AuGuest: My Response to Diana

In her AuGuest post on Monday, Diana Antholis used her experience in graduate school as a backdrop. Having never been to graduate school myself, I can’t relate to this aspect of the post. Yet one of the reasons I liked this post so much is that the perspectives she provides in same are applicable to many situations in which one might find themselves overwhelmed, alone, or afraid.

For her it was graduate school. For you it may be a new job. Or your decision to move across the country, or start your own business. Whatever it is that made, or perhaps still makes you feel a bit paralyzed or afraid, let’s take a look at the five things Diana mentioned which helped her “avoid insanity” while attending graduate school.

“I had to learn to learn to not become so emotionally involved in school.”

Emotions are a wonderful, important and natural thing for a human being to experience. Unlike some success gurus of the current generation, I feel this includes anger, sadness, and fear. We mustn’t punish ourselves for feeling emotions. Yet at the same time a large undertaking sometimes cannot proceed if we attach those understandable emotions to them and allow them to define the experience too much. Even when something is very important to us, there is a time and place for the emotion of said experience.

Consider emergency room doctors. Dedicated professionals who obviously have an intense passion for healing and medicine. But emotional investment in each patient, procedure and judgement call is impossible. Such people would be destroyed in short order. To best serve their passion, they must create a certain emotional distance on a day to day basis. Not become robots, but rather stage coach drivers. Holding the reigns and making sure the powerful horses go where they are supposed to go.

 

“I had to learn to create a balance between school and personal life.”

I have learned from my previous conversations with Diana that she is an extrovert, and unless you are visiting Too XYZ for the very first time right now, you know that I am an introvert. Yet it is crucial for both types to maintain a personal life. Diana may have gone out on a Saturday night during grad school whereas I would probably visit a single family and talk for a few hours. Yet the point is we must remember that personal time. Maybe yours would entail swimming laps at the YMCA once a day, or reading a book all by yourself with your cats. Personal time is exactly that- personal. What it consists of is 100% up to you, but the key is you have to honor its value.

Some of the hardest people to get to know, some of the hardest to love are those who are always sacrificing personal time in pursuit of a degree, a job, a house. Or even a spouse. If we are investing so much in an endeavor that we become convinced there is no time to be had away from same, we have already become immersed too deeply. The old Chinese proverb says it is the space between the bars that holds the tiger in. In other words we can offer more to our mission when we remember there is more to our life than the mission. We step away for a while and come back to it refreshed, and ready to tackle even more. The alternative is burning out, and that suits nobody.

 

“I had to stay calm.”

Keep calm and carry on” was a phrase on posters plastered all over London during World War II. An exquisite example of British simplicity and determination during some of the most trying time that nation has ever known, the phrase has recently made a bit of a pop-culture resurgence. Possibly it is nostalgia at work here, but I like to think that it is due to a slow but certain realization in our frenzied, uncertain, rapidly changing smart phone culture that remaining calm is more important than ever. Nothing can be accomplished from a state of panic. It may be part of our reptilian brain response to panic, but if we hope to get further than a reptile under attack would get, we must remember we are creatures of higher reasoning. We do this by keeping as calm as we can as often as possible.

You may not be facing the Luftwaffe, but it can feel like it when everything in your world feels like it is blowing up or falling apart around you. But if you keep calm and carry on you are far more likely to find either a solution to the problem, or an escape to another set of circumstances. Remaining calm reminds you that you are still alive, can still exert at least some control, and don’t need to surrender to what appears at first to be chaos.

 

“I had to stay out of the drama.”

I don’t know if this one, or the previous admonition to stay calm is the most difficult for many of us. “Drama” in this context seems so seductive to so many people. I wonder why. Gossip, personal attacks, making a scene, going nuts. Squabbling. Backbiting and manipulation. Accusations. Even the best of us get sucked in to such a maelstrom at times. I theorize that being the center of such drama is a manifestation of a deep, latent desire for significance and attention we feel we lack. Participating in such drama from the outside I think is an indication that deep down we want to have influence on the world around us. To affect change, and not necessarily for the better.

Or maybe this is also a reptilian thing, and fighting and screaming is in our DNA. I only know this; drama will happen. It too is a natural part of the human experience. Though some claim they “avoid drama” at all costs, I don’t know how practical that is. Yet when we see drama we must be extra careful about becoming a part of it. It saps our energies, wastes our time, and, worse of all it has a bubble effect; when you find yourself in the midst of it your entire universe seems to be confined to the particulars of said drama. It becomes almost impossible to see, contemplate or engage in anything not connected with the drama. And if that happens, how do you move forward? How do you keep calm and carry on?

 

“I had to stay confident in my goals.”

Forget trying to decide whether staying calm or staying out of the drama is more difficult. Staying confident in one’s goals has both of them beat. I speak from personal experience.

There are so many expectations placed upon what we do with our time, our money, our talents. Even our love. These expectations come from convention, from society, from our churches, our friends, our families. Even from our television commercials. When we decide we have a goal, (or heaven forbid, a dream) that doesn’t conform to any or all of these expectations, we hear about it right away. We hear that it isn’t traditional. That we need to settle. That the economy is too poor to start a business, or that we are getting too old to not be married. These sentiments can put us off of our personal vision for ourselves. Worse than that, it isolates us and makes us feel alone. All things are more difficult to accomplish when we feel we are alone.

Yet if we don’t remain confident in our own goal in spite of all of that, nobody else can do it for us. Lack of focus on our own goals is a form of surrender to what other people determine about our lives. People who do no have the entire story, no matter how well they know us, or think they know the world. Goals change, yes, but that should only happen after deep introspection and revaluation based on what you truly want out of your life, as opposed to pressure from those who say it isn’t feasible or goes against the status quo.

I hope I have demonstrated how Diana’s approach to surviving graduate school is in reality a usable template for surviving most trials. What she did to keep her sanity in academia you and I can do to keep our sanity in our own lives.

Have you ever used any of these approaches? Would you add to this list? Tell me about it.

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