“Be a shark, not a minnow. Be a shark, now a minnow. Be a shark, not a minnow. Be a shark, not a minnow”. Ask me how many times I’ve heard that statement said to me by one of my academic superheros (outside of the other cult favorite, “you’re gonna be fine”)…….hint: It’s a lot!
Some backstory: Self-confidence is one of the biggest issues I struggle with on a daily basis. While this is a common symptom of being a student in academia (hello imposter syndrome), it has been something I have struggled with my whole life. My upbringing was less than ideal. From as early as I can remember, I was told I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t intelligent, and wouldn’t make it very far in life. These sentiments, expressed to me by my elders, formed my daily mantras throughout my upbringing. This created a significant chip on my shoulder (or, if you’d like, a chip on my fin) that has carried with me throughout my life.
On top of my homelife, I went to an extremely large public school system (my graduating class was 537) and I often fell to the wayside. I performed the desired “average” on standardized tests, held on to a waivering 3.0 GPA, sucked at math (to the dismay of my father, who thought being gifted in math was the only way to succeed in life), loved history and science courses, but most of my teachers barely remembered my name. Essentially, I was an academic wallflower…barely noticeable but not making enough waves to be noticed (positively or negatively).
With my less-than-ideal backstory, I finally hit my stride when I stumbled across archaeology! Even though I found my calling late in the game of my undergraduate career, I couldn’t help but fall in love with life in an excavation unit. The combination of history and science, mentors who actually saw me (and remembered my name), tangible opportunities for someone from a low socioeconomic status, and classes that inspired me to achieve more than the status-quo pushed me into making archaeology my career. This decision obviously meant one thing: graduate school.
So, here I am, finishing up my master of arts degree in applied anthropology, looking forward to starting my PhD in anthropological archaeology in the fall, but still haunted by childhood insecurities and self-doubts. Here’s where the shark metaphor comes in…One of my committee members saw something in me that I had never seen in myself: the potential to achieve and succeed in academia, to perform at the highest level in our discipline and actually make some positive waves. However, recognizing my insecurities, he would often say to me, “be a shark, not a minnow”.
At first, this statement confused me. I’m terrified by sharks (I’ve seen one too many Jaws movies and the notion of swimming in the ocean is less than appealing) and I would rather not be associated with these scary creatures of the deep. I also strive to be a positive entity in this world, and I have always viewed sharks as mean and nasty…something that I don’t want to envision for myself.
However, I now realize what he meant: In the vast ocean of academia, be a scholar with presence, tenacity, and a dash of fearlessness…not a meek wallflower. In this sense, I understand the admiration to be a shark. They are the apex predator of the ocean, and as someone who wants to succeed in academia, I need to have that mindset. I hope to chase after my dreams with a fierce sense of desire and aspiration, while simultaneously standing out in a sea of scholars and academics.
Did you know sharks have to keep moving forward in order to survive? In fact, they are the only fish that cannot swim backwards without dying. This metaphor can be used academics as well. Even through all the rejections, downfalls, and disappointments that can come into our academic and personal path, it is important to keep moving, i.e. swimming, forward. Don’t get bogged down with the negatives that are inherent in the word of academia. Definitely recognize these downfalls, but use them as an opportunity improve and continue to push forward.
Sharks are also fearless…They aren’t self-conscious that they are inadequate as a shark, nor do they question if they are good enough to even be a shark. They set their eyes on the prize and move forward to achieve it without being held back by fears and thoughts of apprehension. As a soon-to-be PhD student in archaeology, I need to start placing my own self-doubts and insecurities aside (I know, easier said than done), and embrace that I am good enough, and when I’m faced with a setback or rejection, to keep swimming forward towards the next goal.
“Be a shark, not a minnow”. With these metaphors in mind, I have chosen to fully embrace the journey to become a strong, confident, and fearless “shark” in the world of archaeology! Thus…the ArcShark is born!
So, with all this said, why a blog?
- Because I want to have a public medium to openly express my general musing and thoughts about archaeology and academia, as well as document my journey through graduate school.
- Because as a PhD student in academia, writing encompasses so much of what we do. However, I wanted to re-infuse casual writing back into my life without turning my facebook into a giant diary for my family members to spam me about.
- Because I would like to strengthen my writing skills while also reaching out to the public about archaeology.
- Because I’m hoping it will be a creative, zen, and almost therapeutic, way to express myself and cope with the emotional rollercoaster ride of academia.
- Because why not add a more fun way to procrastinate?
- Because I’m ultimately hoping this will give me the confidence to believe that I’m actually a shark and not a minnow.
If you are a fellow academic, colleague, graduate student, enthusiast of archaeology, trying to set aside your fears and insecurities, or a friend, I hope to connect with you about my adventures through graduate school and academia, while hopefully inspiring you to become a “shark” in your own life.
Till next time,
Keep on swimming