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Of Resilience and Cycling

... and there is always carrot cake 😀

So yesterday evening hubby dragged me out of my write up cave to see Mark Beaumont at the Glasgow University Sport Health Week.* Should you not know; Mark broke the world record for cycling around the world. He is a fantastic story teller and so for 1,5 hours I thought I could forget about my dissertation.Yet when he began to speak about the process of cycling, of having half a year of daily struggle to make 100 miles a day, the parallels to conducting a PhD project sneaked into my conscience.  Mark told  the audience that it became almost unbearable to focus on the goal – getting to Paris. So he began to focus on the here and now, the daily experiences.

Four years of undertaking a PhD project, seemed like a long time when setting out. I began all enthusiastic and happy and then at some point (I believe it is called the 2nd year slump) I hit the wall, because unexpectedly for me time never seemed to stretch, nor the project endless. For me it felt like running behind a bus that just had left the bus stop, like L. Caroll’s rabbit  constantly looking at the clock, time running by. Hitting the wall felt like a research hang over, the pressure of holding a hand full of part time jobs, building a portfolio and the constant financial difficulties eventually became so demoralizing that I did not enjoy my research anymore.

With help and support I picked myself up again, focusing on the tasks ahead step by step. Building up resilience, like the cyclist, against the financial pressures and the dunking economy, which in one go destroyed all future prospects for getting the job I worked so hard for. At several points during the journey I was wondering: ‘Why the heck am I doing this?’ – knowing that I will come out of my PhD eventually, but there will be no jobs. I will have to take a pay cut, working a job I could have done 5 years ago without putting my self through this financial hardship, accumulating even more educational debts.

The only thing that kept me going was that I simply love my work and thoroughly enjoy the challenges of the research.

I learned from the talk yesterday that focusing on the here and now is paramount for your mental health. Fretting about the bad job chances, the educational debt and counting the holes in my clothes will get me nowhere. Enjoying the last leg of the journey, the conversations with fellow sufferers, friends and family and life in general is a better attitude to take on – if not an easy one to sustain. Does sound any of this familiar to you? How do you cope with the stresses of sustaining your motivation? What are your worst pressures or stumbling stones?

* PS: If you are in Glasgow or close by check out the events of the health week, there are amazing talks and events. Loads of goodies to pick up 🙂

Categories: Teaching

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Nathalie Sheridan

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