FACING / FEAR / FIRST23 Sep 2016
Note well: I wrote this over a year ago and forgot to post it. Here it is, right in time for it to not be near graduation-time whatsoever. But also here it is, a preparing-you-for-your-job-hunt pep talk on the internet for whenever you need it.
This is a much-fuller version of professional talk that I didn’t give in anticipation of the slightly nauseated-anticipation-feeling I know is felt deep within people exiting their final semester and entering the world again.
Some guidelines for prospering. 🖖
1 Pretend to be Beyonce!
This is also known as “fake it ’til you make it.” Confidence is important to have, though. Not arrogance — but a clear understanding that you are a smart and capable person. Know yourself (and know your limits). It’s hard to see how far you’ve come when you are still in the middle of it.
2 Trust your mentors!
Part 2 – in case the first part is too hard right now because you are wallowing in job application rejection emails (or, even worse, the silence).
First, mentorship is incredibly important. I am forever grateful to Dave Rice, Heather Heckman, Mark Cooper, and my Flatiron School peers for pushing me forward and helping me get where I want to be. I couldn’t have done it without them. But getting a good mentor is primarily luck-based. You happen to be working with or meet a kind and good person that sees potential in you that you don’t yet see for yourself. You can push your luck a little bit though, so I want to talk about what you can do to help facilitate these kinds of relationships and the things I encourage my own mentees to do.
2.5 Just say yes!
If you have a good mentor and you also work with them, they are your boss or whatever, and they want you to do something but you are scared and unsure that you even know what they are talking about, that you are even capable of understanding what they are talking about — just say yes. Just say yes. I mean, if they are your boss but they are also a jerk, don’t say yes, but I am talking about people you love and respect. Just say yes. This usually goes unstated but it was told to me once and you can repeat it in your head until it sticks: If your boss asks you to do something and you totally mess it up and can’t do it and everything is terrible — it’s not YOUR fault. It’s THEIR fault. It’s on them. They are your manager and its their responsibility to ensure you perform optimally. That’s why they are there, not to make you suffer and laugh at you when you Hypothetically or Maybe Literally Ruin Everything. So if they are giving you an opportunity to do something, it’s because they have faith in you and know you can succeed in doing it. I cannot stress this enough. And you really need to have the same confidence in yourself. We frequently don’t. Rise to the occasion. That’s the only way you get better.
3 Keep learning!
Don’t stop! I spend a lot of time feeling like an idiot, but feeling like an idiot is how you know you are learning.
Here is my guide/hierarchy of learning when you are on your own:
I wanna learn this. Good, that’s some good motivation there, it’s good you want to learn something and are excited about something. But sometimes just wanting to do something isn’t enough. Especially when there are SO many cute cats on the internet.
I thought of a project and I’m gonna learn this. This helps me a lot, it helps that I can find a concrete project and fulfill it and I will feel like I have definitely learned That Thing.
I told someone about this project so now I have to learn this (y’know then it’s a little embarrassing when someone asks you and you are like “oh yeah it’s going, um, I spent 17 hours on Facebook this week). Embarrassment.
I am doing this project for someone so I have to learn this. Now someone else is involved to really hold you accountable, because it’s a thing that they want. Your friend, your mom, a colleague, whatever. You have something to deliver to them and that really helps motivation. Guilt.
I am getting paid to do this so I have to do this. Especially if they give you deadlines. Deadlines are so great. Me giving away this secret is a little embarrassing especially if anyone who has ever paid me to do anything is currently reading this and I know that they are ugh agh ack– but in the end it doesn’t really matter because I’ve always been able to deliver the results they are looking for, right? How I got so brash, I don’t know. But, yeah: Have faith in yourself, quit saying no out of fear, learn a lot.
We can transcend all of this and move into Top Level Learning: LEARN WITH OTHER PEOPLE. If you are in a group of people learning one thing and you are the asshole dragging behind or not showing up, you are not gonna feel great and that feeling (wanting to avoid that feeling) will motivate you to move forward.
Caveat: There are good reasons to say “no” to something. Most of these reasons have to do with time/effort/energy. If you’re already busy, don’t agree to things that are going to take up too much time for you to tackle successfully.
Caveat 2: The thing about agreeing to do something you don’t really know how to do is that you might spend 4 hours figuring out what the hell you are doing and then 4 hours actually doing the thing. So keep that in mind when you are budgeting your time. Working all the time isn’t fun and it’ll make you sad. So know what your thresholds are and expect to work double-hard at something if you are learning first, because it means you have to invest in yourself first. But in the end it’s totally worth it because you are investing that time in yourself, and when the project is done, you’ll be much better the next time.
I spend a lot of my time like 🙀 cat-screaming-in-fear-emoji 🙀, but it’s because I’m constantly pushing myself to learn, and learning is actually hard and scary and it hurts a lot. I encourage you to embrace the cat screaming in fear part of yourself and not be afraid to say yes to opportunities, because that’s the best way to become a better version of yourself.
4 Collaboration not competition!
Seriously so tired of this bullshit that I don’t even want to go into it. Just don’t fucking do it, just be fucking nice. There is nothing more boring than people who are still worried about other people. What a waste of time. It will bring you down. Cling to your peers because you are all in this together, now and far into the future. Especially if you are part of a cohort, it can be hard to deal with other people getting jobs before you get a job: your self-esteem drops and you worry about getting left behind. But be happy when they get jobs and know that yours is coming next.
5 Don’t give up!
This is an undervalued, underpaid field and there are more people that want to be in it than are in it. The job hunt takes time. You probably won’t land your dream job right away. You might have to take two part-time jobs. You might have to take a job that isn’t in the field. If you are in-field, you’ll probably be an underfunded, grant-funded employee. Stick with it and you’ll get there. I’m not saying “everything is going to be okay.” I’m saying “you have to keep working your ass off if you want to get what you want.”
I applied for at least 60 jobs when I graduated with an MLIS and heard nothing and spent a lot of time feeling so sad. You should pretend to be Beyonce during this nightmare moment but know that in order to truly become Queen Bae, you have to work your ass off for years and years. But remember Queen Bae’s words of wisdom: “You can do everything right and still lose.” Just get up and try again. Be scrappy, fight hard (but not with your peers).
Bonus 1. Stop acting like a student.
Take this as a polite nudging. The sooner you quit acting like a student, the better. I mean, okay, you are a student, but you don’t need to introduce yourself with these “Well, I am only a student…” vibes. Soon you won’t be a student. You’ll just be you. Wait, who are you again? Oh, that’s right, you are Beyonce.
Bonus 2: Write code (maybe)
If you are still getting super nervous, learn how to write some code and jobs slowly but surely start falling out of the sky. Also don’t be upset if writing code just isn’t something you are into, because that’s fine. But at least consider learning as much as you can about some technical concepts. All archivists are digital archivists. If you truly want to live in the dark ages, take a sword-fighting class before you graduate because you will have to murder a tenured academic librarian to claim your spot in the illuminated manuscripts Illuminati. For the rest of us, y’know, there’s database structures and data transformation scripts.