I am a person: I find myself saying this a lot these days. When I’m encountering professional difficulties, personal life conflicts, or even difficult customer service experiences (Time Warner, I’m looking at you), I have this urge to insist on my own humanity in response to whatever conflict/difficulty/whatever I’m facing.
In trying to trace the origins of this curious assertion, I find myself reflecting on the following: This is part of my grappling with burnout recovery. I think a big part of experiencing professional burnout is this terrible, terrible sense of dehumanization. The emotional exhaustion and cynicism I’ve felt about instruction work has made me feel like I’m somehow less of a person, like I’m just this teaching robot inserted into Slot A in order to meet Objective A. And this dehumanization extends to the constituencies I serve as well, students and faculty alike. I feel terrible admitting it, but I reached a state last year where I found it profoundly difficult to have empathy for the students I worked with.
Maslach’s 1978 article on burnout is pretty much the foundation of all subsequent scholarship on the topic, and in the conclusion of this article, she makes this interesting assertion: “If we hope to improve the quality of staff-client contacts, we need to focus on changes on both sides of the exchange. The institutional system ultimately translates into people, and it is the way each of these people interacts with others that can either promote human values or destroy them” (p. 123). I think it is noteworthy to note that the “clients” we serve (mostly students and faculty) can also play a role in how we deal with burnout and wonder how this might actually play out in the particular context of instruction librarianship in higher education. If we were to insist on our own humanity in instructional settings, would that make our “clients” more aware that we, too, are people? What would it look like to insist on our own humanity? Is this basically just asserting ourselves when we feel like we’re being marginalized or dismissed? Or is it more than that?
It is also evident to me that I am a person is also part of my own mostly unbloggable emotional landscape. I’ve done a lot of interior work over the past several years on the idea that My Feelings Matter, and I Am A Person seems like a logical extension of that effort.
I’ve had a pretty terrible and emotionally taxing week for lots of reasons that I hope to explore in a subsequent post. Suffice it to say that for me, teaching using an intentionally feminist perspective means that I experience so so so so many feelings, the most feelingsy feelings that ever were felt in the history of feelings. I am tired, very tired.
In the end, the good thing about remembering that I am a person is that honoring and affirming my humanity and feelings is generally a good self-care practice. The fact that I am thinking I am a person is a good sign, a sign that I am thawing from the terrible, frozen sensations of burnout numbness.
The bad thing about is I am a person is oh, it hurts. It hurts. Like warming up after some awful frostbite, it hurts.
Maslach, C. (1978). The client role in staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 34(4), 111-124.