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On why I don't identify as an academic. Warning, navel gazing - Tactical Ninja

Nov. 29th, 2012

09:44 am - On why I don't identify as an academic. Warning, navel gazing

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In response to a couple of comments in my post yesterday, I went and had a look at available scholarships. Don't worry folks, I'm not planning to rush back to uni in a burst of misguided enthusiasm, I'm pretty dedicated to my year of mental slacking - but I want to complete postgrad and change the world and it hadn't occurred to me that good marks would do anything other than give me bragging rights on the internet. So I went and had a look.

I found three that I figured I was eligible for - many of them specify topics other than mine, and others are for people from particular places, then there's those that are only for Masters or PhD stuff. But yeah. There's this one, for people from Northland. There's this one, for any Vic graduate with a GPA of over 8 (mine is), that pays all fees for an Honours or Masters degree. Then there's this one, which is for women over 35 who want to change career. And in pie-in-the-sky thinking, there's also this one which I'm eligible for if I kept up my current record through Honours, which would give me a full ride to Cambridge.

At which point I had a minor meltdown.


I don't think I'm that clever.

Yes, I know, y'all think I'm smart and all, and I am probably being silly (why is tieke berating me from my shoulder right now?), but there you have it.

It's not as if I've been told I'm stupid all my life, quite the opposite. I was in a gifted programme for most of my childhood, and my folks sacrificed a lot of their time (cos they had no money) helping my brother and me make the most of the brains we had - not teaching us stuff per se, but teaching us how to be into stuff in a way that we learned it ourselves. We learned how to be interested, and how to learn, and that's great.

Even my abusive ex used to call me his walking dictionary and brag to people about how smart I am.

So yes, I realise this is not an objective viewpoint I have, and if only I could push the Big Green Button Of Objectivity on myself, it'd be all good right? Mostly I can. But when faced with that Cambridge scholarship thing yesterday, it wasn't my fantastic marks that was in my mind.

It was all the stupid decisions I've made in my life. How can someone who's smart enough to apply for Cambridge scholarships do things like [Stuff about abuse]end up taking years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from someone who is so obviously a loser, instead of blowing them off right at the start? , or drop out of university to go break in horses and spend the next 15 years doing casual work in shearing gangs and on farms while my peers all got PhDs and careers? How could someone with such a serviceable brain take until she's nearly 40 to find something she's passionate enough about to make it worth the discipline required to go through tertiary education?

"You can do anything you want." they said. To which I replied "I want to be a farmer."
"Oh," they said, "We didn't mean that. We meant anything like being a doctor or a laywer. You can't be a farmer because you're a poor girl from a townie background."
"In that case," I said, "I don't want to do anything."

And so it was, for the next 20 years. Now I find myself in a completely different world, one where everyone else around me (again with the lack of objectivity) has already done what I'm still working up to, including two people with PhDs from Cambridge and one from Berkeley.

Aside: I know I sound like some kind of educational snob here, but what I'm getting at is that of my closest circle of friends I am the least qualified, having only just completed an undergraduate degree. Everyone I'm close to has achieved what I am trying to do already, and most of them years ago. Because they all made good decisions earlier on.

The final thing is that I don't talk like an educated person. My tutors have almost without fail commented on how I communicate in plain English, and they say it's a good thing. I totally get that - communication is one of the things I used to teach - but the fact is, when someone I know says something really intelligent sounding and I have to work at it to figure out what they mean, I feel uneducated because I don't just know straight away. I have to go through it word by word and make the connections in my head. And then I go "Oh, you mean how are burn festivals relevant in practical ways in the rest of our lives? (or whatever) Gotcha." And the fact that I have to do that and then turn it into simple phrases to understand it makes me feel the opposite of smart.

