December 10, 2017

Letting Go While Hanging Around | Backtalk

Maxine BleiweisIt has been a few months since I left the library director position of my dreams and more than 12 since making my intention public. This all adds up to a roller-coaster year of transition.

I was a library director for 40 years; it’s all I knew. I was used to having ideas, throwing them out to a group, seeing them put into action, and developing direction and policy for institutions that had impact on the community. I stayed for more than 15 years each at two institutions, which meant I had hired a majority of the staff and knew every mover and shaker in the area. I was accustomed to having a title and a position in the community.

Cutting loose could have been a lonely time spent looking in the mirror at my “new team.” But it hasn’t been. Here’s what I learned as someone who didn’t relocate upon retirement:

1. Don’t allow what you have already built to fill your time. After six months, I finally deleted the Google alert I had set up on my former institution. I still care very much, but daily alerts to every press release puts me in the position of reflexive proofreading, judging whether I would have done the same things, and longing to be present.

2. Don’t be tempted to go back to say hello or give advice. You’ve handed over the reins to someone else: free that person of your shadow. It’s enough that your past memos and emails and name on annual appeal letters and newsletters are in evidence. Your presence is felt without you actually being there. If it was a good stint of employment, your staff are mourning the loss in various ways. They need time to get over it and allow the next person to fill your role.

3. Figure out how to get your reading needs fulfilled without wandering through your library’s shelves. I grabbed every advanced reader’s copy I could get my hands on and now download books through the library instead. It’s like being a kid who lost the key to the candy shop. You have to make up for it without invading someone else’s space, or you’ll do what I would tend to do—fill in depleted displays, tsk tsk over a displayed book without an attractive cover, reshelve misplaced items, and notice situations that need attention. You’d be right back at work that’s no longer yours.

4. Don’t keep up with anyone without permission. Start out at a distance through Facebook. You’ve been their supervisor, not their colleague. There may be some who want to develop a different relationship, but you should think about what they might report back to their coworkers and how that might translate on the job. If you have a relationship, avoid speaking about work, and don’t offer opinions.

5. Compose a new elevator speech for your new circumstances. I’m consulting in the library field, and at first I sounded apologetic that I’m not in the not-for-profit world; I didn’t want people to think I’m present just to get work. Be proud of what you’ve decided to do so the questioner doesn’t feel the need to sympathize.

6. Learn your best times of day for getting things done. While working in libraries, some of us were forced to comply with early morning schedules or late night meetings whether or not we were operating at our best. I’ve always been a morning person, so I try to have all the “harder to do” things done by 1 p.m., and I make lunch dates at 1 p.m. rather than at noon so I don’t cut into my most productive work time.

7. Make a list of the wishes you’ve had—seeing friends, going places, reading—and put it on your calendar. Treat it as a tactic on a strategic plan. The same work patterns and habits that served you well in the library are effective outside of it.

8. Buy new tools. Create a new work environment and take the best aspects of your former situation with you. I had switched to using a standing desk during my last year at the library. It gave me new energy. The first purchase I made was a stand for my computer so that I could stand while working. I also switched to an Apple platform for all my communications. Learning to use it was refreshing and kept me from settling in too easily.

9. Being untethered brings new opportunities, including spreading the library word when it is not expected. You can observe from an outside vantage point and have a better perspective about why the library isn’t on the minds of people the way you want it to be. You can write letters to the editor without worrying that you are taking sides politically. Being on the “outside” is both refreshing and jarring.

10. Concentrate on yourself. I’m now walking regularly and finally using that gym membership I’d been paying for monthly for years; I feel like a new ­person.

Was all of this easy? Not a chance. I’m fortunate that my consulting work and family took up time and energy and made up for some of the loss I felt. I still look at my email too many times a day and wonder why I’m buying “work” clothes when I have more than enough.

Check back in another year, and I may have conquered the rest of the library director habits.

Maxine Bleiweis, former Executive Director, Westport Library, CT, is now speaking and consulting on library customer service, management, strategic planning, and design thinking for library buildings. We welcome opinion pieces for BackTalk. Please send them to mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com

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Comments

  1. I’ m retiring in June, so I appreciate seeing how others are making the adjustment.