12 months

This post has been kicking around in my head for a few weeks now, but it’s taken me a while to get into the head-space of actually sitting down and writing it. Looking back over where I was six months ago, I feel like another eternity has passed, and yet it has also flown by. I’ve joked at work that I can’t remember what the culture of anywhere else I’ve worked at was like. There’s an infectious energy about The Northern School of Art and its people, and it’s understandable why many of the staff have worked there a decade or more. Why would people leave somewhere that has such a nice ‘feel’ and energy about it?!

Of course, nowhere or nobody is perfect and the last 12 months are not without their challenges. In my opinion, the scary part of a job often starts once you’ve settled in and got to know how a place works. Then comes the actual job of DOING your job. It’s one thing writing a strategic plan for your department, but what about actually getting people to do the work and then evidencing that you’ve done it?! How do you balance the needs of you and your staff with the rest of the institution? It’s only after 12 months that I’m starting to feel a lot more ‘exposed’ in my role. I want to make sure I do a good job, but I’m conscious that I could burn-out very quickly if I try and act on ALL of my ideas at once. I’m definitely a bit of a recovering control freak, and need to get better at ‘letting go’. I’ve found this to be a difficult thing to balance in such a small institution. Logistically, there are some days when I just have to get some of the day to day work done because we don’t have the staff numbers or expertise to be able to delegate everything. Being out of the library world for around three years before I got this role has also meant that there’s a lot I need to learn so I can plan effectively. Making the effort to learn how stuff works (such as the ins and outs of a Library Management System) is time-consuming, but will pay off when I’m better able to support my team in doing their day jobs, or asking for money/staff/time to do things from senior management. However, I am also conscious that I can’t learn EVERYTHING and my tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty does get better by the day.

Six months ago I mentioned Imposter Syndrome in my post. However, the more I’ve read and thought about it over the last few months, the more I think that it’s not really a ‘thing’. It’s more a manifestation of normal anxieties that most people probably experience when faced with tasks and situations that are new and that push them out of their comfort zone. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and very intrusive thoughts over the years, I’m trying not to attach too much importance to labels like ‘Imposter Syndrome’ when what I’m feeling could quite easily be classed as ‘normal life worries’. Also, my work doesn’t define me as a person, and I’m very aware that the discourse around Imposter Syndrome could be implying that work is all-encompassing in our lives. It’s just one aspect of my life, but it’s not more important than my family and friends or my health. I’m never going to be perfect and am no doubt making/have made loads of mistakes so far. There’s a certain joy in getting things just ‘good enough’ and moving on, rather than spending too much time dwelling on it. There’s probably a longer, more succinct blog post about this in my head somewhere…perhaps next year.

I was struck by a quote that I read in Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel Blog earlier this year. As someone who has jumped around between various jobs over the last 7 years, I’m finally ready to commit some serious time to the job I’m doing now and this quote really resonated:

“To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.”

(Mark Manson)

Six months ago I thought that it would take me at least two years in my role before I felt like I was making an impact. Now, I’m keen to see what impact I might have had after five or more years, having had the time to really refine the role and grow into it. To have that feeling of true ‘mastery’ will take me years, possibly even a decade.

One of the really exciting things about my role is that there was no precedent for it: it didn’t exist before I got the job. This is both liberating and terrifying with a lot of oscillating between the two. In one sense, I am free to try things out and experiment in ways that I might not get chance to do in a bigger institution with a more rigid structure. In another sense, I am a lot more accountable if stuff does go wrong or doesn’t work as expected. The budget I have has to go much, much further and it can often feel like staff at our place have to work harder to achieve the same ends as those in bigger and better-resourced institutions. Keeping morale up in these conditions can be a challenge.

I’ve just signed up for Chartership, so 2019 will be a reflection-filled year – hopefully with lots of blogging! I’m lucky that I’ve got a great network of professionals to work with (both inside and outside my institution) and I absolutely love working in education because of all the messiness and imperfections. I have loved getting to know a whole new bunch of educators in the institution I’m working in now and I’ve been given opportunities that I want to really make the most of. I’m feeling very hopeful for 2019.

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