For this week’s edition of Thesis Thursdays, I’m changing gears for a bit. Sadly, I’m pushing aside poor Emily once more, but with the start of my school year rapidly approaching, I wanted to share this article that I found from The Crunk Feminist Collective, one of my favorite blogs that tackles issues surrounding academia, race, feminism, and social consciousness.
Although the article, “Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips,” is directed towards women in academia, I think the overall tips can apply to everyone who is struggling and striving to juggle multiple responsibilities without having a meltdown. As the school year rapidly approaches, I’ve been pondering these tips, and they way that I want to enact them in my own life.
I recommend checking out the whole post, but the 10 tips, along with my commentary, are below:
1. Be confident in your abilities.
Regardless of our passions and professions, it’s easy to be bogged down by fears of inadequacy. My own internal voice is incredibly insidious. Sometimes it whispers lies about how I’ll never finish my MA thesis or be good enough to find a job; other times, it tells me that I’m a horrible writer, that I’ll never complete a novel or get my work published. That little voice also preys on my self-image and likes to tell me that I’m not pretty enough, or skinny enough.
Lately, I’ve taken to countering that voice with a constant mantra of “I know I can, I know I can,” like The Little Engine that Could. It almost feels infantile, that non-stop repetition, but it serves to keep the demons at bay.
2. Be patient with yourself.
I have high ambitions for myself, and yet I always have to remember that I won’t accomplish them in a single attempt. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell presents his “10,000 hour rule“: in order to do succeed, he argues, we need to devote at least 10,000 hours to honing, practicing, and sharpening our skills.
If Gladwell is correct, that means it’ll take years, if not a lifetime, to fully develop our talents. If that’s the case, I can’t expect myself, or my work, to be perfect. I also can’t beat myself up every time I say something less-than-stellar during seminar, or write an article that’s a bit of a dud and isn’t accepted to the journal of my choice, or stumble a bit in my quest for
global dominance achieving success as a novelist.
I also have to remind myself that it takes time to develop an idea. I’ve been joking that writing a thesis is, to a certain extent, similar to writing a novel: both projects tend to morph and evolve in directions that one doesn’t really expect, and both require a certain amount of “brewing time” in order to work out the kinks in plot, structure, or theoretical/analytical framework. We have to learn to get comfortable with those periods where we’re not actively producing, because even then, we’re working.
3. Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own (professional) needs/goals.
One of the most important lessons I learned in junior high was the power of being perseverance. As Mr. C, my 8th grade homeroom teacher told me, “If you want something, Lena, you’ve gotta go out and get it yourself. You have to be prepared to fight for what you want, otherwise you’ll never get it.”
In this case, the magical unicorn that I was fighting for was a list of privileges for the 8th grade class that included bathroom breaks and class sweatshirts (ah, the innocent days of my youth), but the advice still applies. No one is going to deliver our goals on a silver platter. We’ve got to chase them.
4. Be kind to yourself.
I love this one, because I find that it’s much easier for me to be unkind to myself. That niggling voice of doubt is incredibly powerful, telling me that I don’t deserve to take time off, that I should be ashamed because I had a rather large slice of chocolate cake after dinner, or that I’m not really a scholar, because I haven’t published in X-journal, like my other colleagues have. But as Jami Gold wrote in a recent post, we have to give ourselves permission to mess up, to fail, to chase our dreams, and to have a breather now and then.
5. Be proactive about self-care.
I ignored self-care for a long time in grad school, and wondered why I was getting struck down with horrible migraines every few weeks. Turns out that sleep is useful, as well as a means to manage stress. Writing is my outlet, but I’ve found that I need to find other ways to take care of myself, like going outside and getting some sunshine, taking time out to meditate and go to church, spending time with friends, or just taking a mid-day nap when I feel sleepy.
6. Be a friend/comrade to others and let them do the same for you.
The power of community! Strangely, this is one of the hardest things to foster in grad school — everyone is running around, trying to tackle research and teaching and coursework, and it’s easy to go an entire quarter without really getting together with people. I’m extra grateful for the friends that I’ve made through #myWANA, #writecampaign, and #ROW80, because I’ve formed friendships that have eased me through some rough patches.
7. Be willing to get CRUNK!
8. Be better, not bitter.
Failure is inevitable, and all we can do is learn how to face those dark moments with a measure of grace.
9. Be tight. Bring your A-game.
10. Be a light.
I think the philosophy of paying it forward applies here, along with the responsibilities that come from being part of a community. We owe it to each other to help each other out, to illuminate paths for others to the best of our ability, to allow our light to shine rather than hiding it beneath a bushel, etc.
What strategies have you had to employ in order to survive and thrive in life?