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The silver lining: a life lesson from a contrary librarian

April 19, 2011

Life doesn’t always take you down the path that you would choose. But that’s OK. As one of my favourite blog posts points out, sometimes it is impossible to know whether our fortune is truly good or bad.

About four months ago I ran out of work as a librarian. I was on a contract which ended, and although I would have liked to stay at the library where I was working, there was no longer a role for me there. I’d worked there for nearly three years, had built up friendships and knowledge about the place, and thought I had a lot to offer.  So it was hard to leave, and it shook my confidence in my skills and value as a librarian. And yet, in many ways, it has been an incredibly valuable experience.

I’ve heard a lot of stories of the “losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me” variety, and usually they follow a familiar formula: redundancy forces someone to take a new path or start a new business that they never would have had the guts to try otherwise – they never miss the old life for a moment. Well my story is not one of those, but it was certainly influenced by them.

While I was still working in the library I gradually found that I was missing painting and creating. So when faced with the impending end of my contract, I wondered if I should return to my original career as an illustrator. By the time my contract expired this was exactly what I had decided to do. I chose not to go straight into job hunting mode, but to give myself a few months of following my nose and my heart to see where they would take me.

At first I was pretty sure that I wanted to return to being an illustrator. I missed painting, I missed creativity and I missed being entrepreneurial. Of course, having done the job before, I also knew that there were many aspects of working as a full-time illustrator that I didn’t enjoy, such as working in isolation, not knowing if and when more work or money would come in, and needing to constantly promote both myself and my work. But still I thought it might, somehow, work out better than last time. For one thing, technology has opened up a lot of new possibilities for artists, not only as a way to sell art online, but also as way to stay connected to other human beings even while working all alone in a studio.

But, it didn’t take long to work out that I definitely don’t want to be a full-time illustrator or artist.

There are three main reasons for this:

  1. I miss dealing with people and having colleagues
  2. I hate trying to sell things, and don’t really want to be contributing more “stuff” to the world
  3. I really miss feeling helpful, and although I think that my pictures may bring some cheer to the world, personally I don’t feel like this is a big enough contribution. I want my main gig to be more meaningful.

Yep, I want to be a librarian again.

But I’m not working as a librarian any more, at least not yet, so where is this purported silver lining?

Well, if I hadn’t been forced to take this time to really assess what I want to do with my life I suspect I would have continued to have niggling doubts about what I should be doing. Who knows, perhaps I might have landed my dream librarian job, but thrown it away in a misguided effort to return to being an artist.

I’ve realised also that a part of my desire to be able to support myself as a full-time illustrator stemmed not from a real desire to paint all day every day, but from insecurity about the legitimacy of calling myself an artist or illustrator if creating is only something I do on the side. I’ve finally accepted that art shouldn’t have to pay my bills for me to consider it important enough to be granted time and space in my life. It deserves time and space simply because I find it fulfilling.

I don’t know where life is taking me yet. But I hope that I’ll be heading back to a library somewhere soon. When I get there, I will make time for being arty after-hours, but I’ll be extremely glad to be a librarian again. And I’ll try to remember to be grateful for this unbidden career break, because without it I would still be wondering if I really, truly wanted to be a librarian.  Now I know wholeheartedly that I absolutely do.

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