Tomorrow, I will enter the classroom for the very last time as a student.
I keep repeating that to myself because it doesn’t quite sound real. This journey to move forward in my doctoral degree has been the most intense, difficult and eye-opening process of my life.
When I first started classes I told myself that this was going to be just like any other new endeavor—learn it, manage it, produce and perfect it! If only it were that easy. There are so many things I would want to say to that (naïve!) woman from three years ago including:
1) You will be painfully alone in this journey: Family, friends and colleagues won’t understand the isolation (unless they have been through it themselves) so don’t get frustrated when they are upset that you can’t hang out/make plans ahead of time as often as they would like. This is a selfish process and you have to negotiate your life, work AND school. Making everyone happy will be impossible. Be OK with that.
2) Realize you will fail…and fail again: I am not afraid to fail…but I despise doing so. From dozens of critical comments on my papers, to the abysmal grade I received in my stats class to a difficult candidacy defense meeting, I have been subjected to failure more in this arena of my life than any other. We started with a large cohort and now are down to a small handful of students. I attribute this to the fact that many of these talented folks really struggled with failure—they weren’t used to it—and bailed because it was demoralizing.
3) You will second-guess yourself every day: In my 33 years on this planet I have never started anything that I didn’t know (with absolute certainty) that I would be able to finish. Until now. While I am hopeful, willing to work hard and do all that I can, there is a reason why so few people actually finish. Self-doubt is a powerful manipulator. I work through it by acknowledging small victories and indulging in little rewards along the way.
4) It’s not the smartest person who finishes…it is the most persistent: I am never the smartest person in the room but I do pride myself on not giving up. This quality has come in handy during every step of the process. Stubbornness helps, too!
5) Find a supportive community : My classmates– Vijay and Laura–are my cheerleaders who truly understand what I am going through. On Twitter, the #sadoc community shares resources and supportive messages to all who venture down this path. I also rely on folks who have come before me and managed to escape to the other side, relatively unscathed. They serve as role models for the next steps—people who found a way to finish despite having every reason in the book to quit.
A wise mentor told me recently, “Ann Marie, I believe that you will finish this degree…but this current version of you won’t be the one who succeeds. You will evolve into a different version of yourself in this next part of the journey and if you allow yourself to lean into the process, you will be amazed at the person you will become at the end of the journey.”
I am keeping that advice in mind as I move forward. While I know there is much more to this process ahead of me, I have to celebrate what today represents. One more victory, one step closer and a thousand more lessons learned.
Tomorrow, I will enter the classroom for the very last time as a student. And I am proud!