career development

Building a career path….with Lego

Courtesy of Phillie Casablanca (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic) -
Courtesy of Phillie Casablanca (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Okay, not quite. But using Lego as some kind of analogy will help me to explain one of the biggest challenges I’ve come across as I’ve progressed through my library and information science Masters course. I remember, back in the days of starting out, thinking I had a fairly good idea of my career path. I thought I knew the kinds of building blocks I needed to: –
1. develop my knowledge, and
2. ensure I made an informed decision and/or confirm aspirations for my career path.

Little did I know I was actually thinking of big building blocks, like Duplo. I thought I could put a few Duplo together (areas of professional knowledge) and construct the necessary knowledge and experience together to establish a career.

My career construction now seems a whole lot harder. It’s intricate. It’s like playing with Lego and working out how all the pieces will fit together to build the kind of career I see for myself. I have no doubt some, not all, LIS students and new information professionals will also feel this way at one point or another early on in their career. Here’s why.

Perhaps like me, you’ve entered the LIS course thinking you’ve got it figured out. Why else would you have chosen to do the course unless you had a fairly good idea where you’d like to end up? That’s not to say I wasn’t open to other possibilities but I’m a person who doesn’t make these kinds of decisions lightly, and so I like to have solid justification for investing my time. Maybe you thought, ‘I’m going to work in academic libraries. I want to be a Liaison Librarian’. Sure, okay.

Then this happens…..all this cool stuff comes along. The difficult thing is, there’s so much cool stuff in this profession, so many avenues, so much to learn about. More than once I have felt like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of wonders and the possibilities are endless! Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for the exposure my lecturers and others in my network have provided me throughout the course. It hit me the first time, probably a couple of years ago. Oh jolly crap. Crappity-crap…..crap.

All that reading you do during the LIS course and beyond, following everything and anything that catches your eye? How on Earth can you process it all, put the pieces together, when you’re pulled in all directions and exposed to a treasure trove of knowledge?!

Suddenly Duplo isn’t what you’re playing with anymore. Bits and pieces of information have become little pieces of Lego. All those articles, blog posts, reports, etc are small increments of information, which make sense on their own, but putting it all together to develop a working knowledge of an area takes time. The LIS course can only fit in so much. To become proficient in an area of professional interest or area relevant to a career direction worthy of exploring, takes much longer than any one subject. It takes more than a simple prescription of readings and assignments. There’s no way a career, a Lego structure, can come together all at once. The structure, the career you (and I) want, will need to be broken down into smaller bits, and themselves needing constructing with smaller pieces of Lego.

I’ve come up with a few suggestions, more like ideas as I don’t know if they work, but nonetheless I’d like to share to those who may be experiencing something similar. I write these tonight as ideas for both myself and anyone else needing them. I also need to write these out to convince myself that all is, and will be, okay. I’ll try these suggestions as well. I’m not just preaching here.

1. Relax, be patient.

Patience is not my forte. I can be patient with many things, but not with acquiring knowledge. I can’t process and build my knowledge fast enough. Relax. Yes, I need to do that. Chill. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

2. Talk to people, get a mentor.

You’re not alone. I strongly suggest participating in professional development and networking events, and getting involved with your chosen professional association or event committees. Being a NewGrads coordinator has assisted with my developing a network of peers and getting in touch with experience professionals. Participating in conversation on Twitter has eased the ‘isolation factor’ and has enabled me to establish a professional voice. I signed up for a peer mentoring scheme in my first year of the course, and to this day, I still catch up with her now and then. My mentor has been fabulous for guidance and bouncing ideas around, I honestly cannot thank her enough.

3. Target your reading and exploration or define little research projects.

I have a long list of areas of interest. In my experience, it’s all become jumbled up and I’ve ended up maybe confusing myself. It’s a good thing to read widely, but I’d suggest focusing on one area of interest for about 3 – 6 months or so and see what you come up with. Create a notebook in Evernote to save items worth keeping. Review it regularly. Or perhaps you’d like to set yourself a mini research project? Determine a couple of research questions and seek out information relating to the area to help develop your knowledge. This doesn’t mean to disregard resources and articles, etc in other areas, but just focus on one or two for a bit. I’m trying to focus on research data management and innovation at the moment. Innovation is taking over as my interest gains momentum. It also happens to be an area I’d like to explore in a research project next semester, so it makes sense for me to invest some time here.

4. Reflect, take time out.

….but there’s so much to learn! I know. My goodness, don’t I know it. I’m at the base of a salad fork right now, three pathways I can see myself taking. But I cannot stress this enough – take time out to reflect. Create a career journal. Write often. My career journal has had frequent visits from me lately. I’ve gained value from exploring my interests, finding out where they might be coming from. I’ve tried to understand some motivations behind my interest in innovation, for example. Even if you don’t eventually pursue a path, exploring some underlying reasons why you were interested in an area may indicate a common thread of the type of work you’re really seeking in your career.

5. Feel the fear and do it anyway

My (awesome) manager kindly lent me a book of the same title. Basically, life is a series of learning experiences. If an opportunity comes up and you think there are some lessons to be learnt, go for it. It’s all experience. No matter what, you need to have faith that you will handle whatever that comes your way. We all have our own pathways. (I need to tell myself that quite regularly.)

Anyone else, new or experienced information professionals, wish to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas about how to build knowledge and experience towards a career we want?

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  1. I’m going to take your 5 suggestions and see how I go applying them to myself. I’m in the same boat, only 20 years older than you so there is a feeling of “I’m never going to learn all of this in time!”. I have had the opportunity to work in a different part of the library these past 12 months and while I’ve enjoyed it, it’s taught me that my strengths are elsewhere. This is good as it sort of part closes one of those doors/paths/tracks you are talking about and allows me to focus on something different.

    I think it’s also important to acknowledge to ourselves that we aren’t going to be good at or even interested in absolutely everything that comes by. I like your idea of trying to focus on one thing for a given period of time – like my 12 month secondment – it helps work out if it’s for you or not. I have learned much during this time and take knowledge back to my old team but the most important message I am taking back in June is actually for myself – “now try something different”.

    As always, much to think about, thank you!

  2. Lovely to see your comment, it brought a smile for me today. Oh I’m glad there’s some value in my words. 🙂 I agree with you re: we aren’t going to be good at or interested in everything that comes along. But I think my problem is I have a lot of interests! I’m hoping this will pass or lessen as I discover what will work and won’t work for me in my career. The way I think of different experiences, like the one you’ve had in your 12 month secondment, is that they’re pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (or Lego structure) of the kind of information professional you’re becoming or would like to become. Taking away the knowledge and experience you’ve gained is a little (or a few) Lego piece you can now put to your career (Lego structure). How the Lego pieces connect together will result from reflection and thinking through it a bit.

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