I noticed that “converts” to a new thing, be it a new show, religion, fandom, or nation tend to undergo a series of fairly consistent “phases” or “stages”. Think of them less of stages of grief and more of stages of love, that is, some stages last shorter than others and you can go from one stage to being “cut off” (or that is, terminating the relationship) at any moment. Please also note that listing things together is not my putting them on a similar plane, but rather that the “trajectory of a convert” seems to apply to many things outside of religion, nationality, or ideology, or even art form. So, think of convert less in a denotative sense and more of in the sense of “one who seeks to embrace a foreign or new skill, outlook, ideology, or religion with their very person”
Stage One: Convert’s Ecstasy
This is the part of the process where the person is excited and thrilled with ya know whatever. Suddenly they have American Flags or Union Jacks on everything and they are just in love with everything about their new religion/philosophy/tv show/mistress. This phase is the shortest lived, for some it lasts as little as a month and for others it can last upwards of a year. The thing about this phase that delineates it from a general sense of zeal though is that the person doesn’t know much and doesn’t take the time to learn more, they are too caught up in the excitement and glamour of the newness and novelty of everything. As soon as they realize the amount of work they move onto. . .
Stage Two: Oh. . .this is hard
There is a sinking feeling that many people experience when they realize they have a VERY long road ahead of them to be considered a “true” Existentialist/Marxist/Libertarian/One-Directioner. Some folks may, at this point, deeply despair at the amount of work and and a lot of folks “drop-off” at this phase. Others are still equally daunted by the amount of work that will be involved but push on through to becoming more informed. To put it into a relationship analogy, this is when you realize that your partner is you know, a person and does stuff like cut old ladies off in traffic and eat whole cartons of thin mints (DISCLAIMER: I don’t think Josh has ever cut off an old woman in traffic). If you put the time and effort in and really start digging into stuff you’ll find your way out of the Forest of Confusion and stumble onto
Stage Three: The base of Mount Stupid
Mount Stupid isn’t just any Mountain. Mount Stupid is the mountain where all your fundamentals are going to be learned and where you are going to look back in 5 years and go “I SAID THAT?” or “That Rick Grimes tattoo was an AWFUL idea” You will, in the future stumble across mole hills of stupid, but they will just be little bumps of stupidity. You will never be as stupid as you are while climbing mount stupid. Some people look at the long hike up to the peak and just give up. To be fair, they’ll save themselves a lot of flushed cheeks if they do that, but not us, we are going to keep climbing so I can keep using mountain analogies.
Stage Four: Climbing Mount Stupid
Climbing Mount Stupid is full of PAIN and SUFFERING, but as the old saying goes “No pain, no very small increases in competency that you barely notice but which add up over time” On this side of the mountain you are going to screw up a lot, you are going to feel like you NEVER will do anything right and be convinced that you have no aptitude for whatever sort of work you are doing. Then you see those folks frolicking in the Meadow of Ease and think “they never climbed Mount Stupid. I just must be awful at this.” But let me let you in on a secret, they did. Every person who was and is good at anything went through the same initial phases of frustration that you are going through. They got where they are because they simply didn’t quite climbing and trying even when it got really hard, and most importantly, they learned how to find joy in the journey and learning process. Another little secret, they are only over there for a short amount of time. This magical meadow might be a place to reenergize and get a brief break for many, but stay there too long and you end up in the Sinkhole of Laziness, and that is a hard place to crawl out of from what I’ve seen. When you don’t challenge yourself or seek to further refine your skills and interests they deteriorate and stagnate. Whether that is building and improving your repertoire of showtunes or improving ritualistic skills, you always have to find mountains to climb. People struggle to get down the fundamentals and the basics, it is just the things go. No matter how long it takes and how many times you embarrass yourself keep climbing. If you rest too long you’ll fall back down the mountain. Once that happens, it can be REALLY hard to start going again
Stage Five: The Peak of Stupidity
This is where you will look your ABSOLUTE dumbest for sure, the peak of stupidity. This is the point at which you’ve got the basics and fundamentals down pat and you can pretty well hold your own in most conversations revolving around the thing to which you’ve converted, folks who have been in your community for a while may listen to what you have to say with genuine interest and folks may begin looking at you as a person who they want to “groom” or pass their knowledge down to. This is all well and good but it tends to lead to a certain arrogance on our own part, this arrogance coupled with the fact that you DO NOT KNOW AS MUCH AS YOU THINK YOU DO (I can almost guarantee you that) will lead you to saying and doing some exceptionally dumb things. This is when you will get into arguments that make you look like an absolute idiot, and when the realization that you still have a long way to go will set in. Some people are a bit wiser, and they keep their stay on the Peak of Stupid short. These people are generally older and more mature or just in-general less prone to being arrogant, rash, or posturing. At this point some people choose to just make a little nest on the Peak and eventually alienate themselves from the very groups they sought to embrace; others will climb back down the side they just came up, deciding that it is all just too much work. Still, others will decide to push forward and begin the descent down the mountain, down to where their feet have yet to touch.
