Detaching self worth and productivity in library school

As we race towards the end of the year and our semesters come to a crashing close, I am reflecting on my relationship to rest, hard work, and what it means to be a good student. 

Anecdotally, I have noticed that being in library school is like distilling the most earnest and brightest members of past school group projects into one ultra-perfectionist group of high achievers. I am sure this broad generalization does not apply to all of us, and certainly not to me as an eternal procrastinator, though I intend it as a compliment. It’s a great thing to learn from a population of incredibly smart and deeply caring people.

I suspect that we are a group that is more inclined to burnout not because our classes demand it of us, but because we demand it of ourselves. 

How many LIS students do you know who are simultaneously juggling their MLIS degree, full-time work, child-rearing, all while trying to pad a resumé with impressive extracurriculars like board memberships and/or conference contributions?

Feeling unworthy unless I am being productive has been a constant in my life and is likely a side-effect, or a symptom, of imposter syndrome. This flawed but very strong belief has obviously clashed with my need to prioritize actual rest. What helped me begin to move past that mindset was actively trying to separate my self worth from my grades, which is easier said than done! 

The following is some wisdom and strategic ways that I have dialled back my life to be less overwhelming:

One of the first changes I made was to visually colour-code my calendar to show whether I was filling my cup or emptying it, as you can’t pour out of an entirely empty cup. 

My example colour system is roughly as follows: green for restorative and restful activities, red for the energy-sucking kind. I aim to have either equal parts green and red, and ideally more green than anything else because I am of the opinion that we possess free will and should enjoy ourselves! Now, to use a clunky metaphor: in computer science, overclocking is making components go faster than the manufacturer recommends, and by filling my schedule with entirely red I was definitely overclocking my own hardware. Being more aware of this allowed me to change my scheduling to be less punishing and more healing.

Consider is that there are very different kinds of rest and self-care, and that often the kind of self-care that we need is not all bath-bombs and naps. Sometimes it looks like putting on a load of laundry, going for a walk to touch grass, and calling up a friend for an alcohol-free hangout. I used to be depressed for years so this is me telling you to take care of #1 before you take care of anyone else.

Real burnout takes a huge time to heal. Better to cut back now than to go offline entirely at an inopportune time. And at the end of the day, if you’re drowning, do ask for help. I have been pleasantly surprised how much humanity and grace I’ve received during my MLIS from professors and students alike – people tend to be understanding if you communicate effectively and in a timely manner. 

Masters programs often hit us at a time in our life when school is just one more layer of complication in a life already full of them.

We are looking at what comes next in our relationships, moving up in the world through larger investments of our time and energy by seeking meaning outside of our careers or within them by stepping into more professionally demanding and rewarding roles. With all that activity and striving and working it can be very easy to never properly stop for a moment to assess if you’re burning the candles at both ends and are quickly running out of wax. Cut yourself some slack, cut a few corners on your next essay, and remember: grades and academic performance do not represent your worth as a human being.


Lyndsay Wasko is an online MLIS student at the University of Alberta with an undergraduate degree in Communication Design from the Alberta University of the Arts. Outside of school she works as a designer and illustrator at Daughter Creative, where her work has been internationally recognized in Applied Arts and Communication Arts publications. In 2020 she was selected as Calgary Public Library’s Children’s Illustrator in Residence which inspired her to pursue an MLIS degree. In her spare time Lyndsay enjoys long YouTube video essays, D&D, and generally aspires to the life of a Beatrix Potter animal: baking, sewing, gardening, and exploring nature. Learn more about Lyndsay at https://linktr.ee/lyndsaywasko.

FEATURE IMAGE ILLUSTRATION BY LYNDSAY WASKO

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