How I Found Purpose When I Lost It at Work

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How I Found Purpose When I Lost It at Work

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“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I was in my last semester of college in 2016, I got my first paid job working in libraries as a childrens library assistant. I can remember the passion and sense of purpose I initially felt when taking this job. The idea that, every day, Id be helping foster a love of reading in kids felt like a worthwhile career.

Reading supports cognitive development in children. It enhances language skills and improves concentration. It encourages creativity and even fosters empathy, as it introduces children to worlds they otherwise would not know of. Suffice it to say, this seemed like the kind of career that would give me purpose, something I always looked for when selecting a career path.

When I began working as a childrens assistant, I felt that sense of purpose. The library I worked at was big. There were kids constantly coming into the beautiful childrens room, with its high ceiling and numerous colorful shelves full of books. I eagerly tried to help each one find that one book that would spark excitement and, hopefully, a love of reading.

I also got to run fun childrens programs, like a yoga class, a baking class, and a writing club. And I ran a story time for babies twice a week. Seeing the children enjoy these programs together, socialize, and view the library as a community place enhanced my sense of purpose. I was doing something meaningful, something that benefited the community.

As time went on, I knew my end goal was to be a youth services librarian, not just an assistant. I knew in that position I could make the biggest difference. I would be the one in charge of the childrens and teen departments, and the books and programs each one offered. I started applying for these positions until finally I got offered one.

Going into this job, my sense of purpose was strong. I was excited at all the possibilities open to me with these new responsibilities. I was ready for this next step.

And for the first couple months, things were great.

The library had no director. Instead, there were two employees acting as co-interim directors. The library was very small. We all got along, though, and helped each other out.

However, a new director was eventually hired, and I quickly realized we didnt mesh well. She was a micromanager, and I felt very limited and restricted by her. She also followed her own agenda and even censored the books I put out to meet her own beliefs. This goes against the library systems belief of intellectual freedom and was a huge red flag to me.

There were many days when I came home crying, and my anxiety skyrocketed. I even passed out once at work due to the level of stress I was experiencing. I wanted to quit, but knew I needed to find a new job first. Every day, I felt sick going into work. My sense of purpose of working in libraries with children was fading.

There was one day in particular that sent that sense of purpose crumbling. There was a preschool above the library, and the kids were scheduled to come down to the library for a story time. I remember feeling anxious about this, as Id never done a story time for such a large group of kids before. However, I had always felt I did well conducting my story times in the past, so I used this to ease my anxiety.

The kids came down and I gave it my all. I ended up having a great time reading to them. Yes, they were a big group, but they seemed engaged with the story, and I finished feeling certain Id done a good job.

My boss, however, felt differently. She berated my story time, telling me I didnt engage the kids at all. She then proceeded to show me a video she took of my story time and began pointing out everything she felt Id done poorly.

I can take constructive criticism, but what she was doing was anything but constructive. She didnt like my book choices, my song choices, my interaction with the kids. She then started putting down my personality, saying Im too quiet and not cut out for this position.

I felt destroyed. Something Id once felt great purpose doing no longer felt that way. I suddenly felt I wasnt cut out for this job. I started severely doubting my abilities.

Eventually, I got a new job, again as a youth services librarian. I am still currently at this job, and things have improved. I have a director who is fair, and there are days when I feel a sense of joy, such as when I run a fun and successful program or help a child find a book that they are excited about reading. However, that sense of purpose I once felt regularly as an assistant is not often there.

For this reason, I decided to begin looking for that sense of purpose elsewhere, such as in hobbies outside of work like writing and art. These things never fail to evoke a sense of purpose in me when I do them. I get in a state of flow when writing or painting, and I feel a sense of purpose in the creative process.

My ultimate goal with writing and creating art is that, upon completion, I will have something unique and beautiful to share with the world. The idea of others reading or seeing my work and connecting with it gives me a reason to create. Life, to me, is all about connection.

Ive also found purpose in my relationships. Fostering my relationships is one of the most important things in my life. I have a wonderful circle of family and friends, and enriching my relationship with them gives me purpose. Without relationships, life is lonely. The people in my life I am closest to have helped shape who I am as a person. They challenge me to be the best version of myself.

Since knowing my husband, for example, I have grown as a person in many ways, and fostering the love we have is so important to me because sharing my life with him gives it meaning. I also find purpose in being there for my loved ones and supporting them when they need me.

My dog gives me purpose too. Taking care of her gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I need to feed her and walk her and, above all, love her.

I dont feel the same purpose I once felt at work. Thats not to say Ill never feel it again. In time, hopefully it will come back. What losing my sense of purpose in work, though, has taught me is that purpose doesnt exist solely in a job.

There are other forms of purpose outside of work like hobbies, family and friends, and pets. Purpose can come from many places. You just have to be willing to open yourself up to these different possibilities.



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