After years of anticipation, hard work, insecurity, excitement, uncertainty, and hope, I am now not only on the brink of realizing a long-time dream, I have actually stepped over the threshold. I have arrived, or at least taken the first step. I am finally living that which I have imagined for so long: pursuing my doctoral studies.
I have been vividly dreaming about and planning for this experience for over twelve years. In 2003, as an eager and ambitious senior in high school, I remember making consolations to myself about choosing to attend my safety school. As a first-generation college student, plagued by fear of student loan debt, I decided to turn down admission to my dream schools because they were accompanied by too high a price tag. Instead, I told myself that I would play it safe financially for undergrad, so that I could indulge and pursue my dream school when it really mattered: for my doctorate.
More than a decade later, here I am. In my dream program with the opportunity to learn from and with faculty and classmates whom I admire and respect deeply. And yet… the day before our first day of class, I was filled with immense doubt. In fact, much of the summer leading up to this experience, I spent paralyzed with imposter syndrome and fatigued by fear. I questioned myself and this experience. What am I doing?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wished and waited for this, but what is “this”? What does pursuing a doctorate mean? What’s the value added, not just to me personally, but to society at large? Who am I to indulge in this so called, “intellectual retreat”? How does this experience contribute to, and advance, my commitment to social justice? Will this endeavor serve as a detour from, or a deepening of, my other passions and pursuits (e.g., consulting and starting a family)? Can I have it all? What does “having it all” even mean? How will I perform? How will I measure up? How might my social identities inform or impact my experience in the academy?
I remember just before moving to Ohio (to pursue our doctorates), my partner and I were scrubbing the windows and walls of our Saint Paul apartment in hopes of getting our renter’s deposit back; fully preparing for living on reduced graduate student budgets, we knew every dollar would count. On our last afternoon in Minnesota, a dear friend of ours stopped by to say a final farewell. A fellow student affairs educator, she commended us for bravely embarking on this next phase of our journey. In addition to hugs and warm wishes, she gave us a card that had written on the cover, “Be brave and chase your dreams.” -Bill Clinton
Bravery. This has most certainly become the first lesson of my doctoral studies. As the popularly used quote from Nelson Mandela goes, “courage [bravery] is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Instead of trying to silence my fears, I have decided to hold them. To look at them straight on, acknowledge them, and then keep moving. To be clear, this is absolutely terrifying. I still feel my stomach drop every time I am asked to share my thoughts in a doctoral seminar or when I sit down to write an academic paper after having been out of school for more than six years. However, instead of succumbing to my fears, I have tried to practice letting go of them. This isn’t to say I’ve conquered my fears, but rather as they emerge I try to give myself grace and remember that I am gaining experience. I am learning. I am growing.
At the end of my first week of classes, instead of feeling overwhelmed, insecure, or out of place as I feared I might, I feel energized, optimistic, and brave as I take on whatever this journey might bring…
This post is part of our #SAdoc series, which aims to show that the journey for a doctorate in Student Affairs is about more than just a piece of paper. A variety of SA pros working towards, or who have obtained, their #SAdoc will share their stories of the hustle and struggle of the process; the ups and downs. For more information, please see Kevin Wright’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Stacy Oliver-Sikorski on Professional Development