So anyway, the upshot of this is that my identity has never included 'scholarship to Cambridge material'. And being faced with that as even a remote possibility is something I'm finding a bit overwhelming. Yes, Cambridge has a Criminology department. I've no idea if it's any good. But that's kind of not the point, since the idea of studying postgrad overseas has never been anything but a thought experiment for me. The point is that Cambridge is for those people, over there. Classy people. Not me. I'm a sheep shearer that happens to be articulate (and now with QUALIFICATIONS!) and has spent many hours thinking about stuff while cutting shit off sheeps' arses. That's all.


I know a few people who are probably able to identify with some of this, and I know at least one who's overcome it. I know someone who'll tell me I'm being silly and that I should just crush that self-doubt like a bug because it's not useful to me, and tieke is still sitting on my shoulder rolling her eyes and going BUT U R RONG, SILLY!

But I think slowly, and it's probably just a matter of time before I properly assimilate this into my identity. Meanwhile, every time I think about the possibility of applying for that scholarship, I cry because I can't quite believe that about myself and changing your identity is hard. Luckily, I have at least three years before I'd have to think about it seriously.

Meanwhile, kittens!

Comments:

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From:tieke
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
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"when someone I know says something really intelligent sounding and I have to work at it to figure out what they mean, I feel uneducated because I don't just know straight away."

Me too, but I don't have an uneducated excuse - I just feel stupid! And by the time I've figured it out, everyone else has already had their say and the conversation's moved on. So yeah, based on dinner-table conversation skills, I'm pretty thick. Based on grades, I'm pretty bright. It's a thing that I just have to come to terms with.
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From:russiandolls
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
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Same here...
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
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The great thing about working in IT is that one can quickly distinguish terminology vs. actual english... and I now have no qualms about asking someone to define their terms and looking ignorant. In fact, sometimes it's good to do it because people often make assumptions about terminology which doesn't hold true between fields/topics!

(assuming I care to know something more deeply, otherwise it's usually good enough to just guess what someone's saying ;p)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
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I sometimes envy the ability to speak in very precise terms about a topic. Other times I wish people would just speak plainly. Your comments about the terminology associated with my study were an eye-opener for me.
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From:m_danson
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Everyone I knew in grad school felt like a fraud at least part of the time.
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From:clashfan
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
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Yeh, wot she said. You should hear about some of the dreams I had whilst in grad school.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if there's anyone out there who doesn't feel like a fraud. And why we set the bar so high that we end up feeling that way. And why people can have success after success after success, and stil feel as if it's just luck and next time they'll fail.
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From:caycos
Date:November 28th, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
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I think a lot of it is because we build things up in our brains to be something big and huge which most of the time, human experience just isn't. I'm currently doing some work in.. a place of political importance.. and in my head it's a place that has a bit of an aura - but actually the people here are just people like everyone else.

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From:ferrouswheel
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:19 pm (UTC)
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Any but the most arrogant or stupid people doubt themselves. Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

s/men/people “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” ― Bertrand Russell

Which isn't entirely what you are getting at, I know.

My version of this is. I am poor. I am 30. Many of my (engineer uni) friends that are my age already own houses, or are buying a second property, or earning large amounts of money overseas. If I'm so supposedly smart, why am I not financially secure?

But the problem of reducing things to this, or to any other other trapping of "success", is that it's all circumstance, opportunity, and balancing what's important.

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From:t_c_da
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
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balancing what's important

I would adjust that by adding to oneself

I personally made a big shift in that equation after being made redundant in 1991 and discovering that I had children who were growing up without me because I made work more important than family while working in a job that was heading down the gurgler with rock solid certainty. I certainly was poorer financially because of it, but I know that my kids know me much better for the change...
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From:clashfan
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)

Because they all made good decisions earlier on.

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I'm going to quibble with this statement. While those decisions might have been good for them at the time, for whatever reason they weren't right for you when you were 17-whatever age. I took a few years off between high school and uni. I think that if I'd gone away to uni at 18, I might not have made it. It was a good decision for me to travel, work different jobs, and come to the conclusion in my own time that I wanted a degree--even though I didn't know straight away what to study.

