I'm two years into this PhD thing and I feel dumber than when I started.
A few weeks ago I had a spate of book reviews to turn in. I've written dozens of these things in the past, so why was I frozen in front of my computer screen? I was so intimidated by the assignments that I couldn't get started. I crossed out the first 6 attempts to write a single paragraph on a fascinating book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
White page. Blinking cursor. Hands paralyzed at the keyboard.
I felt too ignorant, too incompetent to write these book reviews. And not just the book reviews: every assignment that's come my way I have received with greater trepidation and reluctance. The longer I spend in this PhD program, the dumber I feel. At the same time that I am gaining expertise I am feeling less expert.
How could that be? —I have learned so much and have been stretched in ways I can't describe even to myself.
Part of the reason is that I'm being exposed to so much good thinking that I realize how shallow, how facile my opinions have been up to this point. This academic experience has shown me how little I know of the world and its operations.
Additionally, since every single thing is controverted by some scholar somewhere, the long hours I've spent in the icy waters of uncertainty have worked to immobilize my ability to be sure of myself.
And, of course, everyone I'm interacting with here seems to be an expert on something. We sit in class or around the cafe and talk deeply about specialized subjects and I see that it has become harder than ever to be conversant and so I find it harder than ever to converse.
Remember that post from a few years ago when I talked about my insecurities about starting a PhD? Yeah, well, I was totally on point. I'm not diligent enough or smart enough or spiritual enough for this undertaking. (Yet, by the grace of God, here go I.) The lesson still stands: The difficulty of this PhD is a Fatherly invitation to allow Him to pry my fearful fingers out of the grip I have on my own self-sufficiency. –Yes, pry my fingers, Holy Spirit Crowbar-style.
But one more lesson has been surfacing:
- The learning is in the struggle. I'm sure 418 really deep and inspiriational books have been written on this; I would read them, but I have too many other books to read. The point is that it is when we are in the margins of our competency that we grow in expertise. You've got to paddle and sink a little bit. Taste the lake. Search for the bottom with your feet and miss it. And then you'll stretch out your arms and swim.
Paddle, flounder, swim.