March 16, 2011

Basic Instincts

This morning I was thinking about how much I love my commute, even the very busy transfer at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station. If you're there at 8:30 any weekday morning, you know that it's crazy. It helps to choose a train car--and a seat for that matter--to achieve optimum platform placement when you disembark. This ensures a smooth flow from Green Line train to stairs to Red Line train, where I also want a particular car so that when I exit at Metro Center I am next to my preferred escalator.

I am not from here, and had to be told not to stand in front of the doors when I first rode Metro. That is to say, I had no DC Metro instincts six years ago when I arrived. Now I love my commute, not only because I am an expert on which stairs lead where, which of the five exits gets me closest to my office, and how to breeze through the stiles without even stopping. I also love it that I got to feel this transition happening in my adult life. I remember being an incompetent Metro rider, but now I could win a prize.

During my Peace Corps training in Guinea, we were subject to a model of cultural adaptation that was all about recognizing and honing instincts. (Crossing cultures is a great way to dismantle all your reflexes and then rebuild them.) The theory behind this particular training model holds that when arriving in a new setting where the rules and norms of behavior are vastly different from one's own, one goes through the following four stages of adaptation:
  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence
It's possible that I'm a bit too enamored of my current skill level on Metro, and that my extreme consciousness of it is holding me at Stage 3. Perhaps I will advance to Stage 4 soon and stop talking about it. What about my growth as an embedded librarian?

I absolutely operate on instinct. That said, I also try to document as much as possible. But essentially, even my collection development policy is a subtle, tricky thing--a delicate recipe of things added and things taken away. It's not written in stone, and can shift depending on legislative winds or organizational priorities. At times I completely miss the boat on what we're trying to accomplish and I find myself in Stage 2, painfully aware of my incompetence (though eager to learn).

Lately I have been checking my instincts with people about a lot of things, and generally the results are positive. I came in with the library skillset but have to constantly check my patchy, organic knowledge of our specialized content area. Having my instincts confirmed helps me stay in the Stage 3 happy place of conscious competence on most issues, while I'm sure I remain at Stage 1 on newer topics or technologies. Maybe one day I will be at Stage 4!

By the way, Peace Corps, which celebrates its 50th birthday this month, needs librarians. Check out this cool assignment in El Salvador.

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