For the First Time in My Life I’m Doing the Practical Thing…And I’m Terrified

Although it’s falling out of fashion, how many times were we given the advice, “pursue your passion”? As a young person, I took this for granted as a blaringly obvious fact. Consequently, all my decisions up until now, academic and career-wise at least, have been aligned with that philosophy. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m seriously questioning the virtue of that advice. So, I’m changing tactics and I’m going to do the complete opposite. 

To understand why my pendulum of logic has swung so far in the other direction, you need to know how aggressively passion-oriented my life has been so far. First off, I majored in Classical Studies as an undergraduate. Don’t know what that is? No worries! Neither does my mother (still). Most people think that it’s essentially Western canon literature, re Shakespeare or Dickens. Some creative types think it’s classical music. No, to oversimplify, I studied Greek and Latin languages, but Classics combines the study of history, literature, art, etc.

Sound practical? My dad certainly didn’t think so! When I was graduating, plenty of people asked me, “well, what are you going to do now?” The question was usually posed with a whiff of not-totally-unwarranted condescension. “No matter!” I told myself, “these Philistines just don’t ~get it~.” So what did I do? I doubled down and went to a Master’s program in, once again, Classical Studies.

I won’t say that my graduate program was a completely hedonistic exercise in exploring my passion. I got to travel and learn intensely what I loved. It made me a more humane person. But, when it was ending, people started asking that question again, “well, what are you going to do now?” As a matter of fact, naysayers, I will continue to do what I love by passing it on to others. I’m going to become a teacher.

This is SPARTA! (But actually) Photo taken by the author’s buddy, probably Dallas.

As it happens, teaching was a great idea for me. Working with Latin everyday was wonderful and I definitely became a better Latinist as a result. The best part of being a teacher however, as anyone who has taught knows, is the relationships with the students. I haven’t taught for two years and I miss those monsters (shout-out to my former students if you’re reading). So, you may be wondering, why aren’t I still doing it, if I loved it? The answer is burnout (a complex topic that I’ll cover another day).

I loved these kids so much I let them smash pies into my face. It was unpleasant. Photo from Bexleo archives.

For the third time, that question came back, “well, what are you going to do now?” I realized that I was at a crossroads. In one direction, I could pursue jobs in places that generally overlapped with my background, like museums, libraries, or academic institutions. In the other direction, I could strike out on a totally different course by picking up a skill that could be more easily monetized than Classical Studies or teaching. “Try something in STEM,” people told me, “you can make a lot of money that way.” For someone who hasn’t taken a math or science course since college, the thought of pursuing that option rattled me. 

It shouldn’t surprise you then that I chose the former option and wound up in a library. I love working here and I do feel that it’s a great fit. The decision to pursue a career in libraries has thus brought me to library school. 

In the program at which I’ve enrolled, there are several fields on which I could focus. Given my background, I was definitely most interested in the Cultural Heritage and Archives Management concentrations. I browsed the course offerings and the options piqued my excitement. “Oral History”? “History of the Book”? “Archives & Cultural Heritage Outreach”? They looked irresistible. The temptation to follow my passion nagged me. 

But then I caught myself. “Wait a second,” my inner monologue cautioned, “before you make a quick decision, at least look at your other options.” This led me to survey the concentration whose name estranged and intimidated me, Information Science and Technology

To say that I’m not scientifically or technologically inclined would be too gracious. I’m the type of person that gets frustrated by Excel spreadsheets within ten minutes and immediately wails at my fiance to help me. I browsed the offerings for Information Science and Technology and came across course titles such as “Data Interoperability,” “Web Development and Information Architecture,” and “Systems Analysis in Information Services.” It’s difficult to understate how much these classes daunt me. 

However, the pandemic really sharpened my perception of a phenomenon that we’ve identified for a long time: the world is becoming increasingly digital. Understanding technologies is fundamental knowledge for any global citizen. I, like most of you, know that libraries need to be at the forefront of this progression, not only to serve patrons, but to better protect our vulnerable communities. The pace of technological change cannot be stopped and efforts to ignore it will fail, as history has repeatedly demonstrated. So, for the first time in my life, from the perch of my ivory tower, I saw the writing on the wall. I decided to act accordingly in the way that I could. I signed up for the Information Science and Technology concentration. 

I anticipate that people will rightly correct me that fields like Cultural Heritage and Archives use science and technology in innovative ways that help people and that they are intrinsically valuable. I understand that this is true. My intention is not to establish some kind of antagonistic dichotomy. In truth, we need a measure of both practicality and passion in our decision-making. So far I’ve tipped the scales heavily in favor of passion and this is my way of achieving balance. In any circumstance, whether you decide to make the practical or passionate decision, like Joanne wrote in a recent HLS article, you should always try to make it fun.

So where does this leave me? I’ll be honest, I’m scared. I’m about to try something that I’ve never done before and have no known aptitude for. So, if there are any people reading this who are like me and are trying something new, either in library school or another area of life, I want to encourage you. I believe that if you’re making the decision to go out on a limb, you’ve probably thought a lot about it and made the choice that was right for you. So, to all you pioneers out there, I wish you the best of luck.

Going through a similar experience? Making a major change and want to talk about it? Drop it in the comments or feel free to message me!

Featured photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Melissa Grasso lives in Boston and will begin at Simmons University in the fall. She works as a library assistant where she specializes in course reserves, copy cataloguing, and social media management. You can find her on Twitter @grassbro or LinkedIn.