Preparing for my comps was perhaps the most intense activity i’ve done to date. While I was a tree planter, people liked to say that it was “80% mental, 20% physical”. I’d liken this to academia as well, and especially to how I felt during my comps. It took a lot of prep, planning, and work, but most of that was mental, involving talking yourself into doing the work. Physically writing the papers, or taking notes, was the 20%.
And, like many activities that you train, prepare, and plan for for such a long time, the day of reckoning comes and goes with dizzying speed. One day, im grinding my way through endless articles and bouts of self-doubt that i’ll actually survive the comps process, and the next im a PhD candidate. A great achievement, yes, but also quite anti-climatic. And, so having gone through such an intense 8 months leading up to the end of 2014, I am now solidly and despairingly in the depths of a ‘post-comps slump’. Much like the solo sailors who attempt the Vendee Globe and who must contend with the windless days in the doldrums of the mid-Atlantic , I feel listless, waiting for the wind to pick up again, and give me direction.
Melissa Pierce writes in Forbes (2012) that when we find ourselves in a slump (which happens to everyone, especially after a big life event, see: comps defence!), we must be patient. But, she is clear in making the distinction between patience and idleness. Patience, Pierce writes, “is steadfastness and self-control in the face of provocation and delay”. No where is patience about sitting on your hands, waiting for the storm to blow over. She urges those in a slump to be patient, but to do something. Cut out distractions, simplify, and reaffirm your self-confidence that doing something will eventually lead you out of the doldrums and back into the race. For me, writing in this blog is my first crack at 1) recognizing im deep in a slump, and 2) trying to do something, as opposed to nothing.
Deadlines loom, and distraction is around every corner. But, taking a moment to step back, breath, be mindful of the state im in, and being okay with it, I believe is a solid first step at doing something. I’ve been in academia for the majority of my life so far, and slumps are par for the course. But, what we do when we are in slumps is key to staying sane, and not beating up too much on ourselves. Navigating these slumps defines us. Its easy to surf the waves when the wind blows right, but navigating your mental state, confronting the anguish that comes with feeling like you are not progressing, or contributing, or meeting expectations, is perhaps the real challenge. One must avoid capsizing at all costs, even if it means cutting sail, and drifting for a little longer than you might like. At least you’ll still be in the race once you find your bearing and strength to get back into the game.