Reflection is hard. It can be scary. Not for lack of content but for the what it means to potentially confront your shortcomings. Yes, the goal is to improve but to do that you must admit where you are lacking. Of course, we can couch this in platitudes like, “It’s not that I’m bad at it, just that… it’s an area for growth.” And this is most likely true. Doesn’t change the fact that you still have to admit that first part.
This, I think, is fairly typical in higher education, especially for faculty whose entire raison d’être is centered around expertise. It can feel like admitting one needs improvement can be to admit one has failed in some capacity. We all make mistakes, no doubt. We all have more to learn, of course. But it’s easier to do that in solitude, safer to make self-reflections private and not do what feels like laying bare your faults and shortcomings in public. Perhaps we all want to be the duck, legs paddling frantically under the water, but looking calm and collected on the surface. I know I do.
I’ve written on imposter syndrome and becoming (or at least playing at being) a public intellectual and thinker. I’m not sure it comes easily and naturally to most people. For those for whom it does, it seems so easy. They seem fearless and display the bright colors of poisonous animals that tells you, “I’m making myself vunerable to help others; attack at your own peril because you will not like the outcome.” It’s something to which to aspire, don’t get me wrong. I wish I had that sort of strength and fearlessness. As it happens… I don’t. At least, not yet.
It took me a long time to be able to say, “I don’t know” when a student asked a really fantastic or insightful question that I felt like I should’ve been able to answer. Perhaps I did know the answer but couldn’t recall it at the moment. Perhaps I understood the questions wrong. Perhaps it was just something I flat-out did not know. Of course, we all do the redirect and say something like, “That’s a great question. How about we all do some research and see what we come up with?” That is the goal, after all: to get learners to become self-directed. Still, “That’s a great question” is not the same as specifically saying, “I don’t know.” I’m still somewhat afraid of that. Remember, there’s a difference between being simply ignorant of something and being unprepared.
This is precisely why I chose “fear” as my SGN topic for the month and why I want to talk about it today: my goal is to overcome that particular fear this year. This month, if I can. Forget the New Year’s Resolution; we need the Halloween Overcoming.