The Arrival

I have struggled for a while with the idea of my dissertation. At the same time, I’ve been salivating at the idea of having to produce this major body of written work. I consider myself a writer–actually I consider myself an artist with the written word being my favorite medium of creating. So, for “a writer” someone who literally wakes up everyday drafting, someone who writes everyday be it in journals, on notepads, on a blog, or even just in her mind, the idea of a dissertation is something that I can totally do. It is not a question of can, or even will, for me it is a question of how…the process.

Words just flow through me. I do not sit down with an intention or a plan, no outline no map. I flow in and with words at the same time. I’ve been working on cognitively not creating such a dichotomy between my joyous writing and my academic writing. I believe that it is in large part due to my own paranoia have I found there to be such a difference between the two. I have also realized that there is no way I am going to be happy writing a dissertation that is not both academically rigorous and yet poetic and meaningful. So, I decided the route I am going to take.

Earlier this week, I said to myself, “On Friday, you are going to begin. You are going to start to pull all the inside to the outside and you are going to get naked in this thing.” Risk. I guess the best way to explain my decision is that I decided to be vulnerable in my work. That is what I believe separates my joyous from my work. I learned really early how to “do” school, I figured out what teachers valued and I played to that strength, however when I began my PhD program I decided this degree would be for me. So, I’ve taken opportunities that have scared me. I’ve pushed myself and sometimes failed but learned in the process. I’ve whole-heartedly believed in every piece of work I’ve produced in this program and I want the end to be an illustration of not just research but of my journey through my work.

It started with mentorship. Safe. Then spirituality, but it was too big and I got lost in that. So I pulled back out. Then decision making, but I realized it wasn’t the decision it was the process. Then I read. And I found that the decision making process is different depending on where people are developmentally. So it became about development. Then, there was a question of but who? First I looked at different types of individuals. The student. The professional. But I realized something, that at the same time I am me, I am also we. So I couldn’t just study the individual. It has to be both the individual, the system, at the same time.


Artwork by Nychole Owens

It was a question to Brené and it is a question that I think is coming for my own research, and that is how does one encourage and promote vulnerability systemically? There are some things that happen, people open up with you or those that cannot or will not almost resent the vulnerability and act out in different ways. But how does that shape the organization? And what does the individual who was first “open” do? Do they experience shame ? Or are they shame resilient? And because I am looking at student affairs practitioners, how does this then affect the students that he or she advises?

It is still taking shape. But it’s my place. It is where I fit and it involves all the other pieces. I had to leave it so that I could arrive in this place, and I am excited to share it with my advisor who will soon get a new name, My Chair. It is a tricky thing, time. It moves so quickly and even before you can catch your breath, sometimes the seasons have changed and time has marched on.

So it’s Friday. I’m ready to write. I set my intention, I’ve taken off my armor and I’ve got my pen. I am right here right now and it’s the only place I want to be.

PhD in Leadership? What does that even mean…

I freaked out. Admittedly. I had a small internal panic attack that here I am getting a PhD in Leadership Studies (whatever that means) and that somehow at the end of all this I would be unemployable, sad, and broke.  It was only a tiny panic. In my heart of hearts I know exactly what my degree will mean both to others and to myself. Most of all I know that I am already a better person having been in my degree program. But honestly, how many good people do you know that are un or underemployed? Plenty right. So I went to my advisor.

Now, normally when I see my advisor I like to tell her the situation get her advice and then resist and fight whatever wisdom she offers. Yesterday I went to her and said, “What am I going to do when I graduate?” I have mentioned before that she has a quiet way about her that is nothing if not intentional and kind of like a spider bite you don’t even know you’ve been bitten by anything until you’re laying on the floor dying. It’s not that bad, but it kind of is. So I asked her this very serious question and she said, “You don’t want to do faculty anymore?” “I mean yes,” I stammered, “but realistically what am I going to teach?”

Let me sidebar…since I have moved to San Diego my world as I know it has been completely turned on its head. Most of the time I try to just “go with it” but then there are times, like now, when I need desperately to find my footing.  My personal plans that I had when I moved here have been shot to shit a long time ago, but professionally, I never wanted to leave the world of counseling. Hence why I teach in it right now. That world that reveres silence and reflection and intention, that is my world. And I am not going to leave here any more qualified to teach counseling than when I came. Not to mention, I am completely out of practice. So when I asked her what am I going to teach, what I really said was…my world has changed too much and I don’t even recognize where I am anymore, which way is up?

She reminded me of some pieces of myself.

  • I do research in university diversity efforts
  • I do research in retention efforts
  • I teach in counseling
  • I teach in leadership
  • I have counseling experience and a counseling degree
  • I have worked in a center focused on diversity
  • I currently work in an office focused on outreach and admissions for our graduate programs

Oh yeah, and I am getting a terminal degree full of research experience, personal development, knowledge of organizations and leadership efficacy, and this is all stellar but does not even account for a network of colleagues and support from the faculty. Later reflecting she basically said to me, “Do you know who you are!? LOOK!” And I think perhaps the greatest of my pieces and the part that went unmentioned is my absolutely love for what I do. No matter where my life takes me professionally, I will always maintain a place with an institution of higher education.

College is the stuff that occupies your time so that you can become who you were meant to be. That time in your life is so precious and I just want to be a part of that for people. She also reminded me that many college student personnel programs have significant counseling influence so my work in that realm will not go wasted. It put me at ease. There is still much to do in the coming years…I have to publish work, present at conferences, start digging into my research area…but there is time and it will unfold as it should.

At the end of the talk I said to my advisor, “Do you like this new thing I’m trying where I don’t fight you, I just listen.”  She said, “I do actually,” and she remarked on her fondness of being right. I don’t mind when people are right, I just hate when their “right” comes at the “wrong” time. Of course that’s just total irony because it comes exactly when its supposed to. Damn spider bites.