Stage Six: Climbing down Mount Stupid
After you’ve been castigated and reminded that you have a lot to learn on the Peak of Stupidity, you will inevitably begin to learn. You will begin to acquire more than just the most basic and fundamental skills and knowledge required for your proper movement within your new “crowd” of friends who share your belief that Foust is just simply the best and begin learning more intermediate and advanced information. You are realizing where you really fit into the whole scheme of your particular sub-culture/religion/fan-club and are gaining an appropriate gauge of how much knowledge, skill, and finesse you have when placed against the larger current. Most of all, you will have more confidence in what you say and may actually be capable of teaching other folks the basics (which is good if you can manage it, teaching things to others really does help you learn it, that isn’t just a cliche.) As you head down towards the base of the mountain you may begin thinking about specializations you wish to pursue, or what direction you would like to take your passion. You may notice yourself developing a particular style or that your way of looking at things has been altered by your time spent on Mount Stupid, this is good. It means you put in the time and effort and that you were passionate enough to round out the climb and that the climb is now a part of you.
Stage Seven: After Mount Stupid
After Mount Stupid you may stop and rest for a short time. The journey you undertook to get off that mountain probably took you about two to five years and the journey may have you a bit beat up, so rest. But not for too long. Remember that stagnation I talked about? It can happen anytime you refuse (or simply can’t) push yourself and explore new skillsets. Now is the part where, sadly, a lot of converts to Pagan and Polytheistic religions revert back to their previous faith. Why? The dread of ennui. Many folks simply don’t know how to continue their development and learning process, either they don’t have the knowledge, people, resources, or all three to enable themselves to continue their development in a way that will be challenging and allow them to progress enough to eradicate and lessen ennui, at least for a time. Don’t let the ennui overcome you. Find ways to refine your skills and knowledge set. Be creative, but just don’t give up. Ennui, like all emotions, fades away, dissipates, goes to a farm upstate. It is not forever, and persevering can lead to immensely wonderful and rich things
Most of all though, do not neglect to see the joy in the journey. Finding joy in this very frustrating, daunting, and life-changing process can seem like a real challenge for some folks, but it doesn’t have to be. Rejoice in what you have learned, take note of how the things you are learning and embracing are making positive changes in your life, explore ways that this new way of thinking and behaving can bring you joy to sustain you on your journey. A moment of true and pure joy can erase a day’s worth of frustration and heartache.
Remember though, you will still hit stupid mole hills and stupid hills, just deal with them as they come. Being off Mount Stupid does not make you immune or impervious to stupidity and there are various traps of laziness and arrogance that can undo all the hard work that you’ve done. Keep in mind that you can always improve and as soon as you think you cannot learn more or that you have mastered a skill set or knowledge set, you are dead in the water. You can always be better and that is one of the most daunting, terrifying, and exciting things. Or so I’ve been told at least.
I’m still stuck on that damn mountain.
Post-Script: Some of you may be asking how I can write such a thing when I, myself, admit to not being off the mountain in any of my skill sets. One word: Observation. I’ve been observing folks converting to new religions and embracing new things/lifestyles from the time I was a very small child, and as I got older I noticed that this pattern held for many other things, even fandoms. It is of note though that fandoms and hobbies tend to have a more “accelerated” rate on the Mountain than do religions, art forms, ideologies, sub-cultures, and nations. Of course, this all is contingent upon my observations having truth to them. As far as I can tell, they do, but your mileage may vary.