graduate school · personal

Confessions of a Graduate Student

I wanted to graduate this coming spring. That was the plan. It should have happened, and, over the past two years, even though I felt myself losing steam, losing interest, losing any kind of desire, I still kept telling myself that I would graduate on time.

I was avoiding the truth of the situation. Telling myself and letting everyone tell me that I would pull through, that I could do it, that I would succeed, because, hey, so far I always had, so that meant that I would keep succeeding, right? Yeah, right.

My therapist told me that, over the past several years, what I thought of as dealing with stuff and keeping on with my life was actually repressing everything and pretending it wasn’t there. That works in the short term, and is sometimes necessary, as a defense mechanism, but all of that repressed stuff, that stuff we call “baggage,” that baggage I tried to leave behind at lots of metaphorical airports along the way, well, all of that baggage finally found me and now I have to deal with it. I have to sort through it and figure out what it all is, what I need to incorporate into my life, what I can just throw away, or, better yet, for some of it, burn.

So, as I was playing this avoidance game, or this denial game, I found myself growing more and more tired, less and less motivated, until finally I really wasn’t doing more than was required to get through each day. I was teaching my classes, doing the required reading for classes I was in, washing my laundry, cooking my food. But nothing else was happening. And, as a graduate student, that’s not really a good way to go.

The result of all of this, which is becoming too obvious and real for me to ignore and avoid anymore, is that I will not graduate in the spring. My dissertation won’t be ready. Okay. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve accepted that. I can still go on the job market ABD. I can still leave this little college town and this state that I really don’t want to live in anymore (never wanted to live in). Right?

I’m supposed to take my comps this fall, and defend a qualifying paper. I sat down and took a look at the texts I have left on my reading list. It doesn’t look good. That’s the understatement of a lifetime. My exams are in a few weeks and I honestly don’t know how I can get through enough material to successfully complete them.

I have to face that reality. I have to talk to my advisor about that and discuss my options. There’s nothing else to be done. I have to stop being in denial. I don’t like it, but it’s the way it is. All of my avoidance has finally led to the simple conclusion that I actually will not be able to meet a goal I set for myself. I am going to try to push through and get this done, but in reality, waiting for another semester would be the best thing for me. It will be the best thing for me because I’ll have time to study, time to do what I should have been doing and found myself unable to do for the past year or so. But it will also be the best for me because, finally, I can see what my limitations are. It will prompt me to snap out of this malaise, this funk, that I haven’t been able to shake since I started my PhD program.

Accepting my limitations and facing them is, strangely, liberating.

Somewhere along the way I lost my drive. My passion, my moxie. I’m getting it back, finally. I feel motivated. I feel energized about my work. I feel excited about it. And I’ve actually read a lot in the past couple weeks. Unfortunately, I found that drive just a little too late for all of this to work out the way I wanted it to.

So, maybe I still have to try for my exams this fall. maybe I just have to push through. If that’s the case, I’ll just do it. Because that is, ultimately, what I do. But, hopefully, I’ll have a little breathing room so I can go into this the way I wanted to. Prepared, excited, and with desire.


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