The question put before me this week: what's your favorite fairy tale? I had to think about this for a while.
And this made me think, what is a fairy tale, exactly? How is it different from a folk tale? Does there have to be, explicitly, fairies involved? Or merely the fantastic? Is The Emperor's New Clothes a fairy tale? It doesn't have any magic or fairies, just a pair of con men who use a belief in magic to fuel their trick.
Because in a lot of ways, The Emperor's New Clothes reminds me of my experiences in academia. I lived in the honors dorm, and there was definitely a sense that no one would ever admit to not knowing something. The atmosphere of comparing grades and GPAs and knowledge bases was highly competitive, even toxic. If someone came in with a "fabric" they claimed that only anyone with a certain IQ or higher could see, you would bet your ass just about everyone would have claimed they could see it.
It took me a while to get out of that sort of mindset, of being able to say, "Yeah, I haven't read that. No, I don't know about that." without feeling like I was confessing to some sort of failure on my part. Now I finally recognize that it's part of learning. I realize that I actually like learning now, which sometimes has very little to do with the academic system.
I don't think the person I was then could have learned, for example, how to write a novel the way I have now. I wouldn't have been capable of it.
Fortunately, that's no longer the case.