As for the (Stuff about abuse), I'm certain that I don't really need to remind you that people from all walks of life, from all income levels and intelligence levels and education levels become entangled in abusive relationships. Or that 'academic smarts' isn't the same thing as 'emotional smarts'. Nor that you actually getting out is a sign of strength and raising YoT into the fine young man he's become is a further sign of Doing Something Right.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Because they all made good decisions earlier on.

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The thing is, I knew. I didn't know I was going to be subjected to abuse, but I knew he was a blowhard, a loser and someone I was settling for when I made that decision - but I made it anyway, because being with someone was better than being the loner freak I was at the time.

And there's no denying the stupidity of that decision.

I'm perfectly aware that my ability to blame myself for this is part of the group of personality traits that allowed me to become a victim in the first place.

Self-awareness is hard.
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From:clashfan
Date:November 28th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Because they all made good decisions earlier on.

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It is hard. I'm having a tough week with it right now, myself.

However, I will point out that book-smarts--the kind that get one into Cambridge--are very much not the same as the smarts that lead us to make good or bad relationship choices. In your original post, it seemed to me that you were conflating the two.
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From:tieke
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
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Also, tieke isn't sitting on your shoulder berating you. She's actually very proud of you ... (and is hoping that didn't sound patronising?)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
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No, that didn't sound patronising. And thank you.

(not even a small eyeroll?)
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From:tieke
Date:November 28th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
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Maybe a little wee eyeroll, but I do understand that it's a big identity shift, and identity shifts are hard.

To me, it's just that it's always just seemed completely self-evident that you're really bright and would do stupidly well at uni. So your brilliant grades don't shift my perceptions about you at all. But other people's perspectives on that kind of thing are always very different to our own!

Mostly, I've just got massive amounts of respect for your ability to pull yourself out of a really shit situation, and make a new life, and for the way that you've been across a whole bunch of social strata, so you have direct experience of all sorts of stuff that most academics only theorise about. Puts you a step up, imo.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
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Gosh, that's.. I don't know what to say. Thank you.

Also, I did a handstand last night that went for 10 whole seconds! *glee*
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From:Will Marshall
Date:November 28th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Aside: I know I sound like some kind of educational snob here, but what I'm getting at is that of my closest circle of friends I am the least qualified, having only just completed an undergraduate degree.

Cough.
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From:pombagira
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
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*hands you a cough drop*

you might not have the degrees lovely but you have teh smarts!! and a cough apparently...

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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:20 pm (UTC)
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I am over here being totally impressed by your Mum. ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
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That was just a student job, wasnt it?

I'm told horse poo is best for roses. Something about mulching effects whereas dead bodies are too acidic. Do you think they'd spare me if I made that clear?
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From:pombagira
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:37 pm (UTC)
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yeah.. dead bodies will just kill the roses.. to acidic or something...


*grins*
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From:tatjna
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:30 pm (UTC)
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If I advised them on horse poo, would I have to call it 'plops' to avoid offending anyone's sensibilities?
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From:tatjna
Date:November 30th, 2012 07:14 am (UTC)
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David Attenborough is totally my hero.
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From:pundigrion
Date:December 4th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
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I have a kindly grandfather spot open just for him!
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:November 28th, 2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
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I will skip just telling you you're smart, not because you aren't but because I know from experience that in your current mindset you won't believe it anyway. But let me share a few facts that may set your mind at ease:

1. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence are two different things that people have in different proportions and that develop at different rates. You were just a late bloomer in terms of emotionally based decision making. I have personal experience with this myself. However I would say that, based on your online persona, you've caught well up.

2. People tend to surround themselves with people who are similar to themselves and this is particularly true of intellect. So if you look around and all your friends are all brilliant and stuff... well...

3. Life isn't a race and there's no prize for finishing first. In fact there's no prize for finishing at all, just prizes for living well along the way. You are earning your prizes copiously now, and at a time when you can maybe appreciate them more than those who earned them all young and then stopped. Never stop.

