What an appropriate theme for GLAM Blog Club considering I am a control freak. In a good way of course. What can I say, I’m a true Virgo through and through. A big part of this comes from my desire to have things organised – I even colour code my wardrobe (yes, I have also catalogued the contents reassuring myself it was for insurance purposes and not for fun). It’s also perfect timing because I am currently in bed sick with laryngitis. Did I plan for this to happen? No. Does anyone plan for this to happen? I hope not. There is so much in life you can’t control and as soon as I’m better I swear I will never take my health for granted! A promise I make every time I am sick.
So what happens when you put a control freak into the world of museums? To those who haven’t worked in the industry you are probably thinking that’s a dream come true. All that cataloguing, all those orderly exhibitions with floor plans and perfectly polished display cabinets. I was reading an article in Museums Australia once about developing an exhibition and they had a screenshot of the most beautifully colour coordinated excel spreadsheet you have ever seen. I mean, I felt organised just looking at it. In other words, if I was standing in the binder aisle of Officeworks looking at this spreadsheet I would have probably astral projected from the level of visible organisation.
For those of you already in the industry, you know all too well the difference a day can make. It can literally boil down to one phone call and that’s it, your day puts you on a new path. Or better yet, you have this amazing idea for a program or exhibition and it’s just too expensive – so you have to go back to the drawing board.
One thing that working in this industry has taught me is the importance of, from time to time, switching the control switch from on to off and manually handling situations. No matter how planned you think you are, there is always something lurking. A big change I have made in my working life has been swapping daily to-do lists with weekly goal lists. I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful when I have flexible deadlines. Obviously if something is due it’s due and I can’t change that. But, I have found weekly lists to be so much more achievable. It’s not a 100% reliable method, but, it seems to be working for me.
Another incredibly crucial life lesson working in a museum has taught me is how to fully harness my problem solving skills. Sometimes an idea sounds great in theory but doesn’t work in practice. Running education programs is a perfect example. Each group you get is different so it is literally not going to work if you don’t release some control and adapt a program. A good educator knows how to deliver the same content in a million different ways to get people to listen.
Finally, what have I learnt in the museum industry when I am not in control? When I’m literally out of my comfort zone reaching for that paper bag I know I shouldn’t hyperventiate into but I kind of want to.
I have found these moments to be some of the best in my career. I was so shy in high school and the thought of talking in front of a group of people about anything made me feel sick. When I took my first historical tour of Brisbane I just said hello to the deep end and jumped right in. Nothing has grown my confidence in public speaking so quickly.
So what does this mean? Now, even if an opportunity makes me squirm a little I try to put my hand up. It’s totally fine to be in control (or make yourself think you are) and it’s totally fine to be not in complete control (unless you are operating heavy machinery).
My huge test in the control department is happening as we speak. We soon have an event that will be visited by just over 1 000 school children. I fluctuate between – we’ve got this! – and – I just need to grab something outside (runs and boards plane for overseas country) – about 400 times per day. I cannot wait until this event happens and I can see that balancing control with lack of control/intense flexibility can lead to something really great. I know it will work out in the end because I have a fantastic team of people who I feel privildged to hand over some of my control to.