A frustrating aspect of both grad school and endurance training is that you experience highs and lows – periods of intense motion, followed by periods of stasis. After finishing my dissertation prospectus and applying for a bunch of grants, I ran out of gas on both fronts. I’d pushed too hard, too fast trying to get myself to be ABD, and after I managed to hand everything in I tried to start writing my first chapter and diving back into endurance training without giving myself time to recover.
My engine sputtered and died in spectacular fashion. I’d write five pages. Read it over. Scrap it. Try again and become angry at myself for not being able to follow through with my goal of finishing a chapter by the start of June. I’d plan to catch up on a run and spend the whole day on my couch, either trying to chip away at this interminable chapter or watching Netflix in a futile attempt to cheer myself up. I felt – on both fronts – paralyzed, sick, unhappy, but the more I worked or thought about work, the worse I felt.
So, how to dig myself out of this funk?
At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to have been accepted to an academic conference in San Antonio. As the trip came up, I wasn’t worried about the paper I’d have to give, and I was actually pretty excited. I knew I was prepared; it was a paper I’d written as part of my exams, so I knew the topic backwards, forwards, inside-out and upside-down. I went to the conference planning to see as much as possible – to attend as many panels as I could, to talk to as many people as possible, to really dig back in. I took the chance to leave my computer – my dissertation, really – behind in the hotel room and connect with people. In this spirit, I attended what was probably the key to my return to true motivation – a “super session” with a number of feminist scholars. Sitting in a room of women doing the sort of work I aspire to and talking and tweeting with those women re-lit my spark. I could do this work. I have the skills – what was I doing feeling inadequate?While I was there, I also ran around the city in the early morning. No tourists, no watch, no phone. Just me and the city – alone together. It took a few days, but when I got back from the conference, I dove immediately back into both my scholarship and my fitness routine, feeling like a new woman.
The moral here, as I see it, is that seeing yourself as part of a living, breathing community and taking some time to unplug from the process of writing the dissertation, which can seem so daunting and terrifying, and to ditch the running watch and enjoy a run for once.
Back on the path, then. Hoping it lasts.