August 16, 2012
On Advice and Thoughts Before I Begin (Again)
Which I know now, I should not have done. At all.
I had a bit of a unique law school experience in that I also took classes for a Masters degree while carrying a full law school course load my second and third years. However, I don't think that impacted the foundation of any of my thoughts or actions during law school. It just amplified everything I did or did not do. I won't go into the gritty details of everyday life of law school, but I will say this: I ate, breathed, and slept (or didn't sleep) law school and I didn't do much else. Yes, I had some awesomeamazingwonderfulfabulous times with loved ones (law school and non law school) but I certainly didn't do a whole lot of reading for fun, writing, exercising, baking, coloring, movie watching, shopping, dancing, sledding, etc. at the rate I normally would. (Which in some cases - ahem, exercising - is rare, but it's nice to have the option.) I hardly slept, I drank a lot of coffee, I ate primarily for health purposes but not nearly enough for pleasure, and I worked hard to remain close with some of my best friends. And that was about all I managed to keep in tact. As a result, huge chunks of my personal life fell apart and I waited far too long to piece them back together.
Why do I tell you all this? Because I've started to hear the same rumblings of advice for us soon-to-be PhD students. The "stockpile books, sleep, and vegetables!" mantra and the "be aware of your relationships" warnings, and the "know where the mental health services are located" advice. As someone who has been through the classes that cause crippling anxiety, handled the professors and students who become the catalyst for feeling like the dumbest person in the world (not in the class, but in the entire world) (i.e. impostor syndrome - google it, it's kinda a thing), and conquered the massive amounts of work that felt like climbing the tallest mountain on earth and drowning on the deepest lake on earth at the very same time, I say the best thing to do is take a nap, read a book for pleasure, sit in the sun doing nothing, or spend some time with the relationship that's teetering on the edge.
Take a break. Re-focus. Rejuvenate. Take care of yourself. That is what needs to come first.
This is more a reminder to myself than anything else: I am excited to start this PhD program. I have nothing I need to prove. I'm going to be anxious sometimes. I'm going to feel like I'm the dumbest one in the room. I'm going to feel like I can't finish all the work assigned. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. This time around, I want to layer it with a new t-shirt that says "Excited!" and "Engaged!" and "Thoughtful!". I have questions I want to answer and I want to collect better questions to ask. I'm looking forward to the readings, the classroom environment, to teaching, to researching, library time, late-night coffee, study groups, paper writing, presentations, even finals week.
I'm also looking forward to walking around the city with my camera, blogging frequently, going to yoga, reading novels, watching live music, spending weekends with my friends, even dating.
I'm not planning on eating, breathing, and sleeping this PhD program. I will be a thousand times a better student, better teacher, better researcher, better person if I don't.
The past few weeks I have not been stockpiling books to read for fun or taking inventory of my relationships. I'll finish Just Kids before bed in the first few weeks of September (thanks for the recommendation, Amy) and start a new book after I turn its last pages. This fall (and all the seasons following) I'll give my attention without reservation to someone I care about when he or she needs it and find room in my life for new relationships. Life and death and love and heartache and everything in between keeps going despite enrollment status. I learned that in law school. I'm making room for all of it this time. I'm embracing all of it.