This is a much overdue post.
[Note: I'm not a 'swearer' however this post contains a little 'swearing' for descriptive purposes :)]
I’ve found myself, somehow miraculously, in the home stretch of my PhD. If someone told me this a matter of four months ago, I’m not sure I would have believed them after sitting in a hospital bed that ironically, I could see my office from.
This homestretch however is reason why I’ve neglected my posts – it’s a busy time! And yes, I’ve been out of hospital since then, but it’s been the most testing and challenging time of my life – likened to a PhD, however I’m also trying to knock it over at the same time. A double-whammy!
But then I realised, we all have our challenges and there are so many of you out there at probably the exact same stage I am at, albeit some experiencing bigger challenges too, and after having ‘one of us’ submit their thesis earlier this week, I thought WOW! What a milestone, what a feeling; but for us – we aren’t quite done…though we’re almost there!
I think the premise of this post, or what I’ll try and share – is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel (I’m about to find it), but putting one foot in front of the other is the most important thing to start with. It’s not easy, it hasn’t been easy, but I’m sure a lot of you know that – but I’m here to say it’s okay, perfectly normal – and I came to this conclusion after realising, as ironic as it may sound to some, that here I am – trying to submit my thesis in the minimum time frame; yes, that’s not a typo, I meant ‘minimum’ as in ASAP – as quick as possible. Why? Well it’s a pretty daunting challenge I felt like taking on to be honest – I thrive on doing what others say isn’t easy or can’t be done; I don’t like being told I can’t do something.
So, last week I was asked why this was important to me by my supervisor. Although we’d discussed this before, it was directed at why I was having difficulty coming to terms with submitting a little later (after recent circumstances). I was asked as I was upset at the idea that I wasn’t going to make it – I’d set myself this goal when I first started, and long before that the year I’d finish (yes, I knew I was going to finish it this year). However, I did not foresee the challenges of this year – the past five months (21 weeks to be precise). So when I was asked why it was important that I finish, one of the limited people I know who truly understand what I’ve gone through in most respects, I said because I want to; because I set myself a goal. However, then the conversation went along the lines of “it’s not a race, it’s not a competition” – I pondered this. Then after thinking about it said it is – I’m competing against myself, it’s a race and I’m trying to beat myself; I don’t have anyone else to compete against. My supervisor went on to process this and said that they’d never understand the mindset of an elite athlete – which struck a cord. The mentality of us that are competing against ourselves. In most respects I really don’t care what someone else has done nor their timeline, unless I want to beat it – but then that’s a catch twenty-two too, as I do care, it is a target for me to beat.
Have you ever been told you can’t do something? I have. Have you ever been told that it’s too hard and that not many people can do it? I have. I don’t know what you thought but I always viewed that as a challenge. So, when I started my PhD I wrote down a timeline, month by month – and my supervisor can attest to how anal I’ve been sticking to it, and how upset I was (okay, cranky) if I didn’t reach it. I wouldn’t recommend this all the time, but a good dose of crankiness goes a long way to keeping a thesis on track. However, without getting off track too much, the idea of doing something not many people have done, appeals to me. Although at the same time, things can be made a lot harder unintentionally. So when I was told that I didn’t have to finish when I wanted to, I could take more time – I replied with something like, “I don’t know how to – that it isn’t easy”. Then there was a revelation and probably the wisest piece of advice I got throughout my entire candidature thus far – and what I wanted to share.
I was told that I have to give myself permission. Permission to take a little bit longer. Permission to accept that well, quite frankly (my words), that sh*t happens. I think that’s the best way to describe it. I’m quite blunt when I say sh*t happens as well, I didn’t think this much sh*t could happen, but boy, a lot has gone down through my candidature and there are a very limited number of people who know – I can count them all on one hand (thumb excluded). And this ‘permission’ struck me as something I need to take on board.
But why? Well, we all need to account for the unexpected. The unexpected happens. Yes, it does – I wasn’t convinced until earlier this year, less than two weeks after I turned twenty-eight. I thought I was in for the year of my life – and I wasn’t wrong; I’d just expected it to pan out a little differently. Without going into too much detail, the unexpected happened (21 weeks ago), and four neurologists later I’m still not back to full health; my work load use to be 5-6 (sometimes 7) days a week on a full-time load (as in full-time trying to complete within the two year time frame…yes, I don’t have a social life). But now I’m limited to about 2-3 hours per day, and if I’m lucky, sometimes longer; but if I’m unlucky, I now go for 3-5 days plus without doing any writing – not that I don’t want to, I just can’t. Today being one of ‘those’ days that I thought “well, you can’t be the only one feeling like this” – not in regards to discomfort, but in respect to thesis ‘inhibitors’ that strike us down randomly on sporadic days throughout out candidature. So, again I don’t want to make this a whinge post, I wanted to share that not only does sh*t happen, but account for it to happen – cause it’s going to happen; and ironically I even presented briefly on this the other day that unexpected things will happen throughout the PhD process – I just hope for your sake not ‘this’ type of sh*t doesn’t happen to you; but if you want a pretty darn tough challenge that challenges you in nearly all respects you can think of…well then, you probably do want this challenge! No matter what stage of your thesis you’re in, it’ll challenge you, it’ll test you, it’ll at times see the worst of you (this came out earlier today) – but it will also at times make you see the best of you and what you’re really capable of achieving.
So, while I’m on the mend and working towards submitting my thesis – and sneakily, somehow I know I can’t submit for another few months with my sick leave having gone through; however, I’ve still set myself a challenge and not ‘applied’ for all my sick leave (going onto six months), which will let me finish under the minimum time frame (2 years). I know, it’s my competitive nature and I’m working on giving myself ‘permission’ – it doesn’t come easy or naturally. I need to give myself permission to take longer – accept the unexpected and in the meantime, take time to smell the roses; and given that spring has just come and the sun is shining (seriously, I don’t like winter!), the cold air and wicked breezes are subsiding, and the humidity is on the rise – perfect weather to bask in the sunshine and thank the lucky stars I’m still able to do what I love and that God throws us challenges, however the tougher the person, the tougher the challenge it seems. So, here’s to staying tough, staying strong, submitting your thesis when you want to, and I’ll work on submitting mine too!