Saturday, November 8, 2008

What are you good at?

In the past several months, I've been doing a lot of reading of other people's work, and of my own, and it got me thinking of how, while all academics do similar things, we all have a certain thing that we're very good at. I first noticed this in grad school seminars. There was that guy who could remember the arguments of seemingly every book he'd ever read. My best friend in grad school, Piper Ph.D., could immediately zero in on the logical flaw in any argument she read. Others could write beautifully, seemingly with very little effort. My dear ID can crank out ridiculous amounts of work in a very short time -- in the last stage of his dissertation writing, he managed to write 1,000 words a day, every day, for well over a month.

I am at times envious of all these people, and wouldn't we love to be the person who could do all of these things? But lately I've realized that my own skill area lies in pattern recognition -- I look at a draft of a writing project and I can see where the main argument should be, and how everything else should be organized. That is to say, I'm not the best writer, but I'm a fantastic re-writer, and it's a skill that has gotten better over time. I always love that Aha! moment when I see it.

So I thought I'd put this out there, and give people a chance to take a break from the feelings of inadequacy that too often plague us when it comes to our own work: What are you good at?


teachergirl said...

i'm good at zeroing in a unique argument. sometimes it's beneficial, sometimes it backfires, but i am usually seeing things differently than many of my peers.

Belle said...

Oh, I can think of things in new ways and offer ideas. I used to be good at writing, but grad school nearly killed that ability. I'm only gradually recovering. But new ideas? Easy for me. And great fun.

medieval woman said...

I'm really good at outlining!

And I can sing...very well...but I feel like that sounds snooty. Isn't that weird?

Dr. S said...

I see small, interesting details--the fine points that give writings meaning and texture--just about as well as anyone I know. It's sometimes hard for me to make overall arguments because those require some degree of generalizing, and I'm usually reluctant (partly on principled grounds) to move away from the very local and particular.

Also, I'm good at listening to people and helping them calm themselves down. This is not a writing skill, but it is a skill that helps others with their writing.

Susan said...

I'm really good at connecting things that most people keep separate...I get bored by detail, but I do a great job of making links

Anonymous said...

Well, since you say it, my strong suit is finding the logical flaw in an argument. But as I've gotten older, I've also gotten better at saying "OK, the main argument in Book X is flawed in the following way . . . but the argument/evidence/line of attack is still worthwhile, because . . ."

Remember when J. said that grad school trained us all to be like piranhas? I've tried to move past that.

Oh yeah, I'm also a really good bagpiper.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether this is true or projection of how I'd like to be, but I think my specialty is either explaining the complex to the uninitiated by referring to normal human experience, or just the tendency to try and find the little guy in the situation or the moment of most emotional engagement for the spectator. I like to think I make it clear there were people stuck in this thing we call history, trying to figure out what the heck they should be doing.