I pursued my doctoral degree because “I am the master of my fate, and the captain of my soul.” [Invictus] The byproduct of a single, teen mother, and a father incarcerated, a large portion of my life I was told I would not be able to have the life that others had: security, education, material possessions, wealth. So I made the decision at seven years old that I would.
My doctoral degree is an essential component of my master plan. Of course, at seven I did not know I’d pursue a doctoral degree. But what I decided was that I would Always be the best of the best. With only 4.6 percent of the population holding doctorates, I realized having one would powerfully position me to become just that. As a woman of color from two beautiful dominating cultures, Latina and African American, I understand that very few of us have attained this distinction. In 2009-2010, only 6% of doctoral degrees were awarded to African American candidates and about 4% to Latino candidates. With the odds stacked against me, I learned early that education would be my saving grace.
I faced many challenges while pursuing my doctoral degree. I am a mommy of three beautiful children; I work full-time, juggling several leadership roles; and my daily commute includes two hours in L.A. traffic! My daily struggles are trying. However, my greatest challenge was my own personal doubt. I realized within the first two months of starting the doctoral program that I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome. My entire life, I was taught to believe that I did not belong in academia. People like me did not deserve success, and could not excel beyond their parents’ circumstances. I internalized those beliefs and became insecure–completely forgetting my strength. I was sabotaging myself.
The best advice I could give to someone considering, or who is currently navigating the doctoral program, is to find a mentor who has gone through the process. That is how I was able to get grounded and back on track. Identify someone who understands your circumstances and can offer you resources to help you through. Finding someone, or get involved with a group, or organization that will hold you accountable, as well as remind you of your assets when you can’t see them. Also, connect with someone who is also going through the process. I am in my final year and it is largely due to my support system: the relationships I made during the program. I have mentors, sponsors and allies who genuinely love me and want nothing but the best for me. I have found a new family in my cohort mates. Early in the program I worked on building a bond with my cohort mates, and it has been vital to my success. I am convinced that these will be life-time relationships.
Enjoy the process as you go through it. Look for areas of growth and perseverance; focus on where you want to leave your mark and how. And don’t forget to love your family. Include your children so that they are inspired to stretch themselves, knowing they too can do anything their heart desires because they see you doing it. That’s been the most rewarding part of being in the doctorate program, the impact it has had on my family. My children are proud of me and I could not ask for more. My children are witnessing all of my struggles and hard work, but most of all they are seeing the fruit of my labor. The other amazing reward has been my personal transformation. I am not the same person I was three years ago when I started the program. I have grown, matured, and most importantly, I found myself. That smart, determined, loving seven year old is now thirty-three, and ready to embrace people like me – to create pathways and models of success for them to thrive, and live into their greatness.
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!