"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)
ajrose93

"Mastery Lessons" ;)

[Written for a friend in academia, but possibly of more general interest. For a related post, see "Advice to a Young Talent," here: http://ajrose93.livejournal.com/67786.html ]

93!

Boy oh boy, can I help with this one -- if, and only if, you want to hear it (and not every word in it relates to you personally, since I'm broadening this into a more general post; the stuff you know, you know). FWIW, then:

You have three irreducible minimum difficulties here. They all do you enormous credit, but they're not going away, hence must be handled. They're like defects in one's sight: they can be corrected for, but only if you're conscious of them.

1. You don't (yet) know your own strength.
2. You are, by temperament, more artist than academic.
3. You have had real-world experience...hence can tend to rub those without it the wrong way.


1. You don't (yet) know your own strength.
In some ways, this is the core problem, in need of the quickest solution. Despite the insecurities which loom so large in your own mind -- and which you share with virtually every other halfway-personable artist who ever lived -- everybody ELSE knows how effin brilliant you are, and ASSUMES that you know it, too. They are constantly playing catch-up with you, and it makes them squirm. That's what the "false modesty" accusation means: your critic is saying "Oh, don't pretend you don't KNOW you're smarter and more talented than most of the department."

(Parenthetically -- and paradoxically -- at some level, you also sort of know they have a point. I forget which wonderful comedian described herself as having an inferiority complex and a superiority complex: "Basically, I believe that I'm a piece of shit that the world revolves around." Bingo, for so many of us. When senryu carried mail as a kid, a colleague accused her of thinking she was "too good for this job." She snapped back, in effect, that anybody here who didn't think they were too good for this job had a self-esteem problem. ;) )

Anyway, the main fix for this is to know that the problem exists, hence freeing your intuition to correct it. Indispensable perspective: focus on what OTHERS are thinking more than on how YOU are feeling (or how, you imagine, you look to them), in a given situation. Usually they are only marginally looking at YOU, anyway -- like almost everyone on earth, they're too lost in their own inner drama to see anyone else save "through a glass, darkly." Take it as normal that you'll be misunderstood, then as calmly as possible do your best to correct the misapprehension...those times when it really must be corrected, which isn't always.

There are many specific solutions, all of which you'll use at different times as warranted. Examples: ASK them what's the matter the moment you notice something's the matter, in as humble sounding a way as possible: "Okay, I sense I just said something stupid," and see whether they're willing to tell you what it was (they may not be). If they're NOT willing to tell you, just handle them as best you can: they're probably too lost in their own ego-defense to help you much on that score.

Every unattained* person on earth is living in their own internal movie, so caught up in it that they can't even SEE yours. Help them out by providing them with further info, as needed, or shutting up as warranted. But, y'know, get over being surprised, 'cause that's the game.

2. You are, by temperament, more artist than academic.
I've been harping on this the whole time I've known you because I knew this day was coming. The only fix for this: later -- particularly if you pursue your art -- people will love your work, admire you, and want to be your friend. In the meantime, play it like Superman: he's sooooo powerful, but he's SUCH a nice guy that people don't mind it so much. Keep your personal boundaries, but kill yourself being as outwardly gracious as possible...which will get easier once you're paying less attention to that internal cartoon you use to misrepresent yourself to yourself, and more attention to what other people are going through.

3. You have had real-world experience...hence can tend to rub those without it the wrong way.
The only fix for this one, too, is great doses of humility, and that starts with the understanding that EVERYONE YOU EVER SPEAK WITH feels like "a piece of shit that the world revolves around." Help them to feel better, and they will want to be around you. You already know this about "normal" people, but you place academics in another category entirely: think they're so obviously accomplished that they must take that fact for granted. Every academic on earth without some non-academic attainment suffers from impostor syndrome: they figure their phony-baloney role is always in danger, and it's all they have, and threats to it make them "sad and anxious" (Erin Berne).

The proper grad student approach to anyone further up the hierarchy is nearly always student, NOT colleague -- no matter what they tell you...and student who really likes and admires them, as well. Read their articles, compliment them on their work (on the stuff you genuinely admire, only; surely there's something). Think about their needs, their insecurities, how you can make them feel better. Refuse to play the competitive shark role (vis-a-vis other students) -- which all their other grad students are playing, particularly with such slim pickings on the job front -- and they'll be relieved to see you (and, btw, want to help your career). The Big Secret: beyond a certain level of competence, and until you have time to make a bigger splash, you will advance NOT by proving yourself competitively brilliant, but by getting them to genuinely like you. Fortunately (since this can't be faked -- for long, anyway), you're a really likable person. :D

Finally, if you're colliding with your thesis advisor, consider changing advisors RIGHT NOW; you don't want a personality problem on top of the other rigors of your thesis. Recommended way to do this: meet with her and say, "I feel like I totally rub you the wrong way, no matter how hard I try not to." Unless she softens toward you pretty quickly, and from then on, "blame yourself" for the problem (to her, I mean, though in reality a thesis advisor who can't handle a personality clash is a child), and find somebody else before you're trapped.

Okay, enough. Hope some of this helped.

93 93/93 (& XXOO) -- AJ

* This is largely what attainment is about: destroying ego-defense...and why it's so impossible to fake. Only when you know for a fact that you are both divine, and a total maroon, can you stop giving a crap -- or, in technical language, "dispense with attachment." ;)
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