Personal PhD Journey Psychosocial Support

Begin, Anywhere: The Story of Document 1

January 11, 2021

Given that it’s a new year, many people have goals but are still at the very beginning of going for them. I find it fitting then to share this personal story before getting into other academic topics.

In late 2019, I was a new academic and had just registered for my PhD. I was ashamed then, but am not ashamed now (because growth), to tell you that I had absolutely no idea what a PhD was. Not a clue. A whole academic, but if you asked me what the difference was between a Masters and a PhD, I would have stared at you blankly and disappeared in a cloud of shame and anxiety. I had a broad idea of what I wanted my topic to be on: the cannabis industry. It’s a new industry, which is something we don’t get to see much in our lifetime, so I wanted to be a part of it, but I had no clear angle. Time flies when you’re confused. So when I realised I only had only 2 months to go until I had to defend my proposal to a panel of esteemed professors that would either accept or reject it, I panicked.

I sat down in front of my office computer, and I opened a new Word document. After crying for an hour on the phone to my best friend “I can’t do it, I should just deregister, I’m dumb, I don’t know what I’m doing” (the typical negative self-talk), I had no choice but to come face-to-face with my unwritten proposal. I looked at the blank page: ‘Document 1’. We had a straight up stare-down. I blinked a few times at the flashing cursor, and it blinked back at me, almost menacingly. And let me tell you this for free – I had nothing. I whipped out my phone and took a short video of that blank screen and that flashing cursor. And then I saved Document 1 (blank as it was) – named it ‘PhD proposal draft’, packed up my bags and went home.

I wasn’t sure at the time why I saved a completely empty document. Maybe I thought that if I named it, words would magically appear and fill the page? Maybe I thought that if it had a name, it would compel me to write because a document with a name is harder to ignore than document without one? But two months later, I stood in front of those professors defending my proposal and I realised why I did it. In that moment of hopelessness in my office, all I saw through my tears was a blinking cursor. But I had to have known, somewhere very deep down, that the story of Document 1 would be the first of many stories to share of my journey to becoming a Doctor. All it would take was a decision. To fight. And to commit to that fight because, as you may already know (and if you don’t know, now you know), postgraduate degrees are war. War with many battles on the way. Some will be won, some will be lost, some will be abandoned. But in the end, the war will be won if you make the decision. The ‘how’ will come later.

I still whip out that short video from time to time, to remind me: you will feel hopeless sometimes, like you have nothing to show but a blinking cursor and no words. But looking back at that video now, I realise the cursor wasn’t actually menacing. It was anticipating. It was calling out my potential. Every flash of the cursor is a nudge, telling you you just need to begin. Begin with procrastinating (yes, it’s a natural part of the journey). Begin with tears. Begin with calling a friend. Begin with one word; begin with two. Begin with Document 1. Begin, anywhere. Just begin.

Yours in glamorous intelligence,

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