Moving Forward?

Things are starting to improve: I can feel it. I’ve been feeling more motivated. The professional conference I went to was the sign I need to move forward; however, that was not enough! This is something that has been confusing/baffling to me in the month after I came home from the conference. I thought I would immediately dive into my work with high energy and ethusiasm…but that’s not the case. Instead, I would open the Word document that contained my drafts, proceed to start at it, and then refocusing on other activities and tasks not related to the dissertation. This sounds like a classic case of avoidence, but the question is why?? I’ve been inspried and made a conscious decision to follow through with my academic efforts, so why weren’t my thoughts translating into action??

Today, while actually working on some chapter revisions, it suddenly dawned on me why it has been so difficult for me to get going on my dissertation despite the solidfying of my intentions — I have a lot of guilt and shame associated with working on my dissertation. I feel embarrassed and guilty that I’ve not made too much progress since last summer. I feel awful that I had squandered away this past year — a tuition break that I was supposed to use to finish writing my dissertation. Whenever I tried to work on my dissertation in the last month, these thoughts would circle me:

Should have written more…Should have been more rigorous in my methodology…should have been more confident in my abilities…shouldn’t have mentally “checked out” when things got tough…shouldn’t have allowed my problem to keep going for so long…regretful that it will take me probably an additional 6-9 months to finish…regretful that it will cost me more finacially to finish…

Yeah, that’s a lot of should haves and shouldn’t haves. It’s small wonder that I wanted to avoid working on my dissertatiion…it triggers such terrible feelings of guilt and shame (aka I’m a terrible student/academic!!). However, I now know what is holding me back, so I can attempt to fix it. One of the reasons why I was able to see/feel small progress in my work in the recent is because I’ve slowly learned to control and push aside these awful thoughts that I’ve been associating with my dissertation.

Looking through The Woman’s Book of Confidence by Sue Patton Thoele, I was able to find these wonderful excerpts about letting go of guilt and shame and how to do it:

The person we most often stain with feelings of shame and guilt is ourself, and much of our guilt and shame comes from believing we have failed in some way or other.

Make a list of your seeming failures — the “shoulds” you think you think you need to feel shameful and guilty about. Ask yourself if you did the best you knew how at the time; if so, think of a symbolic way to release those feelings.

Yesterday is irretrievable and tomorrow is unknown. We have done the best we could, and now it’s time for us to forgive ourselves for our seeming failures, congratulate ourselves for getting up after falling down, and then leave remorse behind us. 

I wrote down my feelings as a way of acknowledging them. And now I’ve recognized that this is the way I feel, I can start to work on releasing those feelings and disassociating the guilt I feel with the tasks I have to accomplish.

I know I’m already getting better and getting stronger.

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Am I a Procrastinator??

“The distance isn’t important; it is only the first step that is difficult.”

– Marquise du Deffand

I’m a regular reader of the daily inspirations on the Chopra Center. I love it because it helps me think about my life and the way I choose to live each day – with intention. This is the quote I saw today, which brings me to something I’ve been struggling with as of late. Procrastination.

I wouldn’t say I’m a chronic procrastinator, or that procrastination is present in many aspects of my life. My house is fairly organized and clean; in fact, my husband and I make a conscious effort to not allow chores to pile up for more than a couple days at most. I also make an effort to not allow errands to pile up or drag itself out so dry cleaning is done on time, cars are serviced within schedule, bills are paid before they are due…etc. I am also hardly ever late for work, school, social engagements…and I have been able to meet my deadlines. This is except when it comes to my dissertation.

What’s going on here?

I find myself staring at my computer and not getting much done. I’ve been reading many books but none of them really related to the work I have to do. I would set goals for myself, but not able to reach them because I would choose coffee with a friend, browsing at Target, watching a TV show, reading an unrelated book, working out, cooking….basically you name it over writing and working on this damn dissertation! Someone once told me this process of screwing off is normal, but I feel absolutely awful and consumed by guilt after blowing off work.

In true procrastination fashion, I decided to read a book about procrastination (but I also want to know how to overcome it). I’m usually pretty good at self-diagnosing my psychological state and interpreting my own behavior. For example, I know the reason behind my procrastinator behavior in regards to the dissertation – it’s not because procrastination is my usual modus operandi but rather there is something specific about the dissertation that feeds my behavior. So I need ideas/guidance/tricks on how to correct such behaviors. 

