The antipiphany: on humility, competence, and serving a second time.

I recently read an article/blog post that came through my twitter feed from the PLOS blog. PLOS is a non-profit publisher of free and open peer-reviewed scientific journals that you should probably know about because it’s fucking revolutionary and phenomenal. The blog post is entitled “That moment when you realize how little you actually know”, and is about the idea of antipiphany (a word which the author openly ponders whether or not he has coined), which is the Socratic moment when one realizes how little they know about something.

The article makes reference to a community science project called Citizen Sky. To measure the effectiveness of the program, participants were surveyed before and after being involved in the project on how knowledgeable they thought they were about science. They found that “participants in… Citizen Sky evaluated their own knowledge about science as lower after 6 months in the project compared to when they started”

Far from showing that the program was ineffective, it showed that it instilled in people a more thorough understanding of the scientific process to the point where they  became aware of how much knowledge they lacked. And when I read this I immediately drew a connection between the idea of this antipiphany and Peace Corps service. Because there is certainly a transformational milestone of cultural competency, which might happen approximately between 8 months and a year into service, where a Peace Corps volunteer scratches the surface of their second home just deep enough to realize how far they have to go to really become competent and functional in their environment. Because in the beginning it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that once you get more fluent in the language and get an idea of how to dress and act, everything’s going to be smooth sailing and you’ll become an absolute rockstar PCV. Now, it could happen just like that, but it’s equally likely that upon accomplishing both those goals, a moment of antipiphany hits, and your entire second year of service becomes about how much you don’t understand- picking up that slack, buckling down and Peace Corpsing it to the max.

In my case, only towards the very end of my two years did I feel as though I had reached a level of competence and understanding necessary to build relationships and do work effectively. And the sad irony of it all was that once I reached that point, it was time to go home.

This weighed in heavily on my decision to take this Peace Corps Response position, as I mentioned briefly in my post about 5 reasons to serve again. The first time I served as a Peace Corps volunteer was, in retrospect, almost like going through two years of training for a job I never began. Now I have the opportunity to take a job that I can apply those two years of training towards, and it’s gonna be the shiiiiiiiit.


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