So on the old blog I reflected (at least) once about the anxiety that accompanied all of my prior academic experiences. Given the mind-blowing privilege it is to receive one of the two Ph.D. slots in my department at this university for this year and to be granted ample fellowship support, I reflected on the old blog about whether I might be able to just have fun this time around, skipping the impostor’s syndrome b.s. and just letting myself learn and enjoy learning.
So I’m having my first chance to practice and I feel my mind dancing around a fine line. That translation we did on Thursday… I knew I didn’t do well. It didn’t make sense to me, that’s your first clue you’re off. Our teacher went on and on before returning the papers about the fact that we had only had six days of class, and that this was an enormously difficult assignment, and that only one or maybe two people did well enough on this to have passed the final (we only pass with a B+ or higher) and that this is just a measure of what we need to work on… etc. etc. She graded the papers just so we would know how we would have done, how far we have to go. NOTHING that we do in class has any bearing on whether or not we pass this class. All that matters is the final, so the grade on this assignment is informative not substantive (if that’s the right word). But… grades trigger anxiety for me. I tried breathing deeply as we waited and waited for her to pass back the papers. I tried breathing deeply as she handed my paper to me. And I worked on continuing to breathe deeply as I turned the paper over and saw a “C”. Reviewing her extensive feedback it is clear that the number one thing I need to work on is my facility in using the dictionary (we get to use the dictionary and maybe even our text book on the exam) and that that was something I had virtually no practice in from the six classes prior as everything we had done to that point was either in my brain or in the glossary of our text book. So getting a “C” and having a very clear idea of what I need to work on, and having several weeks in which to work on it, just means I have to pull myself up a notch and a half and I know how to get there. On one side of my mental line I am calmly embracing this as a learning experience and a good diagnostic measure. On the other side of the mental line I’m berating myself for having done so poorly what with so many years of French in my background. That’s a bit overstated because I’m not allowing myself to stay too long on that side of the line- it is more like I know if I were to stay there that is what I would end up doing. But I know that is silly. It has been 13 years since I last formally studied French and translating a rigorous scholarly article is a challenging endeavor even if you’re well-versed in a language. So I won’t let myself go there. But it is as if there is a see-saw in my brain that is aligned with that mental line and I’m straddling the middle of that see-saw, dipping into one world and then into the other.
I have 20 years of practice at doing academics in an anxious and perfectionistic way. I have seven days of practice at doing it another way.
So the way I’m trying to encourage the healthier, more balanced, more fair and reasonable leaning is by taking a French break tonight. We’re going to see a fluffy movie. I don’t have homework. So… rather than inventing homework as a way to discipline myself for my poor performance, I am going to eat a dinner lovingly prepared by my beloved and see a feel-good film. And I think I’ll take my knitting to the film.
Trying to walk that line….