January 27, 2021
Listen, I know that you love to learn.
Let’s just agree right now that we are all Class A nerds. The teachers pet, the top of the class, the ‘everything is sooo interesting!’…. This is exactly why I’m talking to you right now. That identity is helpful when going through training and securing that first job. That natural curiosity and a desire to master many different things is effective fuel for years of learning –> regurgitating –> performing –> excelling. So, let’s just take a moment to say thank you very much for this critical capacity.
And now let’s talk about your life and what you are doing here as faculty. You decided to embark on a career where you want to create something that didn’t exist before you – knowledge, program, action, *something.* You spent all that time collecting skills, in order to prepare for where you are now.
The problem is when you forget to shift out of the habit of collecting skills and into the work of building a career. When you are in the habit of collecting skills, you can easily stay distracted by continually learning and never actually implementing. Yes, that is a problem – especially with productivity – but that is not actually the worst consequence of this failure to shift. The worst consequence of being stuck in the habit of collecting skills is that every time you come up against something you don’t know, you make it evidence that you are not yet ready to do what you came here to do. That you are not ‘a real scientist.’ That you don’t know enough to ‘really’ make it.
You make it mean you are deficient.
And once that is the operating reality, there are only two possibilities: 1) you start wasting your time learning a skill you have no business needing or 2) you simply decide that you don’t really have what it takes. You put other’s peoples work first, because you don’t have faith in your own. You approach people to mentor you instead of collaborate with you, because you assume that because you are still learning you cannot simultaneously lead. You *don’t* spend your time honing your actual expertise. You *don’t* double down on your strengths and start seeing their value in action. You *don’t* build anything.
There will always be someone who either knows or sounds like they know more than you do about everything that is not Your Thing.
What are you making it mean?
I want you to understand that we are always learning, of course. If you don’t have intellectual curiosity, definitely quit now.
And I want you to recognize that if you came into your position with a clear desire to do the work you want to do, then you already have a recognizable expertise – your perspective. And your job as a faculty member is to identify – with targeted specificity – how to leverage your innate strengths and strategically deepen your expertise in order to have a strong foundation upon which to do much more.
You don’t actually get to the Promised Land (…where any curious idea gets to be followed, where funding is never in question and lovely non-asshole collaborators abound…) until you are willing to let go of knowing everything, to become the expert in knowing YOUR Thing.
What is Your Thing? It is the 1, 2, or 3 (maximum!) building blocks required to make a solid argument for work you want to bring into this world. That’s it.
Be a novice at everything else. Get used to feeling dumb when the conversation isn’t about your area. Make that mean that you have the kind of mature focus and clear self-concept required to get exactly where you want to go.
It’s an incredibly liberating – and efficient – place to be.