I used to be smart.
In school, I never had to study for tests. Teachers gave me extra work just to keep me occupied for the full day. When my work was done, I’d sit at my desk and read books far beyond my grade level. In the very early grades, I had two classes a week with the resource teacher so I wouldn’t get bored with the regular classwork.
I was kind of insufferable about it, in retrospect.
I’m halfway through an “Intro to DSLR Photography” class. I’m taking the class because reading the instruction manual, and then the myriad resources online & in the bookstore, weren’t helping. I was baffled by the terminology. Looking up photography terms just caused more confusion. (Note to photography people: have one word for things, OK? Decide, right now, between “aperture” and “F-stop”. Seriously.)
Many of my friends are excellent amateur photographers. They have tried to help. I did a lot of nodding but what they were saying made no sense. I wanted someone to stand next to me while I fiddled with the camera. But I couldn’t ask the questions I wanted answered. Because I’m supposed to be The Smart One. I’m not supposed to ask questions.
Being The Smart One was such a huge part of my identity for so long, that admitting I wasn’t ‘getting’ something right away has been very humbling. And scary. And hard.
True confession time – I dropped out of Quadelle’s very worthwhile Project 52 (take a picture a week, for a year, on a pre-determined theme) partly because I just got too busy & first trimestery… but more because it very quickly got beyond what I knew how to do, and I was too intimidated to admit it and unable to grasp some of the concepts from reading about them online.
So, the class. It’s six weeks, two hours per. By the end of each class I’m exhausted. I feel like my head is visibly throbbing with all the new stuff in there. I’m bummed that it’s already getting dark by the time we get out, because I want to go try the techniques I’ve learned right away, before the lesson fades. Last night, a breakthrough of sorts for me, although no one else in the class knew, I’m sure.
We were learning about Aperture Priority (the AV or A mode on your DSLR camera, in case any other photography newbies are reading). The instructor was using lots of visual aids, which I find invaluable (turns out I’m an auditory / visual learner. Just reading something off a page, it doesn’t stick.) We were discussing shallow depth of field, which I’ve learned is the technical term for the types of photos I love the best. He was explaining that to get really good results in that style, one needs a zoom lens. Then he explained a “cheat” for the standard 18-55 kit lens, which is what I have.
And I didn’t get it. He was talking focus point & focal length & moving & zooming, and he lost me. Utterly. Everyone else in the class was nodding (or ignoring him, because everyone else in the class has a zoom lens). I was getting horribly frustrated, because This. Exact. Concept. was what I wanted to learn, and I wasn’t getting it, and I could feel the moment slipping away.
So I put up my hand. I tried a smile (although it felt more like a grimace). And I admitted I was completely lost. I asked him to please go through it step by step. It turned out to be very simple, but the way he was initially explaining it, I couldn’t grasp what he was saying. The second run through, it clicked.
I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I don’t feel like The Smart One, anymore. I don’t stretch myself enough mentally these days. I don’t force myself out of my comfort zone. I don’t read books that challenge me. I don’t put myself in situations that push me. I stopped reading Bon’s theory blog because I didn’t understand 80% of it and refused to invest the time in making myself comprehend the concepts.
If I’m not getting marked, graded, and evaluated, I apparently don’t find it worthwhile. I don’t like learning for its own sake, and that makes me sad.
There are only three more weeks in this class. After it’s over, I will need to push myself hard to keep on, to keep trying (and failing, and trying again), to keep asking questions. And I need to find a new identity, one that isn’t The Smart One and is OK with it, too.