Category: FSO (Figuring Shit Out)

As I embark on this experiment of writing daily, I have several goals in mind.

  1. Looking at current events through a theoretical lens.
  2. Integrating different theoretical areas.
  3. Figuring out how old theory applies to new modes of communication.
  4. Figuring Shit Out.

Today is the first day I will be writing about Category 4, Figuring Shit Out. School has gotten harder and harder for me. It’s harder academically (duh), but it’s also harder emotionally and physically. I’m having a hard time focusing. I have this thing where I need structure, but it has to be structure I’ve bought into. Too much (or too arbitrary) structure=I rebel; too little structure=I flounder. I’ve spent some time over the last two semesters beating the crap out of myself about this aspect of myself, which now seems like a waste of energy. I am 42 years old and unlikely to change my core personality. The trick is figuring out how to get something akin to what I need in the ambiguous,  student-driven program I signed up for. I think I’d go nuts in a narrow, traditional program, but the one I’m in has its own pitfalls for my personality type. So here are some thoughts on how I learn.

Things that work for me:

  • Engaged instructors who give specific, feasible feedback.
  • Instructors and fellow students who consider my ideas and give feedback on them.
  • A medium to fast pace.
  • Lots of interaction.
  • A framework I can refer to if I get stuck (reading suggestions, essay questions, a roadmap or syllabus for the class).
  • More written interaction; less phone/video conferences (online meetings tend to bog down).

What happens when my classes work:

  • I can make multiple connections between what I am studying and earlier writing/learning/experience.
  • Writing comes fairly easily.
  • My creativity is high.
  • I’m not afraid of feedback (nervous is okay).
  • My energy level is high (unless I’m sick or my kid is sick or my husband is sick you get the picture).
  • I’m generally jazzed about what I’m doing.

Things that don’t work for me:

  • Lots of ambiguity.
  • Hands-off instructors.
  • Micromanaging instructors
  • Too much group teleconferencing.
  • General critical feedback with no specifics (ambiguous or hard to read feedback).
  • No syllabus or trying to create my own syllabus without a supplied, underlying structure.
  • Instructors who criticize my work without addressing my ideas.

What happens when my classes don’t work:

  • I freeze up.
  • I have difficulty concentrating.
  • I actively dread feedback.
  • I procrastinate.
  • I internally criticize my work as I write. (no bueno)
  • I’m generally cringey and insecure.

My human development class was the perfect balance. The teacher was tough, but highly invested in my ideas. She was generally happy with my writing, but very detailed in her feedback. Our personalities were simpatico. The class was structured, but she gave us room to play if we needed to. It was a group class, and the rest of the class was engaged and did a lot of online commentary on each others work. All papers and feedback were public to the whole group so we learned from each others’ successes and challenges.

It was not stress-free; it was a high performance, high pressure class. But the trust building that occurred with the frequency of interaction between the students, and between the students and teacher made the experience truly invigorating and transformative. For the record, this was an all asynchronous class – meaning we didn’t have any video conferencing. I learned a ton, felt really good about the work I produced, and built relationships with my instructor and fellow students. Win!

In reality, most classes are going to be a mix. I’m always going to have some level of anxiety–my perfectionist and competitive tendencies have the advantage of giving me an edge, and the disadvantage of heightening anxiety when I’m insecure or in a high ambiguity situation.

My spring semester was wicked hard, and I was feeling depressed and out of sorts. The course was new territory, new ways of thinking, and tons and tons of new material. Try reading five or six dissertations and you’ll see what I mean (for example you may want to stick a fork in your eye). But in the end I felt like I had accomplished something really useful. Several really useful things, in fact. I got hard but helpful critiques, learned a ton about the literature in my dissertation area, and also learned to forgive myself for being late. I was late on EVERY PAPER. I am never late. Anywhere. Boy, was it hard to let myself be late. But in the end, it was okay. I needed more time because other circumstances were slowing me down, but I got it all done and came up with some new ways of looking at my topic. Win! This was not a full-of-bliss experience but the payoff was worthwhile.

This semester has been not good. I did my first individual contacts (this means it’s just me and a teacher) and guess what? Writing my syllabus from scratch (for myself, not my students) is just too much ambiguity for me. Most of the material has been pretty good, but I ended up dropping one of the two courses because of most of the things on the “don’t work” list. And just a piece of advice; don’t study Jung when you’re supposed to be studying the foundations of systems theory. Just don’t. So now I’m just taking 4 units of Organizational Studies with a systems emphasis, which is mucho mejor.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I’d figured out all of this before I had to drop 4 units in the middle of the semester to be made up sometime in the next year when I’m also teaching all year? Yes, it would. But I’ve learned a ton of stuff from the bad experiences; it’s just the painful, soul-searching crap that is usually accompanied by confrontations and hard decisions and self-doubt and insomnia and occasional unwarranted yelling at my family.

So that’s Episode 1 of Figuring Shit Out. Stay tuned; next time I compare the classical music industry to academia. They’re more alike than you might imagine.

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