Some of you tell me you fear you will never be ready for deep spiritual work. Ecstatic devotion, journeying between the worlds, effective magic, spiritual leadership – it’s all too big for you.
Embedded in those comments is another fear that is never spoken and rarely even recognized: you fear you’re not good enough to do it. You aren’t smart enough, spiritual enough, or dedicated enough.
I have a hard truth for you: you will never be ready.
I have a harder truth: you will never be good enough.
Do it anyway.
Some of you are offended by this – you’re already composing your rebuttal. “Everybody’s good enough!” “Magic is for everyone!” “Stop gatekeeping!”
Perhaps you actually believe that. But the rest of us don’t. We can’t – we know it’s not true. And so we smile, and we thank you for your kind intent, and we go on knowing that we’re not ready.
If you think I’m being malicious or manipulative, you don’t understand what I’m talking about.
If you think this doesn’t affect me every bit as much as everyone I’m writing for, you don’t know me very well.
Most of us have seen the graph above – it seems to be going around lately. It comes from the research of psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who showed that in general, people who know a little think they know a lot more than they really do, whereas people who know more are far less confident in their knowledge and abilities.
There are some questions as to the limitations of the Dunning-Kruger effect, its precise meaning, and its proper applications. We can leave that debate to professional psychologists and researchers. Seriously – if you start to write a comment that begins “well, what Dunning-Kruger really says is…” just don’t. This post isn’t about Dunning-Kruger.
This post is about how we recognize ourselves in this limited-but-still-useful graph. More importantly, it’s about how we recognize Pagan “leaders” who are still on that early peak of low knowledge / high confidence and how we don’t want to be like them. Some of us were there at one time and we’re still embarrassed by the naïve ignorance we had… and we hope nobody got hurt because they followed us when we didn’t know what we were talking about.
We weren’t ready then. How can we know if we’re ready now?
Some Pagan traditions have degrees, grades, and other mileposts to gauge the progress from beginner to intermediate to advanced. These can give us some confidence that yes, we do know a thing or two. But as in the mundane world (especially in school and in the corporate world) we all know people who’ve managed to check the boxes and get the promotions without learning much of anything.
And for those of us who are moving off the map, there’s nothing to let us know where we are.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing the call of this God or that ancestor or these spirits. Or perhaps we just feel a deep desire, a deep need begin the kind of spiritual and magical work that few people can do and fewer still will do.
But we don’t feel like we’re ready to do it. We don’t know if we’re capable of getting ready. We’re afraid of failing, but more than that we’re afraid of looking like arrogant fools while we fail. And so we hesitate.
It’s not about you
At some point, though, you start to realize that this desire – this call – isn’t about you. It’s not about whether you’re ready or whether you’re good enough. Those things aren’t important.
What’s important is the work in front of you: the devotions, the journeys, the spells. What’s important are the rituals that need to be led, the events that need to be produced, the groups that need to be organized.
What’s important are the Gods and ancestors and spirits telling you to do this – and to do it now, not when you’re ready.
Your doubts and concerns are real. The need to do the work is more real. Your desire to do the work is the most real of all.
And that’s what will get you up off the couch of self-doubt and moving forward.
What enables us to produce such magical effects has in fact to do with the very resistance to labels. When you resist labelling, what happens is that you live in a world of no distinction, for what does it actually mean to say that you’re a witch, or a professor, or both? … You embody the appropriate role and that’s that.
I’m not as anti-labelling as Camelia, but I strongly agree with her point that when we stop worrying about boxes (either the ones we check off or the ones we put ourselves in) and just do the work, great things can happen.
For those who are stepping into the work
This post was inspired by numerous participants in Paganism In Depth – The On-line Class. Their individual comments are private, but most said something along the lines of “I don’t feel ready to do this, but I feel like I need to do it, so I’m doing it.”
Most of you will go farther than you think is possible. A few of you won’t, but you will still go farther and accomplish more than if you had never started. In either case, you will learn something that will be helpful the next time you’re called to do something.
Some observers who mean well will say “see, you really were good enough all along.” Speaking for myself, I can see that now, looking back. I couldn’t see it looking forward, and those who insisted that I was better than I thought only increased my anxiety about the whole thing.
I didn’t believe I could do it until I did it.
There are things in front of me now that I don’t think I can do. But the work is there, it needs to be done, and deep down I want to do it. So I’m doing it.
We’ll see how it goes.
If you really and truly can’t
Sometimes wanting and trying isn’t enough. Sometimes you simply can’t. Almost all of us can throw a ball. Some of us can throw it really well. Only a few of us can do it well enough that people will pay to see us do it. No amount of wanting and trying was going to turn me into a professional baseball player – I didn’t have the natural athletic ability. Sometimes there are things we simply aren’t able to do.
You may have complications that you can’t overcome. Maybe your family situation doesn’t leave enough time to devote the necessary hours to practice and service. Maybe your health restricts what you can do.
The fact that some people can seemingly do it all doesn’t mean you can… and you never know how closely their circumstances match yours. In any case, this post is intended to encourage those who think they can’t but really can, not to shame those who really can’t.
This is not an all or nothing game. Doing the some things you can is better than doing nothing because you can’t do it all.
For those who have no doubts
I worry most about those who have no doubts. It’s possible they know exactly what needs to done and how they’re going to do it. It’s more likely they’re on that initial peak of the Dunning-Kruger graph and they don’t know it. Part of Dunning-Kruger says that if you’re ignorant, you don’t even know enough to recognize that you are ignorant.
If you have no doubts, by all means forge ahead. Do it right and you’ll soon find yourself sliding down that curve. Once you’re there you can start working your way up the peak of real knowledge and expertise.
But until then, remember that a little humility goes a long way.
Blessings on your journey
I could tell you that you’re good enough but you wouldn’t believe me. I could tell you if a God calls you that means They think you can do it, but even the most devout among us have our doubts.
So instead I will simply tell you that the work needs to be done and there is no one else to do it.
I will remind you that some success is better than no success, and in any case failure is a great teacher.
I will urge, plead, and beg you to listen to that voice deep within. No, not that one. The one that says “I want to do this.” “I want to be a part of this.”
You’ll never be ready.
But you can start now.