Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try ~
Last fall I dyed my hair purple in an act of professional defiance, and wore a coordinating lavender dress when I stood with scissors in my hand and cut the ribbon on the campus’s new Center for Applied Learning. That same day we announced that we’d been awarded $750,000 by SUNY to continue and expand our efforts. I was burned out and angry and frustrated and celebrating one of the most amazing accomplishments of my career at the same time.
Today my hair is auburn, with copper highlights and far-less-obvious purple lowlights. I’m no less driven, but definitely less angry. I am, in fact, hopeful and feeling an emotional upsurge about my work. What changed?
That’s it. The budget situation isn’t better. Racism is still a thing. Change aversion continues to be a real challenge. We’re still working through conflicting priorities on lean resources. But our leadership has changed. I have a new boss.
And just like that it feels like the lights turned on in a darkened room. Projects started moving forward. Attitudes began to shift. The Academic Affairs team began to re-form, with smiles and laughter instead of grim uncertainty. And we began working on hard important projects again.
Our communal work in supporting our students and collegues didn’t stop being hard — academia is rarely easy. But I think Pink has it right; desire –> flame –> burn. Because I believe that’s true, I believe that the possibility of danger, of challenge, of struggle should never be enough to stop us from moving forward. But when the lights are off, and you’re walking in the dark, knowing that if you stick your hand in the wrong direction you’ll be burned and forced to snatch back what you put out there lest you be irreparably damaged… it’s a lot harder to push forward. Our new Provost turned the lights on.
And I know there are fires. I know I’m likely to get burned. But it’s worth it, because I believe in it. And now, finally, I can see where I’m going, and why. That’s all I really needed — a direction, some encouragement, and the knowledge that my contribution is valued — and I’ve been reminded of just how much it does matter.
Today I watched Dr. Carla Hayden be sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress. The first woman. The first African-American. The second professionally trained librarian, and the first of those to serve during my lifetime. I saw her new staff, in the balconies, looking down as she was sworn in. Roaring in celebration. Their faces alive with emotion.
And while it’s not the same league as the LoC, I’m in that same kind of leadership position. So as I note how much it means to me to have positive, encouraging leadership, I also have to note that I have an obligation to perform in that role, as well. Frustrated, angry leaders don’t do much for team morale. Library staff come alive when they have hope, and leaders who nurture it. It matters that I do better, too.