men’s faces—the memory of why I came, and of what I still hope to (indeed, have to) achieve.
We don’t all have a four-year-old, but all of us do have a platoon, albeit a little different for each us, made up of some family, some friends, and sometimes even just each other down deep in the iSchool trenches. And at any given time, in every one of those platoons, there is someone who can carry your excitement for you when the hard scrabble over the climbing wall or through the internship has forced you to set it down.
Mark these people well and be grateful for them. That might sound easy and, much of the time, it is, but there are moments when we stumble and our limbs are too weak to take up again the excitement they try to hand back to us, and in these moments some uncharitable part of ourselves can not only forget to thank them, but can actually resent them. There are times when it feels like they are hurting you by hoisting up your lost excitement and letting it blaze, because your eyes have grown too accustomed to the dim of the tunnel and now long for rest.
No matter how it burns, do not send them away. Your eyes will adjust, I promise, and it is the only way to prepare them for the sun, and for the glare of all that brass you’re going to have pinned on.