I have three books that I want to finish from last semester. I read parts of them for class or for papers, but didn’t have time to read them in full. They are excellent books and deserve to be finished. I mean, look at them:
- Self/No Self? A collection of essays on the self/no self debate, edited by Mark Siderits
- Being No One by Thomas Metzinger
- The Epistemology of Resistance by José Medina
Good stuff, right?! Interesting and compelling books, books I would be interested to read even if they weren’t required on a syllabus.
But for some reason, the thought of picking them up again to finish fills me with dread and fear, even two months after finishing the semester. What if I read them and find that what I wrote in my final papers was stupid and wrong? What if they bring up memories of when I felt stupid and wrong in my classes? For some reason, I find myself afraid to finish them. I resist finishing them out of a strange sense of self-preservation. It is bizarre and frustrating, especially because I adore books and adore learning.
My insecurity about my intellectual abilities is becoming a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In being too nervous to finish the books, I am not resisting coming to a deeper realization of my intellectual deficiency, but rather I am causing or perpetuating my intellectual deficiency. (Deficiency in the simple sense that I would know more if I finished the books than I know now having only read part of them.)
I am very prone to the fixed mindset. What I am now is what I am. What I am now is what I always will be. I also realized that I seem to believe that if I achieve some intellectual goal (in this case, a PhD in philosophy), then that will be the fixed point from which I will never again feel insecure about my intellectual abilities! It will be my magical self-confidence point of no return.
What this “end point” belief tells me is that I probably also have a sense that at some point I will no longer have to seek out new information and learning, that I will have learned all I need and will be set. I’ll be good to go! Good to form opinions! Good to feel confident in my intellectual abilities! Good to feel like I know enough about the world to make smart remarks forever and ever amen!
That deep-seated belief flies in the face of everything I believe about learning on a more conscious level.
I really, really need to start cultivating a growth mindset for learning. Learning is a lifelong process — I preach that, but do I really hold to that in how I project myself into the future? Maybe if I were more committed to the growth idea, I’d be less nervous about reading the d*mn books. They are no threat to me — why does my gut react to them as if they were pointing a gun to my head?
Maybe if I truly perceived learning as the main activity of my entire life, I would be less afraid of learning about my deficiencies. Instead of a referendum on my intellectual worth, they would be expected and natural stops along the way to better, wider, deeper knowledge. Maybe I would even welcome the unveiling of my ignorances as opportunities to learn more than I even realized. Learning is exciting. Our places of ignorance can be exciting if we look at them as opportunities to learn something that could enrich our lives and our understanding of the world in challenging, beautiful, albeit sometimes painful ways.
So. I will finish the d*mn books and I am sure I will find them to be far less scary in the reading than in my stupid insecurities. I can always throw them off the lanai if they attack.