Yesterday I had a conversation with a distinguished senior scholar. When I mentioned one of the projects I’m working on, he said about the area of study it falls into, “It’s hard.” He said this a couple more times about this field, once explaining why there are few people currently working in it, and once more along the lines of lamenting that more people aren’t being trained to go into it.

Every time, I thought, “No, it’s not. It’s easy.”

Finally, when he began to explain what it takes to do this well, the “hard” comments began to make sense to me. As graduate education is normally comprised, this area is interdisciplinary, and so people trained in one department don’t usually have any significant acquaintance with the other one necessary to do this work; and furthermore, the general attitude of scholars in at least one of the disciplines is dismissive about this area.

But I had a checkered undergradate past, and an interdisciplinary graduate education, and so I am in fact very well trained to do this work, besides having a native talent for the underlying skills. So it is easy for me. So easy that it doesn’t really occur to me that not everyone finds it easy and fun, and that really I ought to be focusing my energies here and making a name for myself in this area.

I’m putting it on the list. Once I work through all the various current and sidelined projects, I will turn to this thing that is easy for me.

And because Profacero has sensitized me to the question of whom it serves to say that writing (or anything else) is hard, I am going to try to use this experience to adjust my own way of speaking. Rather than saying “X is hard,” I will prefer “If you have good basic skills in Y and Z, and a talent for Q, then X is easy. And if you haven’t got those basic skills in Y and Z, then you must work at acquiring them.”

Some people will still find this discouraging, but the statement specifies what you need, and so even for those who lack the prerequisites, it may lead to the question “How do I get those skills?” rather than to the thought “oh, it’s hard, I won’t be able to.”

4 thoughts on “Hard/not

  1. Interesting. One of the grandes dames recently said that some of the questions I was asking were very good, but I needed to decide whether I needed to be the one to answer them. I took it as a warning, but not one that had so much to do with my skills, as to whether it was wise for me to pursue them, given my resources, position, etc.

  2. My God, that post of mine you link to is chock-full of good advice on how to plan a project, I had forgotten. The other thing I like about it is an image – those graduate students in my freshman dorm were aiming to graduate first in class, not to barely make it [to tenure] which is the atmosphere in which I was subsequently "raised."Also yes, I relate to this post, I keep forgetting that I have an unusual combination of skills, so that people tell me my plans are impossible when really they only would be for someone else. Or that I should do something else and it looks opaque/alien to me.

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