PhD Chronicles: Doing the Work, But Anticipating Failure

What should I be doing right now?  Plowing through the (digital) mountainous pile of articles and books that I have that I need to transform into my literature review or what the program labels a Qualifying Paper.  But what am I doing instead?  Writing this blog post.  That's not entirely true.  I'm throwing down my initial thoughts and ideas so that I have them in the moment.  I need to exorcise them so that I can get back to that mountain of research and then I'll come back to this later.  A lot of my posts during the last month or so of the writing the Qualifying Paper(QP) are going to be like this. Idea dump, return to work, come back later. It's the only way to function.  

As said, I'm in the midst of trying to do the work.  "Do your job" as they say.  It's a tough place to be in right now.  As I look back, I realize I didn't do the work that I needed to get done early in say, September, October, and even part of November, and so I've felt like I've been in a mad-dash run for a while now.  I'm trying to get through the mountain of research that I've accumulated and it feels as those it is not a losing cause but not something that is feasible to do given the approaching January 5th deadline.  

In truth, I've gotten to the point where I am legitimately entertaining the fact that I may not pass the QP this year.  I see how much I have to get done and I see where I am, and it's fair to make this assessment.  Just last week, I submitted what should have been a rough draft.  It was at best a glorified outline with some writing (largely the qualifying paper proposal more refined and one subsection of 9 within the literature review itself).  I labeled the email "SUPER-UGLY Rough Draft"--though were I a bit more provocative or honest, I would have just called it, "Utterly Shitty Rough Draft."  

But in submitting it and even now, a week later and working diligently to get it done, I have an overwhelming sense that I will fail.  


And while I advocate people to be ok with failure and am myself largely ok with my own failures--they are opportunities to learn, after all, it still created a conundrum for me.  The failure part wasn't a personal challenge to overcome per se.  In our program, if you don't past the QP on the first try, you try again the next year but are kept from taking the final course.  So to a degree, you get held back a year.  I rationalized this possibility as it meant that I could have a break for the next year from Friday classes, which have taken their toll in the last 2.5 years of Friday classes.  I also recognized that this meant I could take some additional courses and get my electives out of the way while also helping me to think about how I could use them to further improve my QP. Finally, it would mean I could slow down from things and just enjoy life in a slower lane than the last few years provided. 

So, yeah, the failure of the QP would be ok; I knew by the following year, I could be in a better place.  What was more challenging about this was the implications of it in my head.  If I knew there was a good chance of failing, then why complete it at this point at all?  Why not just relax and instead of spending most waking time on my QP for the next 2.5 weeks--why not just spend time with friends and family?  Of course, baked into that was guaranteed failure and no chance of passing the QP stage.

That is my challenge.  To mitigate expectations and avoid feeling negative about not making it (valid feelings but not necessarily useful as the nature of a program is to push us, which means failures will occur), I had to convince myself that failing would be just as useful.  Yet, in recognizing that failing the QP would actually be as useful as passing, it caused me to question myself about going at it with breakneck energy.  

Of course, the part of me that's saying "why not skip it if you don't think it's gonna make it" is also probably some element of self-sabotage and doubt about my ability to do it.  I don't fail on merit if I have self-selected myself out of the process.  

I write all of this, for a few reasons.  The first is to emphasize that self-doubt shows up regularly throughout the process. It has for me and it has for as far as I can tell, every member of my cohort.  And it should happen, we're tackling something hard, we have lives filled with numerous demands, and none of us have done anything like this. It makes sense.  I also write about it because I imagine others who have or will reach this point this point and to know that it's not just them.  Another reason for writing this is that a lot of people have told me, "Oh, but you write all the time, you'll do fine."  Maybe and I appreciate their support but the fact of the matter is, that isn't what I feel.  I'm comfortable in my abilities--I don't think I over or undersell them and if I feel this way--it is valid, not something to wash over.  

So that's my most recent struggle!  Thanks for listening and by the time you read this, I'll have either passed my QP or will be getting ready to submit again.  Either way, I'll be where I need to be. 

Want to keep up with my PhD adventures?  Check out any of the links below:

  1. Acceptance...and acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. My Educational Autobiography
  14. So Starts the Third Semester
  15. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  16. PhD'ese
  17. And Sometimes, You Feel It
  18. Semester's Endgame
  19. Year 1, Officially Done
  20. Year 2, Week 1, Day 1
  21. Year 2, Week 1 Done! 
  22. 1/3 Complete!?!?
  23. Click...
  24. Day 1; Semester 5
  25. Share and Share Alike
  26. Mindful and Mind-Filled
  27. 5th Semester Down
  28. Day 1, Semester 9
  29. The Two Demons of My Doctorate
  30. When Senioritis Kicks In
  31. The Final Friday
Sub-series specifically about the dissertation:
  1. Dissertation Journal #1
  2. Dissertation Journal #2
  3. Dissertation Journal #3
  4. Dissertation Journal #4
  5. Dissertation Journal #5
  6. Dissertation Journal #6
  7. Dissertation Journal: QP Revised Edition

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