Remembering Your (Dissertation) Why


Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist confined to Auschwitz-Birkenauc camp during WWII, calculated his odds of survival were 1 in 39.  As Frankl lost everything—his family members, all of his possessions, and his liberty—he wondered why some individuals were hopeless, while others seemed maintain their humanness, comforting others and giving.   He came to notice that individuals with a purpose seemed to survive much better than the others.  When he asked those who maintained a good attitude why they wanted to live, one intern mentioned a book in them waiting to write, a second person wanted to see their niece grow up.  Frankl concluded that when you are grounded in purpose, you thrive; when you go through the motions of your day, you are like a boat adrift at sea, dejected and aimless.  He wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, where in the final analysis, Frankl came to simply state, that those with a why to live (i.e., purpose), could live with any what of living.

If you’re reading this newsletter, you are probably not in such dire straits, so why bring all this up and what does this have to do with your dissertation?  Well, when we forget our purpose, why we are doing what we’re doing, going through our days, months, and years, forgetting our original intention for starting or continuing doctoral activities, we too could become dejected.  We may come to believe that we have no choice, going through our days like an automaton, not truly connecting with what we’re doing and not connecting with our personal why.  I ask you to remember why you choose your doctoral degree, and why you choose to continue doing your dissertation.  It is not about the frustrations (feeling like the dissertation is no longer yours, advisors edits, multiple revisions, IRB challenges, etc.), it is about your family, your career growth, or personal achievement—there was, and there is, meaning to your original decision and there can be renewed meaning now.

This meaning, however, is not given or predetermined—in any (doctoral) event, any (doctoral) activity, or any (doctoral) effort—it’s made by you and you alone.    You may think, “Well, I can’t quit this academic program after all the time, money, energy, and personal sacrifice.”  I’m not suggesting you quit your program; what I am suggesting is to remind yourself that this is your life and to go through any challenging process with a firm why in mind while keeping you whole in the process.  When you consciously say, “I can leave this program if it no longer fits my life and I am choosing to stay in the program,” then you realize that you are driving your life by choice.

Stay purposeful with meaning that you choose, realize your best self, and graduate strong!  I truly wish you all a wonderful New Year,

Dr. James Lani

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