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Despite a rather negative encounter a few days before, I had my annual review last month, and received the written report this week, which is peppered with positive comments such as ‘evidence of thorough and accurate presentation of the project’ , ‘responded knowledgeably when asked about data collection and analytical methods’, ‘clear evidence of critical thinking’ and ‘articulate, with excellent communication skills’.

However, the negative encounter caused me to have serious doubts about my abilities, which until then, I had never questioned and the inevitable ‘PhD imposter syndrome’ kicked in, along with a serious case of self-doubt. I view myself as largely positive and optimistic, and this feeling was out of character, so I sought the advice and support of my support system, comprised of friends and colleagues in an attempt to confront my feelings, see if they were ‘legitimate’ or a temporary label in a perverse way to try and motivate me (which, by the way, doesn’t), reflect and move on.

I spoke to five people whom I trust to be honest, know me in my various roles I undertake in and out of my PhD (which is the overriding identity at the moment). I would rather have it straight, and these people would give it to me that way. The overarching comment was surprise from all of them that I had been ‘shaken to the core’ from this encounter, as the majority professed, despite knowing me well, to not have seen me as vulnerable. I guess we all have our breaking points. It was also pointed out to me that I was angry at myself for letting this encounter shake me up as badly as it did, and that I would need to reflect on how I can prevent or fend off a similar future encounter, so I don’t end up as upset. But overall, my supporters reminded me of my strengths and positive attributes, and suggested I focus on these. I was also told in no uncertain terms, that although the journey I am taking is not the easiest or straightforward one, but it is very personal, embedded in an inherent desire to contribute to a potential solution of a very big problem, and consolidating and pushing forward ideas I am passionate about. The finishing of the PhD is only the beginning of a bigger adventure and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

So a few weeks later, I’m back, having learned a few tough lessons, but more importantly stopping to reflect, and realising that I am so fortunate to have such special people in my life who have stepped in and put me back on track.

Thank you, for believing in me.

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