Thrown into the Deep End

By Allison DeLuca

My supervisor walked into my office, closed the door behind her, and sat in a chair. She took a deep breath and blurted out, "I'm resigning." I didn't say a word, just looked at her and listened while she talked about the position she had been offered, why she had accepted the offer, and when she would be leaving our organization. I sighed, smiled, and said, "Well, I'm happy for you." And I truly was because I knew it was a great opportunity for her, but I knew this also meant I would be taking on more than I was comfortable with in just a few short weeks. Hiring a replacement for her would likely be a long process and I would be on my own for some time. I had not been a librarian for even a year at this point! Take out the fact that fall semester was quickly approaching and I decided at that moment, the only way to deal with this stress was to eat a lot of chocolate and put my best foot forward.

I was lucky that my supervisor had always encouraged my growth, but accepted the fact that I was often hesitant to go outside of my comfort zone in order to further my growth. In particular, my fear of public speaking had required her to do all of the instruction for our department. We had split our duties and she essentially took on collection development, instruction, and assisted our students and faculty with research while I conducted outreach for our affiliated users, created and maintained the website, and assisted her with any projects as needed.

About a week after my supervisor left, I was told by the Assistant Dean that I would be charged with instruction for all of the sessions that my supervisor had previously taught. I am not proud to say that I seriously considered a new career at this point. I went so far as to tidy up my resume and LinkedIn account. No amount of peanut M&M's could pacify my anxiety now. My public speaking anxiety was not limited to this job, but had followed me since elementary school and throughout my life until now. I was that student that never spoke out in class even when I knew the answers. I was that college student that dropped any class that had a presentation anywhere within the syllabus. I even had a panic attack at my own undergraduate graduation ceremony! The thought of walking across the stage and having thousands of eyes on me was enough to push me over the edge.

After my supervisor left, but before the fall semester began, my workload began to snowball. All of the professors were gearing up for fall and leaning on me for help with resources. As August approached, I began to doubt myself and my abilities even though I had plenty of support from my colleagues. Was I giving out the wrong information? Were my research skills up to par? How would I know what to teach in my classes come fall?

After I wallowed in my own self-pity for a few weeks, I realized it was not the end of the world. I was not saving lives in combat, I was not the President of the United States and I was not going on the first manned mission to Mars, thus I decided to buck up and take it all on.

I began at the bottom. Luckily, I had all of the material from previous years at my disposal as well as the actual video recordings of my supervisor's sessions from last year! I told myself that the more prepared I was, the better I would feel when I actually had to teach my class. The Assistant Dean had even asked a colleague of mine to serve as a backup in case I became too anxious, puked, or in some way became incapacitated during the actual class.

My first session was an orientation for the first year medical students. I would be giving them the quick and dirty run-down of the library, something I know like the back of my hand. The session would be one hour long, with 64 graduate students in stadium style seating...let me repeat...64 students. The dread that filled my heart was palpable. Did I mention I am only a few years older than the students I would be teaching?

I spent hours writing out every single word I was going to say. I needed a script and needed to do as many practice runs as my colleagues would endure. One of my colleagues gave me pointers and told me not to worry about it being perfect. She was right, but as a new librarian who disliked teaching from the get go, it was a hard sell. I did not want to look like a fool in front of all those students.

Before I knew it, it was the day of the orientation and I had nearly memorized my script after what seemed like 2000 rehearsals. Before I was to speak, the Vice Dean was wrapping up her session with the students. I tried telling myself over and over that it was no big deal and that it would be just like teaching kindergarteners, no sweat. The Assistant Dean then introduced me to the students. It was all up to me now. I walked down to the podium and stood in front of the class with my heart racing and began to speak. To my horror, the Vice Dean and a handful of other professors decided to watch my session. I could feel my neck turning red and hear my voice start shaking. I really, really, did not want to let my nerves take over and ruin this for me. Luckily, my speech was so embedded in my memory that I found the words flowing from my mouth with hardly any effort. When I realized how well I had remembered my speech, my heart rate slowed. My cheeks and neck cooled as my blushing retreated. My nerves were still causing me to feel a bit unsteady, but I remember at one point during the session thinking I need to stop focusing on the fact that I'm teaching and focus on what I'm teaching. For some reason, that was the magic bullet. The rest of the session felt lighter, easy even. It was over quickly and as soon as it was through, I felt all the weight I had placed on myself just subside.

Although I have never experienced this so called "runner's high" (it's totally a myth right?) I believe that this was a similar experience. I felt unstoppable, like a 3 year old with unrestricted access to a fountain of chocolate at a wedding.

Conquering my worst fear at work made everything else feel like small potatoes. You want me to chair my first committee? Sure, no problem! You want me to write policies for the department even though I've never done it before? Sure, I am all over it! Create an assessment project for spring? I can't wait.

I learned many important lessons from facing my biggest fear. The first year being a librarian is unsettling; people on the outside may think your job is "easy" but it's not. But one day if you're lucky, someone will push you outside of your comfort zone as a professional and you will suddenly realize you've made it.