I found a short little book that’s an absolute gem. The Procrastinator’s Digest by Dr. Timothy Pychyl  is a concise book about why people procrastinate and what can we do to overcome this behavior. It took me maybe two hours to go through it and understand what I can do to get myself back on track. I am also taken with this book because Dr. Pychyl is totally realistic in his advice and recognizes that procrastination is a habit that takes time and effort to correct. The idea is not that by reading his book we’ll suddenly have an epiphany and become non-procrastinating on adverse tasks. At least for me, the best part about this books is we learn to understand why we behave in certain ways and then acknowledge our behavior. Only through acknowledgment can we start to address our problems and use problem specific tools to overcome our behavioral tendencies. There are three quotes from the book that really spoke to me:

Procrastination is a problem with not getting on with life itself.

My current motivational state doesn’t need to match my intention in order to act.

Self-change is a journey I take daily, and I will persevere patiently as I take two steps forward and one step back.

Especially the last quote. It reminds me of why I go to yoga and what I try to work on while I’m on the mat. For too many years, I’ve been too harsh on myself – I’ve learned to forgive others a long time ago but I’m still working on forgiving myself. By acknowledging that my state of mind (and the cause of my inability to complete my work), I set the intention of self-forgiveness: I forgive myself for feeling scared and ambivalent; I forgive myself for feeling weak and vulnerable.

Finding My Passion

A lot of thinking transpires in my conversations with my BFF M.

I’m incredibly blessed to have a friend like M; she understands me and is always so encouraging without being patronizing. We are like sisters :) Something we’ve both been working on (and have been for a couple of years) is finding ourselves and our passions. I don’t mean “passion” in a frivolous sense. Obviously, we love cooking, baking, fashion, guilty-pleasure TV, and the Duchess of Cambridge (who doesn’t!) but those are more like “escapes” – something fun, entertaining, and a place to temporary forget our troubles! At least to me, those don’t constitute inspirations that I could build a career out of. So, what am I passionate about? Another friend of mine, J, gave up the trappings of an academic life to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer and working for a non-profit. She loves writing and she keeps an amazing blog, along with various writing/writer projects! J was the first person who recognized and pointed out how “boxed-in” I was by academia. I think over the years, I’ve talked myself into thinking finding that university/college TT job and the 7 year climb to tenure with no regard to the quality of life is the ultimate goal of my life. Now, by allowing myself to even consider something outside of the academy as my life’s work, I feel so liberated but also so lost. I’ve been thinking about this very often, especially as I approach the final stages of my PhD education (READ: existential crisis). So, I decided to apply some systematic thinking and problem solving skills to my dilemma (using that education…ha). I start out by asking myself two important questions:

What am I passionate about? 

Teaching, helping others, learning, welfare issues related to our military personnel (including veterans) and their families, the social and political status of Asian Americans, politics (in general)

What am I good/skilled at?

Research, problem solving, thinking analytically/systematically, writing, communication, organization (creating order from chaos)

If you look at what I have just written, it would seem strange that I am trying to look outside of the academy. Truth be told, I’ve never minded the content of what I do; rather, I’m turned off by the structure, the rigidness, and the abstract nature (i.e., sitting in the ivory tower) of the profession. Also, while this might be “blasphemous” (by academy standards) to say, I actually want a life – support my husband’s career choice in the Army, spend time with my family, possibly have children, travel and discover the wonders of our world…etc. I’m not naive enough to think I can have everything, but I am at least willing to consider all possibilities. Right now, I’m not sure if there’s a particular job/career path that fits the bill of what I just described outside of the academy, but I am going to start somewhere.

While I was going through a bout of days long existential crisis this past fall, I started to look around the internet for any topic that might interest me (let’s just call this research instead of wasting time). That was when I first became aware of the possibility of becoming an instructor, teaching Army Family Team Building (AFTP) courses for the ACS on post. Last week, while going through the ACS schedule for my FRG group, I noticed that there are instructor training courses being offered next month. After a brief call with a representative from ACS today, I decided to sign up for this course (3 day series). I think this volunteering opportunity fits the bill of what I would like to become involved in. We all have to start somewhere so I’m looking forward to this!