Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Thesis Thursdays: Back-to-School Beatitudes

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!

As the ladies from Crunk Feminist remind their readers, haters gonna hate. All we can do is be our amazing, wonderfully awesome selves, and leave them behind in the dust.

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.

‘Nuff said.

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?


  1. For years I thought living meant keeping your head down and hoping nobody noticed you. Then I realised I was confusing living with surviving. Now, I might be wrong, but I’ll have my say 🙂

    • I think there really is a difference between surviving and living — the former feels like “just trying to get by,” and the latter (to me, at any rate) means embracing everything that life throws your way. “Survival” is something that my friends and I talk about a lot in grad school, but I’d really like to start focusing on the “living” bit.

  2. Wow, great post, Lena! I love each and every one of these (especially #8). 🙂 I’m going to copy that graphic to G+ and credit you.

    Thanks for the link and congrats on your new pen name! 🙂

  3. What a great post! This can apply to just about everyone. Thanks!

    • This list has definitely resonated with all of my friends. I think I’m going to have to print it out and stick in on my fridge door, that way I can remember them each day. 😀

  4. This is great! I think I’m stuck on #8 but I’ve lost track of which letter I’m on, LOL

    • Haha, I know exactly what you mean! My friends and I have all been talking about that ourselves — our post-college realities, as compared to what we *thought* we’d be doing.

      Thanks for commenting, Raelyn!

  5. Had to laugh a little bit because I think I’m still on #1. I never doubt my writing ability because I know I’m awesome there, though finding my audience can be a challenge, but the “I’ll never get a job” in contrast is a very common thought.
    Actually, a lot of those are really hard… Be Kind to Yourself? Do I have to?

  6. What a great post, Lena. I’m keeping it in my ‘reminder’ file to read over when doubts start creeping up. Thanks!

  7. Awesome. I’m nodding my head to each of these, especially the be kind to yourself bit. PS: Can I steal your mantra? (chants): I know I can, I know I can, I know I can…

  8. Lena ~ Your 8th grade teacher had it right. My grandmother, a strong minded German woman who was ahead of her time, always told us two things.
    1. ‘Remember, in your blood runs Souder Spunk’. She and my grandfather, a Lebanese man, had plaques made for my mom and all her sisters that said just that. It hung in our kitchen for my entire growing up!
    2. ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me.’ I never forgot those words, and they have served me well.

    I really appreciated the fact that the post reminds us all to accept the ups as well as the downs, because they will come. Having the right perspective makes all the difference. We can see the storms of life as a passing event that will stretch us and make us grow/learn/build character – or we can see them as defeats that break us down and steal our joy.

    I’m off to check out the link. ~ Nadja

  9. All right, this was the perfect day for this post to show up in my mailbox. However did I miss this last year? The whole darn thing is going up on my wall. I know a message from the universe when I see it!

    Wonderful article and even better commentary, Lena. 🙂
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