Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why People Go To School, Or What I Tell Myself When I'm Starting To Feel Real Dumb

So there's this theory out there that you go to school to learn stuff. Wacky, right? Apparently you don't waste your time in class if you already know everything. Which is weird because I inevitably have this moment during every class where I start to panic because I feel like I don't understand anything. My mind starts reeling through the following thoughts:

"Oh my gosh. That person just said something that sounded really smart. They used a word that I don't even know. I wish I could get out my cell phone and look it up. But then I would just look like I'm texting, and I don't want the professor to think I'm a slacker. Maybe I should start bringing a dictionary to class. But then I would look really dumb, like I don't know any of the words. I'd use context clues if I knew what the rest of their sentence meant... wait, I should be listening to the prof's response. OK, wait, what's he talking about now? How did we get from that to this? I'm so confused. Maybe I should just nod a little... yeah, that's good. At least I look like I'm on the right page. Oh my gosh, I totally don't get what that person just said, but it sounded really intelligent..."

Or you know, something to that extent. It's usually at this point where I have a small mental breakdown and question my ability to complete grad school and also my entire life. Then I move to the resentful stage, which goes something like this: 

"Ugh! I still don't get what we're talking about! What the heck is phenomenology anyways?? How is this going to impact my life? I mean, will I seriously not get a job if I can't explain the premise of this existential essay? I just want to talk about something that seems more relevant. I just want to say SOMETHING PERTINENT AND NOT SOUND LIKE AN IDIOT!" 

Please note that instead of "phenomenology," you could insert any number of words that have about eight syllables each. And sometimes words that only have one syllable but are still confusing anyway. After I get a little worked up (still in my mind, rest assured), I move into the stage of shame, which sounds like this:

"Oh man, I know this must be important somehow. It's not the professor's fault if I'm just not bright enough to get it. But everyone else seems to basically know what's going on. Is that true? Or are they just as confused as me? Definitely not that person... or that person... or that person... they all have insightful comments. If I could just follow this train of thought for like five minutes, I might be able to get back on track. Ughhhhh, I don't know anything." 

And eventually I'll circle 'round again to Phase 1: Utter Confusion. It's great! It strikes me that perhaps this process could be diagnosable as some sort of Perpetual Cycle of Perceived Academic Inferiority. I mean, if that's a real thing, I definitely have it... or am in it, or whatever. 

I have to consciously remind myself that I'm in school precisely because I don't know everything. If I did, I'd not only not be in school, I'd probably be out like, instating world peace or something. But instead, I'm here. In grad school, working my mind's butt off (nice image, eh?) everyday to understand what the texts are saying, what my classmates are saying, what the professor is saying, and how it all fits together to make that thing called "art history." And when I remind myself this, I get a little faint glow of hope in my soul that eventually I'll understand the things that I struggle with today. I won't ever know everything, but I'll know more things, and that's a pretty cool thought. For those of you who are still in school (or if you're not, but still feel clueless about your job or life), remember this: You don't have to know everything now. Remind yourself that life is a learning process and it's supposed to be that way. And keep your mind open! Because that's how the knowledge gets in there. 

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