September 10, 2009

Walk Before You Run

I’ve been quite stressed lately and in such circumstances I do one of two things – I hide or I run. I’ve been hiding. This involves, among other things, taking refuge in the imaginary world of stories, novels, television, movies, etc., sleeping, wasting time on frivolous tasks just to keep my mind occupied, and generally feeling confused, tense, and bitchy. When I run, I can work through it. I write a lot, work a lot, build and design a lot, and generally feel fulfilled, energized, and punchy.

I run when I know where I’m going and when I don’t, I hide. Hiding is generally a response to more severe stress, mental and emotional exhaustion. Running is symptomatic with the physical and mental stress that simply comes from having too much to do in too little time. This week I keep forcing myself to step out from behind the bush and move down the path. I’m trying to run when every instinct is screaming at me to hide.

I reminds me of walking home. I lived in Shambhala during the summer of 2007, high in the Rocky Mountains, and every night I walked home after dark by myself. Every night I was afraid and every night I wanted to hide. I wanted to stop and turn around and go find somewhere indoors and safe and full of other people. But I forced one foot after the other for the entire half mile hike.

Even when I got to my dark, empty tent halfway up the forested hillside, I wasn’t particularly comfortable, but I rolled myself in my sleeping bag and diligently reminded my overactive imagination that the muffled roaring coming from higher up the hill was a moose and not a bear. We looked it up, remember? And the soft scritch-scatching along the edges of the tent was just Edwin, the chipmunk, not some giant predator trying to get in and eat me. We saw him yesterday, remember?

Naturally, college is a little different. There’s not safe tent to pass the night and daylight doesn’t make the fear go away.

I have competence issues. When my competence is threatened, I don’t handle it well. When I’m frustrated, confused, feel like I should know something, be able to do something, but don’t, possibly can’t, I have a very negative reaction. I’m used to being the smart one. I understand things, I know what’s going on, I can absorb massive amounts of information and create intuitive solutions. I’m not always wise and I don’t always get the right answer, but I usually know within a fraction of a second whether I have the answer I not. If I don’t have it, I know how to get it. If there is no one correct answer (which is often), I know how to bullshit something into sounding correct.

I’m stuck in a situation now where I think I know the answer. I keep telling myself that surely I must have it. But if so, why isn’t it apparent? Why can’t I bullshit my way around to it? And if I don’t have it, where do I find it? What more research could I possibly do? How much brainstorming can I take?

And perhaps most problematic: am I being led astray?

It’s happened before. We all think everyone thinks the way we think, or at least we think they should. Intellectually, we might concede this isn’t true, but deep down we still think it. So teachers try to teach students to think they way they think (despite their best conscious efforts to the contrary) and design the way they design. Naturally, across the field some consensus has emerged, but it will never be a one-size-fits-all garment.

Am I letting my professors try to push me into a design process which fundamentally doesn’t work for me? How can I tell? How much is simply my own stubborn resistance and how much is a lack of confidence, trusting them more than I trust myself? That questioning it leads to all this stress and I tend to believe anything that causes that much trouble isn’t worth the effort.

And yet they’re so very certain that I ought to know this, that I ought to be able to do this, that I should have done it before, but it doesn’t have the faintest ring of familiarity to it. When I think of my one truly successful design, this is not how that happened. But maybe it was a fluke? Or maybe I was doing exactly what they’re telling me I should be doing, I was just doing it unconsciously in a way I can’t adequately articulate even to myself?

So many questions and so few answers. Usually, I’m okay with that, but not today, not this week, and not last week, and I can’t see any way of getting okay with it this time around.

But if I keep hiding, I’ll just end up sabotaging myself. That’s what the dreams were about. Maybe I shouldn’t be running just yet. I tried that two weeks in a row and the bruises from the wall I ran into are still healing. I’ve just got all these expectations, for myself, my project, my professors, and they keep bubbling up, doing more damage than good.

It’s time to put them down and start walking.


Teacher Jim said...

Yes, you've been sold a bill of goods. Since the dawn of time, it seems society tells us that if we work hard enough, if we're smart enough, if we study hard enough, we'll know the answers. Bunk, pure 100% bunk.

No matter what, we still don't know. We do the best we can, but ultimately life is an unknown. So, just let go of all those expectations and just admit, "I don't know." You will be amazed at how liberating that feels. And it will then open up the universe and show you possibilities you never thought existed.

But don't believe me. I don't really know anything. [smile]

Monica said...

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this entire thing is that I'm perfectly comfortable with that answer - I don't know. But my professors look at me like I've grown a second head. "Well, you should know!" they insist. *sigh* C'est la vie.

Kavita said...

Maybe a change of scene will help?
I feel bad.

Teacher Jim said...

That's okay Monica, they just haven't figured out yet that they don't know either. Some day. Maybe that's why in a lot of fields, the halls of academia seem so sterile, almost dead. Professors are brainwashed into thinking they have to know everything. But, I would guess the really great, innovative architecture designs in the world were by people who figured out how little they really knew and thus were able to start with a fresh canvas, without any limits or constraints. So, learn what they can teach you, but don't hold on to it too tight because some day you're just going to have to let it go and CREATE!