Let It Go: A Non-Frozen Story

Editor’s Note: We welcome Hailley Fargo to the ACRLog team. Hailley is the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. Her research interests include peer-to-peer services in academic libraries, critical librarianship, digital and information literacy, outreach, and undergraduate research.

I’ve always had a hard time letting things go. I remember when I was in high school, I was the Student Council (Stuco) president. I got elected as a junior and ran for re-election as a senior. At the time, it was unheard of for someone to be the Stuco president twice. In those two years, I got a lot done, put a lot of things in place, and documented the heck out of what I did (I was using binders before Leslie Knope). I was proud of what we were able to accomplish and was so excited to see where my predecessor would take the group next.

When I came back from my first year in college, my younger brother (who was still in Stuco) filled me in on what had been happening. My predecessor hadn’t followed any of the documentation and took the organization in a completely different direction. I got physically worked up, annoyed and frustrated that all I had done was for nothing. My mom, who always had the right things to say, told me, “Hailley, you need to let this go. You did your best and you don’t have any control over what happens after you. And that’s okay.”

While I reluctantly agreed at the time, I still have a hard time letting projects go, especially the ones I invest a lot of time in. I’ve spent almost 10 years trying to be better at this skill, and I can’t say with full confidence I’ve got remarkably better. This story is all leading up to the fact that even though I had to give up projects when I left graduate school, I had this weird idea that projects in my professional life might be different. That I might be able to hold onto everything I created, organized, and ran.

Boy, I was in for a surprise. Just like high school student council and graduate school, priorities change. People change. Job descriptions evolve. You might spend months or years working on an idea or writing in niche and then, suddenly, you stop doing that. You change directions and move on. Sometimes you ask other folks to step in, to take it forward, other times the project ceases to exist, and sometimes you don’t get the choice and the project is given away. This task of letting projects go doesn’t stop just because you’re not in school anymore. And unlike the luxury of graduating (and therefore moving on to a new location), in your professional life, you might have to watch your project evolve right in front of your eyes. For someone who has a hard time letting things go, this can be tough (and a time suck).

With two years at Penn State under my belt, I’ve had to give up a few projects. My job position has changed, as well as some of my priorities for the job I’m currently in. I can’t say it has been the easiest process for me, but I’ve had good bosses to help me navigate this new terrain. In conversations with them, they have reminded me that when you give up a project, it should be able to be carried on without you. You want to have created a project that people can get fired up about, and have left the project in such a way that folks feel empowered to make it their own. I just have to stop letting my perfectionism get in the way of their work once I hand over the reins. I’ve also been lucky in the fact that I’ve had plenty on my plate, so giving up a project is tough, but does open the door for me to devote my time on something new.

Recently, I’ve felt myself go back into my old habit of getting all worked up about a project I’ve given up. In some deep reflection (and channeling my mom), I came to a realization about projects like these. At the end of the day, projects are just made up a bunch of ideas strung together. These ideas might be connected by a vision, by a context or history, or by a person with some serious spunk. Ideally you want a project that reflects, builds, connects, and responds to the context but ultimately you want a vision to drive those ideas forward. A vision you can pass on, a person, on the other hand, is a little harder to pass on. As I think about the leader I want to be, I need to make sure I’m creating projects that have a vision and don’t need me to be successful. I have to find ways to set up that framework, and trust my colleagues they can take the project where it needs to go. When I spin projects that way, it opens up the possibility of me using some of my best strengths — organization, documentation, and intentionality. So, in theory, it becomes a win-win for everyone? I sure hope so.

I also think what my mom was getting at was that I was spending too much time and energy worrying about a project I no longer have control over. Time and energy that could be spent in better ways, working on new projects, spending time with new people coming up with new ideas, and in general, not working myself up into a tizzy. There are only so many hours in the day to work on these projects. The more time I waste spinning my wheels, the fewer opportunities I get to do the work currently on my plate. It’s a lesson that I’ll still be learning today, tomorrow, and next year. But I’ll keep trying to just let it go.

Do you have a hard time letting go of projects you start? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with this sort of change? Comment on this blog post and let us know!   

Featured image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash