by Trayc Freeman
If you think it’s annoying to constantly have the “what’s next for you” conversation during undergrad and grad school, just wait until you start having the, “Oh no you should actually do _____!” conversations in the adult/professional world.
I found my research passion my very first semester of my master’s program when I took a class called Civil Rights and Education. After writing a paper on Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia during massive resistance, I was hooked on oral histories, and talking about the benefits of segregated education for Black students. That semester, I was presented with an opportunity to attend the ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) conference; The other two semesters flew by and it all contributed to seemingly showing me the career path I wanted to embark on. While I haven’t gotten to the path yet, I have a (somewhat) clear idea of how I’m going to get there.
The idea for this piece came to me as I sat in a conference on the recruitment and retention of minority librarians. With the few academic conferences I’ve been to prior to this one, I’ve always walked in feeling immediately that I was “home” and left out feeling renewed and re-energized; I’ve left ready to put in even more work! And while this conference was interesting, it didn’t give me that feeling. Fast forward to a week later, I was able to attend a good friend, and personal Sheroe’s, dissertation defense; being back in that space, even for a short while, gave me all of those feelings I mentioned earlier. That’s how I know where home is for me.
I’ve been working as an evening manager at a library for 2 years now and have never said to myself, “I think this is where I want to be for the long haul.” Yet, as of late I’ve had a lot of co-workers seemingly become convinced that I should get an MLS (Masters of Library Sciences) degree for no other reason (that’s been expressed to me) than, “well you’re doing the work anyways.” No one has explained what the degree track looks like and only one person, who actually wasn’t even a co-worker but a fellow conference goer, has told me how it could be even slightly beneficial to any of my interests and goals. When I tell these same people what I actually want to do, I’m rarely offered any resources or advice; I’m only reminded that I should really take advantage because my job would pay for library school.
Being a 2-time PhD reject, who’s about to go into admissions attempt number 3, I can say first hand just how much it sucks when you finally figure out where you want to go in life, only for the door to constantly be slammed in your face. It’s even worse when someone who’s trying to be helpful, whether it’s a co-worker, a friend or family member, tries to nail the door shut with their own ideas and suggestions for your life. The good news is that no matter how frustrating I find these conversations to be, I’ve also found them to be extremely valuable. Having to constantly, for lack of a better word, defend your education and career goals really causes you to sit down and fully think about what you’re trying to do. I’m sure we’ve all departed from at least one dream career we thought we had in life; for me that was being a singing lawyer (I was young and liked Ally McBeal, don’t judge me). But by having your choices constantly called into question, if for nothing but your sanity, you really sit down and ask yourself, “what is it about this that makes me want it so bad?” You also discover that not everyone’s dream for you is a bad deal; in fact, some of them are very logical and, for a few minutes, really will have you reconsidering your life. However, while logical, if you can’t see yourself fully immersed in that dream, you have to learn how to communicate that that’s not for you. I’ve learned this while dealing with several family members who think I should try out a teaching career (bless their souls).
The point of this entire piece was to say you should always follow your dreams first! I feel like that’s lowkey cliché, but I’ll say it anyways. With our personal dreams comes the eventual vision to carry them out. It also comes with unshakeable faith and resilience, and the ability to revamp our blueprints accordingly (I’ve revamped mine about 8500 times– I’m 26). Your dreams also come with an understanding that you may make others uncomfortable, especially when it comes to a career because they aren’t able to see the ideas and strategies that are all turning in your head. But it’s important to understand that most folks honestly just want what’s best for you even if their presentation does not come off that way. And if you change your dream, or at some point even take on the dream that someone else had for you, that’s cool too. So long as you worked to achieve what you want to do and didn’t just allow others to cast their dreams onto you because it makes it easier to deal with them (i.e. our parents). With that being said, I hope everyone who reads this finds and goes for their true dreams regardless. And, if in a few years I actually do decide to get an MLS and take on a career as a librarian, send me a link to this piece and laugh at myself for putting it off for so long.
Trayc D. Freeman is a “Double Hoo” from the University of Virginia, earning a Bachelors in African American Studies in 2015, and a Masters of Education in Educational Psychology (with a Social Foundations concentration) in 2016. She currently works at the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library, but hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D, focusing on Black education, more specifically, the benefits of segregated education for Black students. From there she’d like to go on to academia, becoming a professor and historian of Black education. In the meantime she runs her own Black history blog, and is working to add an “Executive Producer” notch on her belt, working with UVA graduate and professional track athlete Jordan Lavender on her up-and-coming bi-weekly Youtube vlog “#DoItLikeJLav.”