I faced a crisis of confidence a little while ago. I suppose that’s par for the course in graduate school, but it flooded my mind with a variety of accusations so cutting and effective they could only have come from my own psyche.
You have never known what you are talking about.
You’re doing this for the wrong reasons.
All your research is has gotten you nowhere.
You don’t, nor will you ever, understand the things you are studying.
Your scholarly identity is a litany of excuses for your ineptitude.
Your hopes of becoming better will be thwarted by your laziness.
So, yeah, that wasn’t especially pleasant. It’s odd because I have highs, too – times when I feel like I’m on a roll and that I can’t be stopped. Thank God for those times, because without them I may have quit by now.
It was due to a series of factors, I suppose. Work had started again and I had a few new duties that I was learning, Mrs. Hopeful is now out of the house a couple days of the week and we’ve been adapting to a new schedule, and the end result is that I hadn’t made the time to seriously catch up on my research and writing. Essentially, all of the dangers of doing a part time Ph.D. while working full time have occurred in the last few weeks. And it rattled me.
Gunderson sent me an article a while back that I’ve linked to before about the fear of being a fraud and how pervasive it is in academia. I suppose I should take that as a positive sign? That sounds awfully Douglas Adams to be wholly good news, though.
I suppose that is the danger of living in one’s own head. I have a relative who is a fairly prominent psychologist in his particular field of psychology, and he told me a story about visiting a conference with another prominent psychologist and touring the poster-session in between talks. His associate noticed a poster that was similar to some of his research. After a while of thoroughly grilling the young woman presenting it, she burst into tears. He then realized that he had been nonchalantly poking holes in the work of one of his greatest admirers.
The two managed to console her in what must surely have been one of the most uncomfortable scenes at any psychological conference, and as they were leaving my relative’s companion, who felt terrible, said something to the effect of “I forgot what it was like trying so hard to do something important.”
So, when I am tearing myself down because I’m not the world’s greatest archaeologist after starting a year ago, I try to remind myself that I’m new at this. Then I tell myself that I need to just keep my damned mouth shut and listen so I might learn something. Then I think, though, that if I don’t explore and get corrected and take chances that I’ll never grow as a scholar. Then I get mad because nobody has any respect for a loudmouthed n00b trying to play in the big leagues. Then Mrs. Hopeful will say something like “I respect you, though, because you’re doing something difficult and trying and learning as you go!” And then I’ll go all Paul Lynde from Bye Bye Birdie.
So, as you can see, I don’t always make it easy on myself. (Or Mrs. Hopeful who is far more decent to me in these times than I deserve.) I wonder if anyone does, though?
“That’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that.”
Great. Thanks, Doug.