The Work Hero Trap

I read this post on Lifehacker recently, and it struck a chord. The gist is that you shouldn't try to be a work hero -- the person who works harder than those around you -- to meet deadlines or just stay afloat. If you do, you will create unrealistic expectations, and you'll make other people look bad.

How is it that an academic law librarian might fall in the trap of work heroism? This is a field where there are generally few strict deadlines. And many law librarians live comfortably within those parameters. The perceived low stress environment is the reason that some people enter the field in the first place.

But I find myself taking work home quite often. I might answer reference emails at home or write a book review or create a library recruitment document (a few of my more recent projects). Or I might have to prepare for a class that I couldn't get to during the normal working hours because I sat on reference or was otherwise interrupted throughout the day by various side projects.

So I ask myself, am I awful at prioritizing? Maybe. However,when I was a student reference assistant at my library, there were seven full-time librarians. Now there are four. And this is not unique. Most libraries are doing more with less.

In order to meet the same service demands with fewer librarians, it may mean taking work home. But, in reality, it probably has more to do with my own crazy work ethic (and I need to revise). I always tend to feel a sense of urgency. If I get a reference question via email, I will interrupt my other projects to answer the question because, in my opinion, it is most useful to the patron if the question is answered in a timely manner. I also like to answer the question and move on. If I leave it on my to-do list, it weighs me down. This perceived sense of urgency can create a lot of undue stress.

I also rarely know when to say no. Even if I am too busy, I am still a 'yes (wo)man.' But there is definitely something to staying refreshed and maintaining the status quo -- work while at work and enjoy life while at home. Work heroism is an easy trap to fall into, but do yourself (and others) a favor and break free.


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