4. In terms of communication: There's such a thing as an academic/intellectual communication style... but it's not correlated to intellect and in fact is a habit you have to develop in terms of reading / speaking / comprehending. I used to be in the habit when I wrote papers for Critical Theory professors, but it was a huge negative and detriment for my career in technical communication. If you can take complex academic and philosophical concepts and express them in plain language that's understandable to a wide audience... you have a rare and marketable skill that requires a broad and sharp intellect and that people will pay big money for.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:November 29th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC)
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This post cued a bunch of disordered thoughts, which to my surprise I actually typed out of my navel.

Ah, identity.

Growing up in the Hutt back in the day, being staunch was all that mattered. Being smart was not a particularly valued thing in my peer group; if anything it sort of indicated you could probably be beat up. (Especially if you were short and wore glasses.) So I kinda downplayed being smart, and it took me years to accept I kind of was a bit.

It is funny, university always seemed, when I was a kid, like a place that the really smart people went. (I was first in my extended family, I think, to graduate.) When I got there, my social group at the time was people who did not come close to finishing college. And you know what? People weren't all that smart. Frankly, some of the lecturers seemed a bit dim. Even at honours, out of the 60 or so in my subject-cohort, maybe 8 of them were what I considered intelligent.

I also think it matters a lot how you define smart or intelligent. Cos these are totally subjective value laden things. Why you value certain social signifiers of smartness, for instance.

Most of my intellectual process has been autodidactic. While I have read more than most anyone I know, this does not make me smart or intelligent. Though I can quite precisely delineate the edges of my boundless ignorance.

I reckon there is a lot to be said for speaking plain. Academia and intellectualization can lead to obfuscation and talking around things. Jargon is just jargon. Listening to commentary on a cricket match would be totally incomprehensible without exposure to the game.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:November 29th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)

No one understands cricket.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFKLqlMAGhs
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From:raincitygirl
Date:November 29th, 2012 03:59 am (UTC)
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I have nothing sensible to say that hasn't already been said by others, but *hugs*.
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From:fushia_darkness
Date:December 1st, 2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
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Oh I hear you honey. Sure it's flattering when people tell you and everyone else about how clever they think you are but hell what pressure that puts on you to meet the expectations! Cause you know that you can be clever, but you also know that that’s not always the case, you can make a fool of yourself just like everyone else and give wrong answers and advices and make the wrong decision. After all, you are a human being. But when people tell you and everyone else you are so clever, they kind of take away the option for you of being wrong and stupid, at least in front of someone other than yourself. That creates some major insecurities in the mind which can stifle anyone into not daring to do anything at all in fear of proving how stupid you are to everyone who believe you’re so freaking clever. A nicely set trap yes?

(exchange the you for I in the above and there I think you have the major issue making a mess in my mind)
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From:pundigrion
Date:December 4th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
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I hear this. Everyone is always surprised to learn that I don't even have an undergraduate degree. I'd say more, but ish an open entry and all.
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From:laughingmagpie
Date:December 5th, 2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
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I know it's been ages since you posted this, but since I've been thinking of what you wrote here off and on since then, I figure it's worth commenting:

"You can do anything you want." they said. To which I replied "I want to be a farmer."
"Oh," they said, "We didn't mean that. We meant anything like being a doctor or a laywer. You can't be a farmer because you're a poor girl from a townie background."
"In that case," I said, "I don't want to do anything."


This resonated a whole lot with me. Although I said "I want to train dolphins." And there were some differences in the nuances of the reply I got - being poor enough that I couldn't go to university at a place near an ocean, but also my family being intellectually snobby enough that really only a doctor, lawyer or professor would do... And I gave in and went and did the doctor thing.

And now, 15 years after getting my MD, I've sorta arrived at the "in that case, I don't want to do anything."

Anyway, the other thing I really wanted to say was: Congratulations! It's wonderful that you could qualify for that scholarship! I hope you've had a bit of time to assimilate this reality into your identity :-)
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