January 19, 2011

Passion, Profession, or Practice?

Last year I helped organize a session at our annual conference called, “Social Media and Public Agencies: Practices, Policies, and Potential Pitfalls.” When my boss introduced the session he said, “There must have been a sale on P's.” That goes for this entry as well.

I posted this title as being “On Deck” (see sidebar) a while ago, so obviously this has been on my mind for a while. Here’s what I know: your approach to doing your library job may be a matter of passion, you may consider it a profession, and it may be a deliberate practice (or even all three). Do what works for you, with your unique combination of skills and experience.

As for me, I used to be of the “Follow your passion” mindset, and I was fortunate to have been encouraged and able to do so. I went to grad school (the first time) to become a linguist, which I’ve written about here in the past. I still love the "Follow your passion" conversation--and it builds nicely on my interest in Daniel Pink’s work--but following my passion did not work out for me professionally.

When I entered library school, I found my profession. No matter what positions we hold at any given time, we are part of a community of librarians, and never is that community as strong and important as when you’re starting a new job or flying solo at an old one. You can reach out to others in the profession for guidance, as well as to enhance or maintain your skills when you're looking for work. We are also bound by a code of ethics. That makes this much more than a job. But is it a passion?

In September I had an exhilarating convergence of heroes when JD Roth posted a video of Mike Rowe (also in sidebar) that I sent him and wove it into a great piece called The War on Work. I highly recommend spending some time reading this, comments included. Although I had sent the video to Dan Pink simultaneously, he didn’t post it on his site but he got mentioned a lot in the comments over at Get Rich Slowly. Many people shared their thoughts and feelings about where school, work and interests had taken them, and what this has to do with satisfaction. It was in processing those comments that I solidified my belief that thriving as an embedded librarian is not a passion, nor does it have to be.

My passion is music, not librarianship. If we devised some metric we could prove this beyond any doubt. I used to just consume music, but now that I’m creating some, I see it as a practice above all else (the passion part just makes my fingers hurt less). And since I’ve taken the Happiness Project approach to my work now, librarianship seems more like a practice, too. Clay Shirky writes in Cognitive Surplus that, “Competence is a moving target.” So don’t get too comfortable. Keep practicing.

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