“What is it that you want to know?” It seemed like a simple enough question. Only with six eyes on me it felt impossible to answer. My Chair urged me to take a deep breath, insisting on it, even. I knew…I was so certain of what I wanted to study and at some point it felt difficult but doable. And I realized that somewhere along the way I’d begun to doubt myself. That the difficult complex messy questionably measurable dissertation that I dreamed of would be too much to get me out.
“Forget about graduation. Put the work first, just focus on your work.” My friend and colleague would later encourage me. His hippie ways always speak right to my bohemian spirit. I opened up my notebook and looked at notes from my committee. I had no idea what direction to go in at the present time, but something the meeting was so striking to me. Here were vastly different people with varied ways of being and understanding the world and they believed in my ability to do the kind of work I was (eventually) able to articulate. And then I decided to recall the pop-wisdom saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
I wrote a note of thanks to my committee and I asked my writing partner if we could, in some ways, start from scratch tomorrow. Going back to the literal drawing board. Reminding ourselves of what it is we really want to study. Speaking to the literature and seminal works which have informed our ideas and writing from our heart space versus our head space.
One of the things I was reminded to do was to remember why I started. What it is I really want from the work. I was “called out” by my committee mainly because they know me. They know the things I’ve been talking about for the last four years. They know my strengths and my propensities. They also know my weaknesses and my areas for opportunity. I never took myself as one to so easily succumb to self-doubt and not to excuse it, but when you are chartering unknown territory there is LOTS of self-doubt. Why not do something smaller? Safer? More this? Less that? And it’s tempting. To not take the risk and to do what you know you can do. But to stretch yourself…and to do the thing you’re not yet sure you can do. To risk failure. To elect for the unknown and all that might come as a result of that? It’s terrifying and of course you wonder. I wondered. Can I do this? Do others know better than I do?
Quite simply the answer I arrived at was no, yes, and maybe. No one knows, for sure, what my purpose is nor how my story unfolds. Yes, there are others who have come before me (and sometimes after) who can offer their perspective their learning their knowledge and insight to help guide me, but…Maybe when it’s times like this when you could go either way, you step out on faith and believe that what is meant to be will always find a way to be. I was prioritizing the comfort of others over the fulfillment of my own self. It was not their fault. We are all just bumping into each other; but I can’t take on that anxiety as any indication of what I am or am not capable of.
I still don’t have my research questions. But they are coming. I haven’t added to or restructured my literature review, but I will. I do, however, feel so supported. And sure that I’ve chosen the best possible committee for me. I trust them and they are teaching me to trust myself. Because who knows me better than me? Unintended learning outcome of the dissertation process, day 1 and 1000.