sum of the journeys

Two years ago, I started my doctorate. Like many other long-term commitments in my life, returning to school for this last credential was a leap of faith. I was naïve and had no idea what balancing a full-time career, a family, and a full load of coursework year round would look like. If somebody had given me glimpses of the future, I am sure I would have responded “I’m not ready yet.”

Here’s the thing about those crossroads, though. We never feel entirely ready. And we don’t know what we are made of until we are challenged by every aspect of the process. Reflecting on the last two years, many images flash through my mind. Hours upon hours of squinting at datasets. Thousands of pages of academese. Too many papers, responses, and annotations to keep track of. When I think about it all, I feel no regrets. I know I developed skills, I know I gained expertise, and I know there are new wrinkles in my brain that could not be caused by any other experience.

Currently, I find myself at a new crossroads; a new leap of faith. Coursework is coming to an end, and I am at the precipice of dissertating. In my typical fashion, I have been doing as much preparation work as I possibly can. I have dozens of annotations for literature review, I’ve spent the last two years thinking through my topic and design, and I am beginning to visualize how I will defend my proposal to committee.

I’ve remained very private about my identity as a doctoral student. Part of that relates to my overall preference toward privacy regarding many things in my life. The other factor, however, is that this educational journey is a gift I hold very close to my heart. It is precious to me. I find that my rituals of reading, writing, and research lend themselves to a humble manner. This is my own, and nobody else can do it for me. With that in mind, I chug along quietly.

One surprising thing I have found is that the experience of designing and executing research is a creative process. To be successful at research, I require deep periods of introspection. I am only now discussing my dissertation topic, even though I have been sitting with it for two years. Quiet reflection gives me the time I need to sort the pieces (visualize Tetris) and figure out my next steps. In my life balancing a high-stress career and my family commitments, however, there is little space afforded for reflection. For that reason, my running practice is the single greatest support in my success as a doctoral student. Without the sweat, circulation, hours in my own thoughts, I would struggle. I would struggle to find clarity and peace, I would struggle to locate new pockets of motivation, and I would struggle to mitigate the stress of living.

So, while training for a marathon parallel to writing a dissertation might seem odd to some, it was a really easy choice for me to make. Both of these tasks are exercises in self-regulation and personal integrity. At the end of the day, the only person who will be impacted by an incomplete dissertation or an unfinished marathon goal will be me. By the same token, earning my doctorate and finishing another marathon will not dramatically change my daily life. However, it is the sum of these journeys that I can recognize as valuable. The experience of pushing myself to new limits; knowing for any future life challenges that I carry these feats in my pocket.

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