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:
- Unconscious incompetence
- Conscious incompetence
- Conscious competence
- 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.