Fahoo Fores and the Best Christmas Gift Ever

For the last six months, as a manager at the Northside Library, I’ve flirted with tardiness daily, because I just didn’t want to be at work. I’d sit on my couch every morning, fully dressed, staring at the time, knowing I’d need to leave… and stay that way for ten more minutes.

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When I got to work, I’d smile at my coworkers, participate in my meetings, create my schedules, compile the program calendars, write my incident reports, lead my task forces, do every task assigned and do it well… only to go home and think about the fact that I went to college for seven years and took out $150,000 in student loans* to hate my job.

*All eligible for Income Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness in eight years.

I felt like I never had a single moment to enjoy myself, because I was always busy working,  worrying about work, or crying in bafflement at how I got where I was. It took up all of my time and energy to be that unhappy.

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I’m getting married in six months and I haven’t worked out since June, because when you’re miserable, there’s a part of you that thinks the effort it takes must be burning calories. It’s hard to fight the part of yourself that wants to stop for frozen yogurt after a hard day, when every day is hard.

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It wasn’t just working out I couldn’t make time for, either. I didn’t talk to my friends. I sometimes even ignored calls from my Gramma and Jake. I didn’t read my favorite books or watch my favorite shows. I was starting to experience genuine symptoms of depression, y’all. I just read news articles on my phone, while compulsively checking my work email, and lying awake at night wondering how long I could hold out. How many meetings about increasing employee morale and analyzing other people’s workflow and explaining to fucking grownups what work ethic means, could I make it through before I said or did something I couldn’t take back? I’d even attempt positivity and think of every eventual outcome or opportunity my management position might afford me… but they all sounded horrible.

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Then, it happened. On December 4th, I celebrated my last day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library… 11 months to the day from my first. I didn’t even make it a year before stepping down. For the last two weeks, I have been just a librarian at the new Jackson Library…

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… and it has been glorious.

Guess how many meetings I’ve had in the last three weeks, y’all. No really. Guess.

Zero.

Zetus lapetus, that’s like ten less than I had in a three week period as a manager!

When we were setting up the new library, I spent my days deciding where different portions of the collection should be located, processing and shelving and evaluating materials, and organizing things. When the circulation desk had to be relocated and Mayor McDouchington of Jackson wanted a say in every little detail of the grand opening and the pipe burst at the old building, it was not my problem!

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I’ve been 15 minutes early for work every day, because I, once again, look forward to my job! The only thing I’ve dreaded about working at the Jackson library was having to walk across the street to use the restroom until the bathrooms were installed. I spend my days processing materials, talking to customers about paranormal romance novels, printing color sheets for little kids, and brainstorming new adult programming ideas. When my former direct reports want to talk to me and invite me to parties, I don’t have to be their manager anymore. I can just be their friend. When my friends text me and suggest we all hang out, I actually have the will to leave my apartment! I’m able to enjoy my favorite time of year, because it’s no longer in spite of the unhappiness I’ve experienced all year, professionally. I want to see my family, because I can now answer the question “How’s work?” without crying!

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When I spoke to family and friends, no one understood why I would step down and take a pay cut, but I am so glad I did. You only live once and there is no point being miserable, when the only thing standing between you and happiness is a $1,500 annual pay cut and your own pride. I don’t even mind the commute, because being just a librarian is the best Christmas present ever. It has been fabulous.

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To the Women Who Tried to Ruin My Career

At 25 years old, I’d just begun my career as a real librarian, in my current system, when I excitedly accepted a second job at the neighboring library system. Within two months, I was informed that I wasn’t “a good fit” and that I’d worked my last day there. I was never late. No customer ever complained about me. I did everything I was asked… except go to my immediate supervisor’s house for spaghetti with the rest of the team, share Pinterest recipes, and sport an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. That’s right. Instead of valuing diversity in her staff, this woman sought employees who were just like her, a modern day Heather willing to abuse her power to the detriment of the community she served.

