Friday, November 18, 2005

• on walking abreast with my days, and not doing so

I said yesterday that my motivation levels are low these days. This morning I've a sense of at least one main cause. At work there are many retiring and no prospect of replacing them. The departures are being spurred by a kind of bribery (in local parlance "voluntary separation incentives") but that's only an immediate impulse; the retirements will continue for years and it seems just as likely that the prohibitions on hiring will go on as well. We, in my area of operations, are trying to make do -- simultaneously trying to get the work done with available staff while making plans that we hope will enable us to serve the needs of the many thousands of libraries which depend on us while also making a transition to more efficient production (faster, less costly, and not so dependent on highly-trained professionals), while not degrading the product more than we really have to. This approach is sensible, but it brings home what is becoming more and more obvious: those of us who work in my area haven't got anywhere near the clout that we used to have and are forced to accept a lower place in the institution's power hierarchy (the congressional budget process being what it is and the institution's priorities being what they are).

Our position is made complicated by a real desire to employ automation to its fullest potential and change workflows and responsibilities (to realign ourselves) so that we can make the best possible contribution in what everyone accepts as a new digital environment. No one knows what's going to be needed to bridge to this new environment, but we've pretty clear ideas. The problem is that we lack the resouces we need to implement our ideas.

I serve on an institution-wide group that grapples with this problem from a broader perspective than does our own planning and my experience is not heartening: there's a great deal of wasted energy and of money, many voices of reason not being heard, lots of expert advice being ignored, all the appearance of a pretty soggy mess. I'm sure the institution will overcome many difficulties and change -- probably on the whole good change -- will take place.

Right now, in my chair, however, the outlook is bleak and I'm feeling overwhelmed -- by the addition workload on myself as well as my division as folks leave, by the barriers to moving forward to solve problems, and by the complexity itself: no crystal ball view into the future, no simple arguments in favor of what experts whom I work with believe to be the right path forward, and no assurance that decisions won't be made arbitrarily and without consultation. And so on and so forth; a bit wearying. Perhaps I need to find the source of the determination that drove me on through Wednesday afternoon's wet, cold, and windy weather.

I would be Emerson's "sturdy lad" who
walks abreast with his days, and ... does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear... (from Self Reliance)

1 comment:

GobberGo said...

Ah, I remember the pain of such LOC paradoxes well. The feeling one experiences when facing a problem that should theoretically be easy enough to fix, yet is made nearly impossible by uncontrollable factors, is just so deflating. What is most tragic about such situations is that they seem to be designed to cause the most pain to the people who genuinely care. If you just said, "hell with it" and essentially became a tenured professor coasting the last few years until retirement, letting the infrastructure of your office fall to pieces around you bit by bit, I'm sure you'd save yourself a lot of grief. But it's one of the truly admirable traits about you that, despite having worked against the same or similar insurmountable odds throughout your career there, you still care that you can't fix the problems which you feel are fixable and continue to do more than your best with what you've got. I know it may not be very comforting hearing that the fact that you suffer is reason to be proud of yourself. But in that case, know that I'm proud of you too.