Getting unstuck


Do you ever get stuck? You’re working on a project and, suddenly, you don’t know how to proceed? Or, perhaps, you’re just bored with how you think about things- you find yourself doing the same things over and over and life is suddenly getting… boring.

Boredom is a killer. So many of the professional dissatisfactions I’ve experienced can be linked back to boredom. Back when I got hired as a library page many years ago, I was excited about the opportunity to shelve books. And then it got boring, because it gradually became monotonous. Then I was hired on as a clerk, and I got to work the customer service desk. This was exciting for a while, but then it got boring. And then, after a decade or so, I took my current position, and I’ve loved just about every day of it.  What happened?

I didn’t suddenly become a different person, but found myself forced into new circumstances. I have one of those jobs that is primarily user-defined. My work is primarily creative, and I find it to be incredibly fulfilling. In this environment, I’ve been able to do some really cool things.

Looking back, one of the common traits of the work I’ve been really proud of in the past three years is atypicality. These things have all been projects that aren’t typically done in day-to-day library happenings. I recently read an article on Lifehacker called “Train Your Brain toThink Like a Creative Genius” that shed some light on why these things mean so much to me (and why they happened).

The gist of the article is that you don’t have innate genius to do cool, creative things; you merely have to have experiences and use them accordingly:

  • When you’re trying to develop a good customer service practice, you should tap into the memory you have of that one time you ducked into Nordstrom’s to get out of the rain. Don’t focus on your own good service in the library setting.
  • When you’re trying to make a cool teen program, recall the hundreds of hours you spent in the smoky basement of the Nile Theater. Don’t try to figure out what’s cool in a culture you don’t completely comprehend.
  • When you’re trying to develop a better summer reading program, think back on that book you read about videogames and why they’re cool.  Don’t try to get the budget increased to buy a slightly more expensive incentive prize.

Creativity makes my work fun. I wish I would have had this knowledge earlier in my career. It seems obvious, but it really isn’t. Sometimes we get stuck in the cobwebs that are institutional practices and stagnant work culture. You can find a way out of those things by going on vacation, reading books, and running out of gas in a scary part of town. You just have to put your experiences to work for you.

You can do this anywhere. You don’t have to have an inherently creative job. When I was a page, I could have gamified my shelving duties. As a clerk, I could have emulated any number of great customer service experiences I’d had.  But I didn’t. And that was what made me unhappy.


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