In time, I realized that not being “a good fit” was quite flattering and ultimately the best thing for my career, because it allowed me to hone my skills within my own system. Even in that beloved system, however, there once reigned a Regina George… the girl who poured the pigs’ blood in Carrie… a Cersei Lannister, of our very own.  Indeed, this woman was… psychotically vindictive, in the truest sense. She ruined careers when people mispronounced her name. She permanently transferred librarians to branches across the city, with less than 24 hours notice and no explanation. She planted her favorites in positions of power and pulled their strings like the fucking Puppet Master. She even tried to keep my boss at the West Side Library  from hiring me, because I’d had a poor interview for a different job. It was a joyous occasion the day Cersei pissed on the wrong boots and was demoted. It was downright freeing when she and many of her minions retired soon thereafter, to practice augury and gnaw on the bones of kittens.

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I’d like to think these women are the exceptions. The rhetoric these days would have us believe we’re are all far too evolved from a half century of breaking glass ceilings and opening our own pickle jars to still be facing such deliberate workplace sabotage. It remains true, however, that one of a woman’s greatest battles toward professional success is simply… other women. Perhaps this is evolutionary and stems from a time when we each tried to prove ourselves the most valuable gatherer, in an effort to snag the best hunter, but we are long overdue to pull up our big girl panties and crush our baser instincts.

Had the aforementioned Heather and Cersei had their way, I would be… well, I don’t know exactly, because I can’t fathom the goal behind destroying the career of a random 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. Maybe they knew every detail of the devastation that would result from their actions. Maybe the fantasy hadn’t extended that far. All I’ve ever known for sure is that there was something broken inside these women, which required them to tear down another to feel accomplished. Now, years later, I have a simple message for them:

Thank you. Thank you for showing me the worst possible scenario of who I could be as a professional woman. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at a job I hated than you were at a job you treasured like the One Ring. Thank you for the strength it took to build people up, despite the fact that I spent my lunch breaks crying in my office. I could’ve let the wounds of others fester, with the reasoning that I didn’t cause them, but instead, I worked to heal those around me. I could’ve scoffed at the personality traits and communication styles that differ from my own, yet I worked to not only understand, but translate. I will have been a manager for eleven months, to the day, when I step down into my new position as just a librarian, at the East Side Library. I’ll leave the North Side Library in the city, to work in the tiny town of Jackson, under the same library system. I’ll rarely see these people again… and I’ll be leaving them better than I found them. If I’d never cried from the abuse of powerful women, I might never have made a difference in the short time I was one myself and for that, I am thankful.

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The Horrors of Being a Manager That No One Ever Shared

I hate being a manager.

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Before I became a supervisory librarian, I was confident that while official management might be an option several years from now, I wanted to spend some time as a librarian first. Managers can make damned good money, but they’re also the ones who have to deal with personnel issues, fill out paperwork when the police are called, and spend a crazy amount of time in meetings. While that wasn’t off the table entirely, I at least wanted the chance to get my feel for the challenges a librarian faces, before trading them in for new ones of a higher pay grade.

I’ve detailed previously how drastically my position has changed since I started in January. What was advertised as a librarian position with some supervisory duties has, quite literally, become the opposite. I am a manger first, a manager second, and a librarian if there’s time. Now, I’m not gonna lie. At the time, I was exhausted and disheartened by working as a half time librarian and substitute teaching when I’d had a master’s degree for two years. I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t have applied for the supervisory position, had I known what it would become… but I can say I’d have only had myself to blame when I realized just how much I hate being a manager… and all the horrors no one ever mentioned.

It’s Us against Them.
I always assumed my boss at the Westside Library didn’t join us for Taco Tuesday, because it would be awkward to mix business with pleasure. You can’t reprimand someone for using inappropriate language, if they’ve heard you use the phrase “bucket of cunts,” over a bottomless basket of tortilla chips. I felt for her, because she was the only manager at our branch and it looked really lonely from the outside. Now, I realize that she wasn’t lonely. She was just perpetually ready for battle.

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In my system, the circulation clerks and library pages are almost as quick to snarl when someone blames the group for the actions of an individual as they are to make sweeping generalizations about how “management doesn’t care/understand/listen.” People constantly air their grievances about how management is a clown that eats children and they do not make exceptions. While I’d hope none exist in my system, I’m certain there are supervisors looking out for number one, too busy stressing about their own duties to care about how anyone else is coping with theirs, maybe just mad with power. I’m just as certain that I’m not one of them.

