I am back to working my crazy number of hours just like all Doctoral students. I get stressed. And afraid. And sad. I want to stay in bed some days. I am embarrassed by how little I know compared to other students in my cohort. I question whether this is the right path at least once a week. I don’t want to see faculty. My seminar class gives me anxiety. I have moments when I want to give up. I know, it’s only the sixth week of classes. I quit my job so I could focus on school. In doing so, I took on a leadership role in a student organization. I love this position so much. It excites me. It motivates me to keep moving forward. Still, it is a lot of work. Thankfully, I have a team of officers who blow me away with their willingness to help and take on some of the workload. I’m also still a teaching assistant and taking three classes. I see this tiny light ahead of me. Comprehensive (or Qualifying) exams are the most dreaded part of our program. I’m just as nervous to take them in the summer as anyone. But at the end of each day, I’m OK. I’m calm. I’m content. I have my shit together for maybe the first semester in the history of my grad school career.
So what’s different?
I think I’m different.
This summer I did a lot of self-reflection. I made a lot of changes to my daily routine. I focused on changing negative self talk. I asked myself so many questions.
- Why am I here (grad school)?
- Where do I want to go?
- What do I want to do with this degree?
- What skills do I possess (inside and outside of school) that will allow me to get there?
- Who do I need to meet so I can get there?
- Who do I want to be (in my job, in my relationships, in the Universe)?
- How do I want to be remembered?
- What makes me thrive?
- What makes me most productive? That is, what do I want to spend time and effort doing in school?
- What inspires me?
I told a best friend a few weeks back that the upcoming national conference in my field would solidify for me whether I continued down this path or if it was time to change direction before it was too late. I went to that conference last week. I brought with me to that conference those questions I had been asking myself all summer.
That conference shook me up. I made some incredible connections in the field and I made new friends. I saw old friends and colleagues who made my heart happy. I had important conversations with students who have graduated from the program. Opportunities almost fell into my lap (though I know I sought out those opportunities and the Universe worked with me). I attended a panel that lit a fire in me and reminded me that what I want to do is exciting and rewarding and important even if that goal does not align with the goals of my cohort or faculty. I received some positive feedback from strangers (and from faculty and students). I took on responsibilities within an organization.
I’ve made decisions about what I value, what I need to do, and where I need to go. I’ve changed my perspective. I am content. What’s more, I have come to terms with taking control of my life. That is, I am defining success on my own terms and I am moving toward my own goals. So often in grad school, we are compared to others, we are treated (negatively) in the same way others were treated, and we are held to a particular standard of values that are often not healthy. I am continuing to bring people into my life who make me better, who push me, who understand me, who are kind to me, and who support me.
I had to make a decision. I had to prioritize. I see that tiny light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel and I want to prepare the best I can. I don’t want that light to grow larger in my view and then fail just before I get to it because I procrastinated or didn’t prioritize in a healthy way.
Things are different because I am different.
Or maybe, I am learning a little more about who I am this year.
Maybe I took a baby step toward breaking free from fear?
P.S. I got a tattoo in Vegas last week.
We have the choice of life or death, love or fear, in each moment. We set out to better ourselves, only to find legions of reasons to break our commitment to health. We say it is too difficult to make the hard choice today. And yet the obstacles in our path *are* the path. Every time we stretch beyond our resistance and our fear, we make a choice for life. And every time we choose life, we find that fear loses its grip on us. ~ Rolf Gates
We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! ~ from Jonathan Livingston Seagull