Although I have only been a SIF for a semester, I have been able to come away with countless lessons. I have already spoke of some of them in my post about being a new historical researcher, but what I will write about today concerns my place among my peers.
When I was entering the program, I did not know what to expect. I read about some of the projects the Fellowship was involved in and was immediately fascinated because I have never been able to apply my education to something that will become real in the world. The SIFs were doing things that will actually be helpful to other scholars, and that is something I was missing out on in high school. There, you are caged to endless guidelines and checklists of tasks one must complete to earn a diploma. Bogged down by the irrelevancy of some of the work in high school, I was frustrated that I could not allocate my time to more interesting things. Even worse, I was bored with the majority of my assignments. So when I got the e-mail from Dr. Collins regarding the opportunity to interview for a position, I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation. Finally! A seat at the table! Here is my chance to contribute to the world’s collective knowledge.
The days leading up to the first meeting was a little nerve wrecking. The main reason was that I was starting to feel out of my league. I saw the list of the Fellows and realized that I am in a group where the majority of the people are Graduate students attempting to receive their Masters or even PhD. Out of a handful of Undergrads, there were even less freshmen. How can I hold a candle to them? I have not even taken a semester of college! My peers have succeeded in more endeavors and learned the lessons failure has to offer much more than I have. As much as I wanted to contribute, I was unsure as to how I was going to overcome my obvious inexperience. My almost maddening solution was to sit and listen. Soak in the conversation my colleagues were having, and learn as much as I could about what it means to innovate.
I reached this conclusion while at the first “Pedagogy” meeting at Manuel’s Tavern. Here, I was absolutely mind-blown by the company I was in. Around me were professional programmers, entrepreneurs, and professors. The rapid-fire conversations that ensued left me feeling small because I could not speak on the topics. I could intellectually keep up with the dialogue, but as far as contributions were concerned, I was as useless as most Apple updates (totally joking… sort of). I was just a fly on the wall. I think in the two, three hours that we were all together, I spoke once. After the meeting, I received smiles and handshakes from those who I was slightly daunted by which was heartening. This was the first time in my life that I was okay with not knowing enough. Ignorance (which might be a harsh word to describe myself here) is acceptable, but only in the case that it is realized. Only then can one consciously start to fill that gap of inexperience and lack of knowledge to reach a more prosperous state of mind.
This was perhaps the most useful lesson I have gotten from the Fellowship thus far. If one wants to progress through and to the most brilliant communities in the world and contribute to them in fruitful ways, there will always be times where one is outranked. There will also be times where the feeling of smallness precedes anything else. Now I know that in order to be innovative in the work place, I must also innovate myself by being mindful of all the holes in my mind and knowledge. Being a fly on the wall is perfectly acceptable if I do it with the intent of coming back as a more well-informed student. I now know that I must learn as much by listening as I do by doing, and by doing what I have learned from listening, I can become a more intelligent researcher and innovator.