The only thing I hate more than being a manager is the fact that I hate being a manager, because someone at every level of staff, from the library pages to the system director, has told me that they hope I have my own branch one day. I refuse to read management theory and put my employees in little boxes labeled by some arbitrary personality test, because I consider these no different than delineators such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Humans are complicated and we need to stop stereotyping them as a management technique. So, I read my employees and accommodate their individual work and communication styles. I address each and every concern. I champion my staff and they champion me… until they write about how much Management sucks… and it all feels like a wasted effort. No matter how hard I try, I’m still The Man and they still feel like cogs in the machine.

I’m rarely the one who can solve the problem.
Maybe they feel like cogs in the machine, because we’re all cogs in the machine. When someone brings a problem to my office, more often than not, I can’t actually solve it. If I’m lucky, I can set up some kind of committee and delegate tasks, helping the staff to feel involved in the decision making process, while simultaneously addressing the issue. If not, as with personnel issues, I can start doing paperwork. If I’m particularly unfortunate, the staff member causing problems won’t be under me and I can ask their manager to start doing paperwork… confidentially, of course, so I can’t actually clarify this with the person who brought the issue to my attention.

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Bigger picture problems are even less under my control, in the well-oiled machine that is a large library system. You’re upset that the dress code is more problematic for Black women, because they can’t wear head wraps? That’s a policy approved by the commission. You want an urban fiction section? That’s cataloging’s call, not mine. You want to move up, with the degree you received from an unaccredited institution? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want direct answers from your immediate supervisor? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want a fifteen thousand dollar pay cut? I’d recommend a smaller library system.

I’m the counselor from Freaks and Geeks.

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Before I became a manager, my Gramma would compare the title to babysitting. It drove her mad to supervise adults who couldn’t get to work on time or wear appropriate clothing or complete basic job tasks. That was in the seventies and eighties when efficiency and work ethic were emphasized. Now it’s all about “morale” and “empowerment” and I wish I could charge a quarter every time someone used either of those words. Years ago, Regina George ruled my library system and people’s livelihoods and careers were the casualties, so I’m not saying that I don’t agree that morale and empowerment are important… just that being responsible for them is exhausting.

I understand that change is hard for people, especially when they’ve been at the same branch, under the same management, for their entire careers, but I occasionally feel like I’m trying to motivate sullen teenagers… beyond my responsibility. There is a point when your unhappiness lies with you, not your manager. I can ask my employees about their lives and build strong work relationships. I can assign projects and tasks that will challenge them, pad their resumes, and make them feel valued. I can sit down with everyone for one-on-one meetings and truly listen to their concerns. If none of that works, though… I think our health insurance covers a few therapy sessions? I’m not being heartless here. I literally don’t know what to do about the level of discontent some of these people seem to feel!

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I never realized how miserable people in the library world could be, back when a good week wasn’t determined by the number of people crying in my office.

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A perfect week is defined as “just me.”

Call me self-absorbed, but when I was just a librarian, I rarely even knew what feuds were taking place and who was being called into the managers office for what infractions. I, quite literally, didn’t hear about some disputes for years and it… was… glorious! 

Now that I’m a manager, I’m involved in all of the drama and there is just so much of it. Even when my employees aren’t involved in a dispute, their workflow is directly effected, so it becomes my problem, when they come to my office and vent. Then, I have to alert the appropriate immediate supervisor, who gets upset over another personnel conflict, the terror that is addressing the issue directly… and I completely relate. Yet, if they don’t handle the problem satisfactorily, we have to involve our manager and there’s awkwardness between us. 

My worst day at the Northside Library, was the day I held a half naked drug addict until the ambulance arrived, while crying on the phone to the dispatcher. I’ve yet to top it, but the day I have to write up, or worse, fire anyone will be one of the worst days of my professional life. Most problem employees have legitimate struggles in their own lives and many of them are quite likable, personally. Their behavior is just unacceptable and unchangeable and a failure to respond is a discredit to other staff members and, in our case, the community at large. But… I just can’t sit and watch someone cry as I take their livelihood from them… and hopefully, I won’t have to, because I’ve officially set the balls in motion to move down. I suppose there is a silver lining: if I ever decide to be a larger cog in the machine again, I’ll truly be in the know.