I have to tell you, I have some really great friends. There are good friends, and then there are great friends. What separates them is that the great friends tell you the hard truths. They don’t tell you what you want to hear, but they tell you what you need to hear, and that requires love.
I remember being midway through the first semester of my first year (yes, that was just a year and a half ago), and the pressure from all the expectations, the heavy workload, the adjustments to a new way of life, etc. etc. finally coming to a head. I found myself wallowing in self-pity, completely overwhelmed by it all, and stating this impossible to predict statement, “I want to go home. To Memphis.” I am pretty sure had two of my cohort members not been with me I would have totally ditched class that night leaving school in my rearview and retreating to the refuge known as “under the covers” (i.e. bed).
I called a friend back at home to commiserate but can you believe he wouldn’t even let me fully articulate my desire to leave school!? He stopped me mid-spiral and asked,
“What did you go to Maryland to do?”
“To get my Ph.D.,” was my weak-voiced reply.
“You’re not coming back until you do,” he responded.
Talk about tough love.
Like our DGS told us our first semester, grad school or more specifically academia is all about delayed gratification. You must be able to work for an unknown amount of time towards a goal (i.e. publishing) that may never happen.
I’ve discovered in order to do this with some sliver of sanity in tact, you need two things: 1. Perseverance, and 2. Great friends. You absolutely must have single-minded determination to continue towards your goal (in this case both being published and also finishing the Ph.D. program). This means ignoring the false feelings of defeat and despondency. I say false feelings because though the feelings may actually be real, as in you do feel that way, the reason why you feel them is false. You’ve gotten sidetracked. You’ve begun to internalize the doubt. You’ve bought into or previously had the belief that this would be easy or at least easier. Like another great friend of mine pointed out, up until now, what you’ve done in your professional life has been relatively unchallenging. Now you’re being pushed into evolving to another level of performance. And it is hard. It is uncomfortable. But all growth requires a period of discomfort. This is where great friends step in.
Good friends are like PR agents. They help you spin your complacency, so you don’t experience cognitive dissonance, so your self-esteem and self-image remain in tact. Great friends, on the other hand, speak life into you. They won’t allow you fall back into former levels of comfort but instead come along side you and remind you to push on.
Some people say graduate school is an exercise of the mind, and it is. But not because of the learning, but because of the mental fortitude that is required to successfully complete it. If you think you will conquer this alone, you are wrong. That’s what friends are for.