January is a time for new beginnings and yet the next 30 days are the end of a journey that for me began 4 years and 5 months ago.
I remember going to class on the first day of my doctoral program feeling like a million bucks. This, I thought, is going to be fun. No biggie. I know how to be a student!
That was also the day the glass shattered and my previously held notions about being a doctoral student faded away. I have always had a healthy amount of self-confidence and yet this is a process that has made me doubt myself to my core–my abilities, my writing and my intelligence–on a daily basis.
One of the faculty members told me that the smartest people don’t necessarily graduate but the students who consistently work hard and persevere will make it to the finish line. I kept that in mind during the really tough times–like when I put my hard copy of chapter two (full of red ink and edits) under my bed and didn’t touch it for three months because I felt so demoralized. I also remembered her wise words when I moved to Oregon two days after my final class. Far away from my classmates and my professors I had to find the internal motivation to keep making progress from 2,200 miles away.
As I approach the finish line I recognize that I have learned a lot about myself in the process.
1–I struggle with self-confidence when asked to present my original work: This may not make a lot of sense to people who read my blog or have seen me present at a conference but it is absolutely true. I am 100% confident in those other kinds of venues but when it comes to scholarly research, this program has made me question if I actually belong in the academic arena which is just as painful for me to write it as it is to read it.
The truth is, I don’t want anyone other than my professors to attend my dissertation defense next month. I know this is usually a time for family and friends to come and celebrate the moment they say “Congratulations Dr. Klotz!” but to me, this whole process where professors question every detail of your work is incredibly difficult-and I would prefer that those closest to me not be a witness to that. I am being honest with myself and trying to survive the last hurdle with as much grace and confidence as possible.
2–I have learned to embrace my idiosyncrasies: I live my life fairly consistently (my close friends are rolling their eyes and laughing at this one!) I like to wake up at the same time, eat the same things and set up a to-do list for my life and my work every day. I love itineraries and schedules.
Those same (dare I say rigid??) practices have tremendously helped me to set up systems to write and edit consistently. It was also a common theme amongst my interview participants–they are able to manage their incredibly complex lives and schedules in a similar way. Their stories actually made made my (some may say ‘odd’) ways seem normal!
3–It truly does take a village: I ran my very first race in June of 2012–just ten days after I moved to Oregon. I barely knew anyone and I certainly didn’t know anyone who was running this race. As I sprinted towards the finish line, I heard my name being yelled. Who could that be? I wondered. Turns out, some of my new colleagues had seen that I was doing this race on social media and they came out to support me. “Everyone should have a cheering session,” my colleague later said to me.
Similarly, in the marathon that is getting a terminal degree, the “cheering section” is also a necessary component. I know that it is because of the outpouring of belief and support in me that I was able to move forward when I honestly thought I couldn’t write one more word.
This next 30 days are like starting mile 25 of a marathon for me. While the challenges are far from over, I can see the finish line, and it is beautiful.
What journeys are you beginning or ending in 2014?
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