It’s that weird time of the year when you realised that you’re reaching the remaining pages of your 2016 diary and will shortly be faced with the bright blank slate of 2017. And you want to start it with a bang, right? I’m not talking the ceremonial firecrackers kind of bang, but the neural ‘snap, crackle, pop’ of a mind intent on crisper fissures and fusions. 2017 is to be the year of GREAT THINGS. The year of buying less of that overpriced Posh popcorn stuff they sell in Dhaba cafe, the year of actually attending the aerobics classes you signed up for, of finding out what the hell your DropBox password is, of daring to do more exciting things than watching the Princess Bride on repeat on Friday nights…
Maybe, just maybe, it is the year of completing a draft of something or other that looks like a PhD? Or if not the PhD itself than at least a distant cousin. Not nearly as attractive as the PhD will be of course, but with a vague resemblance if you gave him a scrub and dimmed the lighting? A Draft. Hmmm. Maybe. Perhaps. Could be. Could be?
Shall I put this ‘goal’ (WRITE PHD) in the diary? Somewhere between January and December 2017? On every page or just a week of December?
Ever since I began this journey (which my friends call my ‘project,’ causing me to turn blue in the face and throw things at them. IT’S NOT A FAAKING PROJECT. THERE IS NO GLITTER GLUE AND MACARONI PIECES INVOLVED), I’ve had this niggling sensation at the back of my mind, that there is something I have ‘to do.’ It lurks within me, an ever festering shadow, which even finds room to squeeze into my Ryanair luggage wherever I go, so relentless is He (yes, it would appear that my PhD is male. Go figure).
Yet the enormity of the PhD can’t fit under one ‘To Do’ list. It would be like buying all of Tescos in one grocery shop (And I’m talking the big Tescos, any hangry person could buy out one of those ‘express’ stores). We have to break it down, and in breaking it down, recognise the small triumphs. And they may indeed be ‘small,’ but they sure as anything aren’t trivial.
This week we had a ‘guest visitor’ (yes, Ann, I’m talking about you!) who has just submitted her first draft and lived to tell the tale, with typical good humour and flair. Having Ann in our midst made me start thinking about milestones and about how important it is, to recognise them.
As a group we spoke about how we needed to celebrate each other’s small triumphs, even if only in the form of a high five in the corridor (or something less ‘80s…). Obviously we don’t want an environment of gloating which creates feelings of inadequacy among each other, but rather a space which acknowledges the little things. We often get wrapped in stressy speech, and I sometimes fear we help inadvertently contribute to each other’s anxiety by framing the PhD as an inherently stressful process. It can be immensely stressful no doubt, and we should be able to vocalise that, tear our hair out, scream and laugh and scream all over again. But we should also take the time to celebrate, the small tickings of a very long ‘to do’ list. The journey is the destination, right? And every proper road trip requires SNACKS and BAD MUSIC (or good music, if you’re that way inclined).
As a group we realised how many of us are filled with a gut wrenching sense of ‘WHAT HAVE I DONE’ the moment we press ‘send’ for our ‘baby steps documents.’ We felt that acknowledging each other’s’ achievements is one way of helping to process the barren wasteland between the day of document departure and the day of document feedback from supervisor.
We ended off last week’s session with some warm, fuzzy sharing of the things we feel we have achieved in our writing over the last little period. These observations were made all the more meaningful because they came from people who have also shared, within the group, our trials and tribulations. It was so nice to listen to other people’s achievements and feel genuinely happy for them, rather than anxious for yourself. I hope in time to hear more of the ‘good news’. We won’t be getting it from other news sources I fear, so it’d be nice to get it from each other!