Cognitive Dissonance

I always thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and now I’m not so sure. 

I have known (like, known) since I was 17, that I wanted to be an archivist. I wanted to be in charge of a special collections or archives in a college or university. I often joke about how I was basically created in a lab (or just breathtakingly unoriginal) to work in academic libraries; both of my parents were academic librarians and my father was Dean of Libraries and later Vice Chancellor at an R1. In July 2012, I was privileged – I’m using that word purposefully – to be appointed Curator of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Denver. I’ve loved a lot of the work I’ve been able to do in this role. I’ve gotten to partner with other educators to incorporate critical pedagogy using archival materials in a bunch of disciplinary areas. I work in a beautiful space/building. I have had great supervisors who generally have given me free rein to do the work that I think needs to happen. My co-workers are/have been great colleagues in a lot of ways. I make a decent living in an incredibly expensive city.

And yet.

The last few years – maybe it’s that I’m staring down the barrel of 40, maybe it’s recognizing that the way I am in/have been in a lot of my relationships (all kinds – platonic, romantic, professional etc.) is not healthy – not for me, and not for the people / organizations I’m in them with. I derive a great deal (read: too much) of my sense of self-worth from the work that I do, and while I do believe that being engaged in meaningful work is critically important, I’ve begun to wonder if the work that I’m doing now is the work that I should be doing, where I should be doing it. 

I want to be very clear; I’m generally happy in my job, and I’m not looking necessarily to stop doing what I’m doing in my “get paid to do what I do” life. The longer I live, though, the more convinced I am that INCITE is right, that a lot of work done in the name of liberation is derailed, co-opted, and gutted of its revolutionary possibilities if it happens in the context of the non-profit world, the “professional world,” really any context where the work is tied to funding from foundations and related organizations that hoard wealth and power and perpetrate violence and harm in many often socially sanctioned ways.

Still, I need to work. I need to collect a paycheck. 

So, I’m in this somewhat odd position where I do genuinely like and sometimes find meaning in the work I’m paid to do, while recognizing that it’s not the work. I have found some places to do that kind of work, and I’m hoping to grow and expand that part of my life. I’m also realizing that I don’t have to move up the ladder, I don’t have to take on additional professional service roles, I don’t have to say yes to work that doesn’t at minimum mitigate harm. I have the luxury to use the flexibility my role allows me to make space in my life to spend more of the privilege (money, time, standing) I’ve accrued. I’m excited to figure out what that actually looks like.

After a nap.

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