a thesis pep talk

I am convinced that degrees are not awarded to the smartest people. While you do have to have some level of intelligence to get an advanced degree, intelligence is not enough. Advanced degrees are awarded to the people who are stupidly persistent and have chosen to make their degree a priority.

You have to be willing to get up every day and waste hours upon hours finding the right resources. You need to type letter after letter, word after word, and footnote after footnote. You have to edit and then edit again. Then edit again. You have to fight boredom and insecurity.   You have to have courage to cut entire sections that you’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into because those sections, while necessary for developing your thinking, are not necessary for developing your argument. You have to be willing to focus on things that don’t have immediately application for your everyday life. Even if you chose well enough to have a topic that does have real life application for you or others, it’s value is probably disproportionately low compared to the hours upon hours that you will spend reading, writing and wrestling with words, concepts and readers to get everything just right.

Then, not only will you be “graded” on your project based on whether people liked it or not, found it useful or not, but you will be literally graded on it. One person, or a few people, will determine if your project is good enough. Your peers, mentors, potential colleagues (I say potential because the quality of your project may determine if they’ll ever allow you to work along side them) will read, critique and judge your work and they will be judging you. And, unless you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to be overconfident, this is a terrifying place to be.

And so, I sit today, the day I have set aside to work on my thesis (my second draft is due in less than a week), paralyzed by the magnitude of what lays before me. As much as I tell myself I just need to pass, I just need to get this done, I just need to get this degree so I can move on, I want to do so well so badly. My desire to do well, my inability to judge the quality of my own work, and the fact that I really like approval and sometimes feel like a fraud is crushing me.

My ability to succeed in this venture seems to be based less on my actual intelligence and more on my ability to manage my emotions and my fear and my ability to be persistent when dealing with the overwhelming combination of big ideas and small formatting details and I do not want to deal with those things today; I want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

I know I will graduate, I will finish this degree, I will complete my thesis and I will probably even make significant progress on it today. It’s hard to manage these emotions right now but I’ve done it before. I will do it again. And I will keep moving forward. I’ve submitted my graduation paperwork, I’ve got deadlines for turning in my thesis drafts and paying my grad fees. The end is in sight. And I will get there, not because I’m smarter than anyone one else but because I will stupidly persist and will keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get there.

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