in a room without a door

i cannot name this, i cannot explain this
and i really don’t want to — just call me shameless
i can’t even slow this down, let alone stop this
and i keep looking around but i cannot top this

if i had any sense, i guess i’d fear this
i guess i’d keep it down so no one would hear this
i guess i’d shut my mouth and rethink a minute
but i can’t shut it now ‘cuz there’s something in it

we’re in a room without a door and i am sure without a doubt
they’re gonna wanna know how we got in here
and they’re gonna wanna know how we plan to get out
we better have a good explanation for all the fun that we had
‘cuz they are coming for us, babe, and they are going to be mad
yeah they’re going to be mad at us
[Ani DiFranco, Shameless]

I guess I’m feeling rebellious, lately. DiFranco wrote that song, she’s said in interviews, about an illicit love affair, but the beauty of music (if you ask me) is that words, lyrics, tone, and melody speak to everyone differently. The last time I heard this song I didn’t think about illicit love, but about libraries. I think that makes me a complete professional geek, but there it is.

I go through my daily work life doing the best work I know how to do because that’s just who I am. I’m not satisfied if I’m providing a half-finished product. I’m not satisfied with the status quo because it’s the status quo unless we know that the status quo is the best place to be. I’m not satisfied if I’ve not done the analysis, thought through the implications, imagined the future, and planned for its arrival. I’m not satisfied unless I’m doing the best work I know how to do. That’s how I work, it’s how I plan, and it’s what I expect from my peers and from my team.

That probably makes me sound like living hell to work with — never satisfied, always tapping my foot expectantly, judging. I don’t believe that’s how I am, though. Most of all, I just want to see us produce good work. When I see that we’re not doing good work, or that we could do better work… well. I insist on it. I agitate for it. And I do both knowing they’re going to be mad at me.

Because sometimes, even the best of us don’t want to work that hard.
Or try new things.
Or give up control.
Or drop our priorities lower on the Big List.

Even the best of us become small and petty in the moment — when we’re feeling threatened, when we’re tired, when we’re busy, when we’re cranky, when we’re human. It happens. Even to the best of us. I understand that, and I sympathize. I’ve been there. (Oh, let me tell you about how I’ve been there.)

Still and yet, sympathetic or not, I can’t help but object. We have an obligation to be better than that. We have an obligation to move past it. We’re all here to do good work, to be our best selves as professionals in service of our users, and in those small and petty moments, someone has to object and remind us all of why we do what we do. Sometimes that voice comes from on high, cutting through the discontent with authority. Sometimes it comes from below, reminding us to focus on the task at hand. And sometimes that voice is mine, objecting on principle.

But when I object, I feel like I’m in Ani’s room without a door, alone in my beliefs. Alone, calling out to rationality, to forward-thinking, to principled action, to reasoned decisions, to thorough analysis, to good work. And I feel like they’re coming for me, like they’re going to ask how I got in there and want to know how I plan to get out. Idealism isn’t a comfortable seat, and vocal idealism is an even lonelier perch.

But maybe I don’t want to get out. Maybe standing up and shouting loud that quality matters, that foresight is vital, and that innovation must be fostered is the right thing to do, and so maybe my room without a door isn’t something I should try to get out of. Maybe, instead of asking how I plan to get out, they should be asking how to get in. How to join me. I assure you, there’s plenty of room in my room, and the more company I have, the more comfortable it gets.  We can have a party, and shout out loud together about how to do good work in the service of our users.  It’ll be fun.

Because, really, every time I shut my mouth on my instincts, and rethink in the face of opposition, I realize that whether I’m right or I’m wrong, I don’t want to keep it down. I don’t want to shut my mouth. I don’t want to slow down. I want to keep agitating, I want to keep challenging, I want to keep thinking and learning and growing and improving.

Just call me shameless.

One thought on “in a room without a door

  1. Mark

    Amen! Or, perhaps Ani can say it better

    you don’t have to be a supermodel
    to do the animal thing
    you don’t have to be a super genius
    to open your face up and sing

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