“Perhaps the most important thing that has come out of my life is the discovery that if you prepare yourself at every point as well as you can, with whatever means you may have, however meager they may seem, you will be able to grasp opportunity for broader experience when it appears. Without preparation you cannot do it.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, from The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
Last fall, I applied for a health sciences librarian position that seemed like a long shot. The job was at a top U.S. research university with a highly ranked library school. I knew I would be competing against not only the school’s own stellar graduates, but recent graduates and practicing librarians from other states. I am new to the library field and was convinced that that alone would put me at a disadvantage. With all this in my head, I went ahead and applied anyway. I believed I had the knowledge, the passion, the experience, and the ability required to be successful at the job. And when they called me in February to set up a phone interview, I immediately thought of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words. “This is it,” I told myself. This was my “opportunity for broader experience,” and I had to go for it.
“If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.” – Carole King (From the documentary Natural Woman)
I prepared myself to the teeth for that interview. I researched the school, their strategic priorities, all the school’s libraries, health sciences literature databases, the interviewers themselves, the interviewers’ journal articles, potential interview questions, and anything else that I thought might be important. I did a meticulous mental dissection of my professional history, highlighting the most meaningful, relevant experiences in my head. I practiced talking about those experiences aloud, again and again.
It paid off. That phone interview was one of the toughest I have ever had – but I was ready. For my preparation, I was rewarded with the chance to interview in person. (This was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.) I was told the on-campus interview would involve multiple meetings and a presentation. I used the same preparation strategy I had for the phone interview – research, more research; practice, more practice.
Strangely enough, I didn’t replay my usual positive-thinking mantras. I drew inspiration from other people’s preparation strategies instead. I remembered the paragraph of Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, where she described how carefully Barack crafted and practiced his speeches. I thought back to the TED talk by CNN correspondent Zain Asher, in which she recounted spending hours on end in the library, arming herself with the knowledge she knew she would need one day to land her dream reporter job. I listened to the advice of a former professor who told me to prepare plenty of my own questions in advance and wear comfortable shoes.
The Eleanor Roosevelt quote was a constant mental backdrop. I might not have had what some other people did, but I was going to take what I did have and use it to the best of my ability.
The on-campus interview was actually less stressful than the phone experience. Everything about it just felt right – the place, the people, even the presentation, which I had been very nervous about. Being prepared gave me the confidence to be my best self: un-self-conscious, enthusiastic, inquisitive, open, and engaged. I felt like I was walking into a room that had been specially prepared for me – an unfamiliar space, but one where I belonged.
They let me know by April that I was a finalist for the job, but the hiring process was held up for months due to COVID-19. When I got the official offer in early June, I was over the moon. I spent the rest of the afternoon on Cloud 9 and on the phone, sharing the news with all the family, friends, colleagues, and supporters who helped me make it this far.
The next day, I wrote a thank you note to my academic advisor. I had started library school dead set on being a public librarian. But when it came time for my practicum internship, my advisor suggested that I think more broadly. “You may not always want to work in a public library,” he pointed out. I was torn between staying focused and staying open. In the end, I did the latter, and I am glad I made that choice.
“A dead-end street is just a place to turn around.”
-from the song “Rock Bottom,” (written by J.R. Cobb and Buddy Buie; performed by Wynonna Judd)
Four years ago, I turned around on a dead-end professional street and started down a road toward something better. I struggle with the same insecurities and fears as everyone else, but I refuse to let those emotions overtake my mind and my future. I have a chance to use my training to help improve the health outcomes of socially and economically marginalized populations. I do not know exactly what the future holds for me. But I know that I am ready.