This last week has been an education for me.
I’ve always believed words were powerful — that’s why I love reading and talking about books — but it never once struck me how powerful my own words could be. That my own feelings and beliefs and thoughts, when strung together, could cause such a reaction. I never expected people within my own profession to look at what I said and simply react. To take the thoughts I had shared on this blog, read them, then put down their own thoughts to what I’d said.
Then spread them wildly.
I made the conscious choice to step back because I stood by what I’d said. It was, I believe, the first time I’ve written a post on a topic I was so passionate about and not had a second pair of eyes look over them. Every word came from my heart, came from a place of believing that everyone should have equal and equitable access to resources, knowledge.
My words came back to me repeatedly and in ways that really hurt. That stomped upon my heart and my passion and my beliefs. That made a mockery out of me in a wide and downright painful way. I watched as a profession I went into because of how much it embraces sharing and knowledge choose to make light of an issue they didn’t understand. An issue that didn’t ignite them or make them feel like there has to be a better way.
I’m sitting in a weird place right now. I feel incredibly vulnerable and lost and sometimes question my own legitimacy and place in the world and regularly ask what the hell I am doing with my life. I read posts like this one — written by an incredibly impassioned 14-year-old — and then I read stories like this one in the New York Times, and they make me pause and think for a bit about where I am in the world. What it is that gets me going in the morning, what it is that makes me care about any and everything.
I wrestled with being depressed in high school, and I wrestled with it deeply in college, especially that first year. It’s been a while since then, and over these years I’ve grown to understand the root cause of feeling depressed came from thinking I didn’t have a passion. That no single thing got me fired up in a way that if I did not partake in that activity, I would feel like I was wasting time or effort or energy. No single thing gave me purpose or merit. When you’re surrounded by people who do have this, who have so figured out who they are and what their goals are and chase them, it’s hard to feel like your own goals or dreams carry any sort of weight. Watching people push themselves in the classroom and outside it, working toward becoming a doctor or a lawyer or anything equally admirable is hard when your goals are much, much smaller. It can make you feel like your passions aren’t passions or that you don’t hold passion or the capacity for it within your heart.
I steeled myself a lot, and still do, when it comes to thinking about dreams and goals. I think about and read about those people who are achieving big things. For so long, I compared myself (and to an extent, I still do that) and wondered why I was where I am age-wise, career-wise, goal-wise, and why I hadn’t done or seen or had more. Why I don’t have aspirations to be a library manager or director or in some sort of big leadership capacity within my professional organization. By 27, after a few years in the field, I thought I’d hit that point. But I haven’t, and I don’t know if I ever will.
I was that wildly impassioned 14-year-old I linked to back in the day; in revisiting old journals, the ones still easy to find on the internet with the right keywords or memory, I found myself talking about not bothering to go to college because I wanted to write. I revisit old journals from college and find myself talking about dropping out of college because I could write (my dream had been for so long to become a journalist and work for a paper because I was realistic in knowing I couldn’t make a living off writing poetry).
But then I look at the journals I kept in graduate school — probably the only time in my life I truly loathed school and everything related therein — and I found such satisfaction in writing about books. In talking about what did and didn’t work in writing. In sharing those books and my thoughts about those books with other people who’d have a light bulb go off. Who’d then read that book and tell me yes, it was great or that was terrible (sometimes those reactions are more satisfying). I found myself passionate about getting other people excited about things.
That’s part of why I’m a librarian, part of why I love working with teenagers — arguably the most passionate people around –, part of why I blog and talk about books, part of why I talk about writing as much as I do. I love getting people excited about the things that excite me. I love supporting people in their pursuit of their own passions and dreams and goals.
I’m lucky to have the opportunities in my life that I do, and I’m lucky to have a support system that not only encourages me in pursuing a passion that’s not top-caliber, not something that’ll be remembered a hundred years from now, not something that’ll bring me awards or accolades or, hell, any sort of financial stability. It is so hard sometimes not to stop and step back and worry about whether it amounts to anything of worth or value or whether it’s just spinning wheels. It’s hard not to wonder how many ways I’ve stalled out before I’ve had the chance to go somewhere further or deeper. Time ticks and you can’t always know whether what you’re pursuing has any meaning.
Passion makes you terribly vulnerable.
I try not to talk personal on this blog because, well, this is a book blog. I’m a non-biased, objective reviewer who aims to be critical and thoughtful. But over the last three years of doing this, I’ve had the opportunity to pursue a passion so deep and connect with other people who find themselves as impassioned as I am about getting other people excited about books and reading.
If the last week has been any indication — and I’m not just talking about this — I’ve found that being passionate means enduring a lot of judgment and criticism. That people are holding you to the same standards to which you’re holding those who you believe have a passion greater than your own. That people look at what it is that brings you value and meaning and wonder whether or not they themselves have that sort of feeling within them. Whether or not they’re exploring their own passions or feel as deeply about something that you do.
I let myself get really upset yesterday about the things people wrote about me. Let myself cry, then get angry. I let myself have that alone, by myself, on my couch. I still dread looking in my inbox whenever there is a new message. Still get a little worried when someone I don’t follow sends me a message on Twitter. Still find my heart racing whenever that post gets shared again somewhere.
The thing is though, I think my passion hit critical mass. My words? They were shared. People were listening, reacting, thinking. I shared and got a lot of other people really excited about things. I allowed the thing that got me going to be something that got other people going.
Rereading the NYT article and rereading that post by an impassioned 14-year-old made me realize that what matters is pursuing what matters to you, regardless of what it means to someone else. I’m never going to be famous or rich. I’m never going to have a seven-figure book contract or star in a Hollywood blockbuster. I’m never going to be a doctor or a lawyer or a rocket scientist. But what I am and what I can be, I think, is so much more than a label or a position in management or in leadership by some name or title. I can share and support and love deeply and fiercely and find satisfaction in making the world just a little bit of a better place because of those things.
Words and actions are amazing things. When they’re used right, they ignite fires you could never imagine. I’ll never be extraordinary, but I can be satisfied with being ordinary — as long as I let the things I love be the center of what I do. Even if it hurts sometimes.