How to Measure a Career

I spent today in meetings. Day-long meetings are generally awful, but today I was with my fellow academic library deans and directors from across the state college system. I always look forward to these meetings. It is a rare chance to gather with peers who do the same work in the same system with the same goals under the same constraints. We share. We commiserate. We celebrate. We solve problems.

After 13 years as a higher ed administrator, I have worked with a lot of different people. Many have moved on to other things. Some have retired. A few died. At 45 years old, I am now the third longest-serving administrator in our group of 19 academic library directors. Today someone felt compelled to suggest that I have accrued something that passes for wisdom over those 13 years. I’m not sure this is true. I do think a lot and talk a lot. Someone who thinks and talks as much I do is bound to occasionally say things that feel useful.

Each time my friends and I are together, we reminisce about the work we’ve done, the challenges we’ve faced, the opportunities we developed, the absurdities we have endured. In taking stock I realize that the things of which I am most proud are not the things that I myself have accomplished. I am most proud of things I have helped others accomplish. Things I have helped others recognize to be possible.

Being the boss is hard. If you do it well, it is probably lonely. If you care about the work you do and the people with whom you do that work, you will never feel like you are doing enough. You will always be dissatisfied with your response to a need, your inability to provide a resource, your misunderstanding of a situation.

Be kind to yourself. Take inventory of your greatest successes. You are an effective leader if:

  • You have people who trust you to tell them the truth.
  • You have people who ask you to listen when they are struggling.
  • You have people who openly share their craziest ideas because they want someone to be excited with them.
  • You have people who thank you for who you are and how you work and how you help them work.

This is how a career is measured. Everything beyond this is just certificates in scrapbooks, plaques on walls and lines on the resume.

2 thoughts on “How to Measure a Career

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