Do you ever feel like you can’t face the day?
Like everything feels too hard? And you can’t do it?
If so, I get it. I’ve been there (many times).
What I’ve found really helps when I’m feeling down is a little self care. And this usually involves taking some time out, being kind to myself and reaching out to others for support.
My less than perfect life
It takes real courage to share a journey that is less than perfect. And my PhD journey was far from perfect . . .
When I first started my PhD, I went through a rough patch. The little critical voice in my head was in overdrive. Like a bully in the school yard, it would taunt, “You’re stupid!”, “Your writing is rubbish” and “You’re dumb compared to the others”.
As this critical inner voice became louder, my motivation levels plummeted. At one point, I couldn’t face working on my PhD anymore. In fact, I stopped going into university. I shut shop for several weeks.
Time to rest and think
My time off was similar to what I have recently experienced with COVID-19. It gave me the time and space to think about what I wanted from life. I really enjoyed doing my own thing for a bit.
There were days where I would lie on the couch and just watch TV or read a book. And that was okay. I allowed myself to do these things (guilt free).
After my time off, I went into university to figure out how I was going to quit (Who did I need to talk to? What papers did I need to fill in?). But that day, something happened that changed the course of my life forever . . .
I bumped into another PhD student and I shared with him my plan to quit.
Like a lot of people, he was a little surprised by my plan. But unlike most people, he didn’t say, “You’d be crazy to quit!” and “Don’t throwaway this amazing opportunity!”.
Instead, he was incredibly gentle and kind. He simply suggested:
“Before you quit . . .why not take a few free courses through the university? The training is wonderful!”
“Great idea!”, I thought. So I enrolled in a two day training course that piqued my interest. I thought, “I’ll do this but then I am out of here . . . ”
My plan backfired
There I was at the training course in the city, sitting next to a young woman from Indonesia. She had uprooted her life in Indonesia and moved here with her entire family to do her PhD.
On our lunch break, I asked her how things were going with her research project. “It’s been really hard”, she said. “Why?”, I asked. She proceeded to tell me:
• Her husband couldn’t find work in Australia
• She was having to wake up at 4am to work at a bakery to support her family
• She had two small children that needed her care and attention
• She was working long hours in the lab on her PhD from 9am – 6pm.
• It was hard to make friends here
• She wasn’t on a scholarship (she was paying the university a lot of money to do her research).
This poor woman looked completely exhausted. Hearing her story jolted me out of this strange story I had developed that my life was really tough.
My life wasn’t tough at all!
Let me just say, the self pity party came to an abrupt end.
I felt sick to the stomach as I realised how privileged I was. I had nothing to complain about.
My inner voice was now saying:
“Pull your finger out and get cracking!”
That conversation completely shifted my mindset. And with that, everything else shifted for me. For the first time in months, I felt like doing research. I wanted to continue studying.
Was working on my PhD project easy?
No. It was incredibly challenging (research and study is challenging).
Am I glad I stuck at it?
You bet. It was one of the best things I ever did.
What did I learn from doing my PhD?
I learnt that it’s okay to make mistakes. You don’t have to do things perfectly or be the smartest person in the room. You just need to keep showing up and do a little bit each day.
In hindsight, I learnt the power of kindness and being vulnerable. I saw that if you’re in the right headspace, a single conversation can be life changing.
The PhD student I bumped into at university on the day I was going to quit later became my friend. He came to my PhD graduation ceremony to celebrate with me.
He must have known that simple two minute conversation helped shift my path. It literally changed the trajectory of my life for the better (thank you Simon).
So never underestimate the power of your words and actions. What you say and do could change someone else’s life for the better.