As a child, one of my favorite shows was Ghostwriter. This incredible, educational (read: nerd’s paradise), tells a tale of a fictional ghost who helps kids solve cases (by way of investigative pseudo-detective work). In the process, they develop problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and gain self-confidence. One of my favorite story lines is about the kids making a music video called You Gotta Believe. From the day I watched this show, (and imagined myself being a character in the video…definitely wanted to be the smart black kid), believing in myself has been a core value and life motto for me!
So, I bet you’re probably thinking, what in the world is this man talking about? I promise I’m not leading you into a sunken place, trust me! When I first decided to participate in this series, I immediately began to feel imposter syndrome creeping into my psyche. What qualifies me to give advice about being a doctoral student? After all, I’m just beginning my program. Who wants to listen to me? But just as soon as I started to close my laptop, I remembered that I’m young, gifted, and black. Then I remembered some great advice given by the wise sage, Sister Mary Clarence: You have a voice in this world and you deserve to be heard. So now that I have your attention, listen up!
For years I debated on when and where to start my doctoral program. I knew I wanted to further my education, but how when, where? I had no clue. The one thing I did know was that I was ready for a change! So, after several years of searching, I landed on the Organizational Change and Leadership program at the University of Southern California. It was perfect serendipity, as I had researched this program two years before but did not want to commit. But this time, it just felt right.
The program blends my professional passion areas, fits my hectic work schedule, and will set me up for where I want to go in the future. This leads me to my first piece of advice to all of the aspiring docs out there: be intentional about finding the right program that fits your needs. Do not settle for something you won’t be happy with or that does not align with your personal and professional goals. Don’t be afraid to shop around until you get that warm and fuzzy feeling.
After spending this semester in classes, transitioning jobs, and successfully adulting, I have a few additional nuggets of advice:
Manage your time well.
Life gets busy and ish gets real. Make sure you’re giving yourself adequate time to complete assignments for school and work AND enough time to enjoy your personal life.
Surround yourself with a strong support system.
I can’t tell you enough how much it helps to have an amazing group of family and friends. These amazing individuals have prayed for me, comforted me in times of uneasiness, and always been there to vent and celebrate with me – big or small. I am forever grateful. Whether these folks are your friends, co-workers, classmates, or church family, make sure you have them in your life. Be open and honest with them about your needs and how they can be supportive to you.
Expand your network.
One thing that has proven very helpful for me is studying with other doc students. Though we’re in different programs and may be studying completely unrelated things, the fellowship of coming together to read, write, and study (read: commiserate) has been great. This set-up is great for accountability and also sharing what you’re learning. If you can explain something you’re learning to someone from a different discipline and how it’s related to their work, then you got it!
Make time for self-care.
You gotta love yourself. Whether it’s daily snap chat breaks, ratchet reality TV, gardening, napping, or anything in between, ensure that you’re properly caring for yourself. Don’t underestimate the importance of cura personalis in rejuvenating your mental and physical well-being.
Utilize your mentors!
They have been there before. Mentors have great advice and can always talk you off the ledge when things get overwhelming. Don’t let these valuable relationships fall to the wayside while you’re pursuing your doctorate. This is also a great time to find other mentors who can support you along your journey.
Leave the imposters alone.
At all cost, avoid imposter syndrome. Remember, you were selected for a reason. You belong in your program and you can absolutely get it done. As I remind myself daily, you are POWERFUL beyond measure! Always remember that as well as your other values and let them be your guiding compass. Shake the haters off and cast the doubt and fear away. Everything will be alright.
And finally, as Lenny tells us, when obstacles appear that you can’t step around, just climb on up and over, and cruise on down. Be relentless. Do not let anyone stop you from achieving your goals and dreams.
Peace and Blessings!