Maybe I haven’t finished my reading list just yet, maybe I haven’t written enough, maybe I’m still not as organised as I’d like to be… But I’ve come a long way.
I’ve had very ambitious plans for this Sunday, as usually. These all fell through, however, when I noticed a familiar name next to a comment during my morning (ok, midday, it was Sunday) coffee and Facebook catch-up. This was a colleague from a summer school I participate in some five years ago, who deactivated her account shortly after we’ve met. The school took place in picturesque Styria (in an actual castle!) and it was first such programme I ever attended. It was a time of insecurity and self-doubt, PhD was a very distant and vague idea at the back of my head… Those couple of weeks change a lot for me. The colleague and I reminisced with joy and nostalgia about our favourite moments from the programme and exchanged news on the other people we’ve been in touch with. I’ve asked what has she been doing since and she told me about the focus of her master’s dissertation completely changing after the module she attended, how she got involved with a project that led to her first full time job, how her fiancé’s mother bought a motorcycle, about their holiday plans…
And what have you been up to..?
When she asked what I was up to, I started explaining, at first almost apologetically, how my academic interests ventured from literature to linguistics, and the strayed into law and political science, only to return to linguistics. I complained about 2013 and 2014 being challenging and how torn I was between staying in the non-governmental sector, interning in Brussels and venturing into the academia, admitting that I still don’t know if I’ve made the right choice. I wrote about Warwick campus finally not feeling like a maze and how mild the Midlands climate is. I described how patient my supervisor is and how she helps me stay focused. I shared how worried I was about not being able to focus when reading longer pieces or write fluently and with ease.
At first I complained about my funding circumstances, but couldn’t hide feeling proud that the research council showed any interest at all in my project. I joked about my jinxed corpora finally yielding something vaguely resembling research findings. It typed paragraph after paragraph on my work in widening participation, writing about my new Sutton Scholars mentees and the course on online hate speech I’ve designed for the Brilliant Club. I told her about the amazing postgraduate community and all the support available, and that there is cake on Thursdays. I sent her a link to the paper I wrote on one of my favourite fantasy trilogies and to a chapter, on less exciting topic, which was finally published after almost two years of nerve-wrecking revisions. I shared photos from the conferences I have recently been to and talked excitedly about the “academic celebrities” I’ve met in the last couple of years.
It turned into a hideously long monologue and, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if my colleague hesitated to get in touch with me ever again. However, it was eye-opening to see these words on the screen, poured out almost effortlessly on the keyboard (rather than forced out for a cover letter). It felt really good not to look at my diary and fret over the things that I haven’t yet done or had to miss, but to focus, for a change, on those that I have done, and pretty well too. I realised how good I was at feeling inadequate and overwhelmed and how awkward it feels to be proud of myself. Awkward but soothing, and much needed. It probably won’t last very long, but I’ve been feeling much more optimistic and resilient ever since.
Patting yourself on the back
There are so many things about doing a PhD that can keep us down and negatively reflect on our self-confidence. It feels like we need to fight every single day to prove we’re worth it and have the right to be where we are, that we’re smart and interesting enough, hard-working and creative, determined and flexible. It’s hard for any human being to radiate all of these qualities at all times. No, it’s impossible. Nonetheless, I believe we have all done some pretty amazing things and it is good to take a moment and feel good about these, to find the courage and motivation in previous accomplishments, rather than letting the fear of failure drag you down.
So go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back! Pat your colleagues, too.
If you find it easier, write it all down, imagine telling your long lost friend or first grade teacher what you have doing in the last couple of years. Print it and use it as a reminder of how capable you are. Feel proud of what you’ve achieved so far and look forward to what is about to come.
Share something you’re proud of in the comments section. 🙂