Saturday, November 05, 2005

Self Doubt

Just two days ago I was completely immersed in my work, and also celebrating my friend's completion of her dissertation. We came in the same year, and I have done everything a little after her, so at first I felt inspired by her finishing. She was very nervous, said she felt the typical imposter syndrome, right before her defense. I knew she had nothing to worry about. She did spectacularly! And I can taste her freedom....
But two days later I am in the horrible grips of self-doubt. I do fine when I'm writing in my little world, reading a bit, but not too much as it can make me anxious about my own ideas. But I was just exposed (though of course only from the outside), to the actual process of turning in a dissertation and defending it. It's been helpful in some ways to make things concrete, but today I cannot stop FREAKING OUT about it!!! I feel the judgment of my committee, the thousand voices of everyone who has ever written anything in my field before. I feel (though I know that it's bullshit) that I have to compete with all of that, that I have to produce something as good as anything that has ever been produced. In order to get through this thing, to feel compelled to write, I have to feel inspired. I have to feel that what I'm doing is important in some way. That I'm right about what I'm writing. But now I only feel a horrible, vertiginous lack of self-confidence. And I just don't have time to feel this. I'm sitting here before the page, wanting to cry because my ideas seem so pathetic, so obvious. It doesn't matter that someone reassures me they are not. I'm stuck in an emotion that I can't think away or ignore.
I'm writing in here, this confession, though I have come to think of this blog as well as a place of judgment, to see if I can exorcise the feeling. I no longer feel anonymous here. I feel compelled to seem cheery, to prevent those "anonymous" comments that express concern at my swings from overconfidence to underconfidence, as if I wasn't aware of them. As if this blog hadn't been started, and started anonymously, for the very purpose of giving voice to my doubts, fears, angers, hopes in all their complexity and all their inaneness.
Ah, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. One more person finished, guys. A person I know. And I will finish too. It may not be brilliant, but it will be done. I'm just suffering a bit of withdrawal from having thought, in my state of optimistic overexertion, that it would be GREAT. I'm going to go back to thinking it doesn't have to be great, just done.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's the thing you have to know. this is not about you, the dissertation is not about you, that's right. it is about the system, and it is only a stepping stone. the dissertation is about your committee, your degree program, and you meeting requirements. everything else is just baggage, it is the same baggage that people beat themselves over the head with when they try to get an article published, it is the same baggage that people beat themselves up with when they go on the job market. try to leave the bags at home, academia is a job, if you take too much baggage to work each day... you get fired, so learn to separate yourself from your work, learn that yes... you are building a 'brand', a 'scholary identity', etc. but that is what being a professional is about, that is what you are doing, becoming, etc. it is part of a process and it never ends. it can be fun sometimes, it can be challenging other times, but you just have to keep at it and in the end... the work doesn't represent you... you will represent the work.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My therapist gave me a way to think about, especially since I'm at the end of my allotted PhD time, though nowhere near the end of the dissertaion!

"It doesn't have to be good; just good enough."


7:13 PM  
Blogger Francesca said...

The first commenter is absolutely right. The dissertation/defense is just the last hoop you have to jump through. You've already made it this far and the "powers that be" have had many opportunities to tell you that you're not good enough to get to the next stage. And they haven't told you that!
I had many, many mood changes during my dissertation experience. I was up and down just like you. Mostly what brought me out of a pit of self-doubt is realizing a number of people really believed in me--people whose opinions I trusted, who knew me well. I hope you have some people like that around you, for they are precious.
You're just having a momentary fear of the Phony Police--something I think that troubles a lot of women. I don't think we ever grow out of it, unfortunately. I'm still afraid that even though I'm done, someone will read a couple of sentences of the diss. and recall my degree!
You can do it. Seriously.
Good enough. Keep repeating those words.

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