In every hero’s journey there is a beginning, middle, and end, or departure, initiation, and return. You only have to look at mythology, fairy tales and movies of Dorothy’s travels in the Wizard of Oz, Buddha or Moses to see examples of the journey. For doctorate students, and from one who’s been there, I think the dissertation is certainly an initiation. “How many revisions must I do, will IRB ever accept the application, and ….” Being in the dissertation process may feel like there is no return to be had. Dorothy was not thinking about bringing back the boon of her adventure while confronting her challenges, in part because her resources, and yours too, are focused on the task at hand. For that matter, we don’t know if we’ll even make it, much less what we’ll do when we finish.
I want to present two ideas here: first, you are on a heroic journey, in the dissertation process, and in life itself, and second, the return is coming. I know you don’t want to think about the return while working through the hoops of completing your dissertation, while probably employed, maybe children to take of, and oh yea, there is a personal/social/emotional life going on too.
So let’s do a little exercise, it will only take five minutes. Think about journeys you’ve been on. The anxiety that showed up before and during the departure (will I be a good enough husband/wife, father/mother, can I do the job, what is my life’s purpose–and what is the next step?). Then you jumped. The anxiety was mixed with excitement–remember! Or as the elder said to the young Native American, “you only have to cross the width, not the depth, of the juncture.” Now in initiation, you had to find your grounding again, reorient yourself, find your footing–and you did! You learned what you learned, not what others may have wanted you to learn, and you co-created those experiences. Then there was the return. You took another breadth, you’re alive, you made it. What now? You had to reintegrate yourself with that new learning, and perhaps with some of the scars too. No one is immune from them for trials and tribulations are the cornerstones of initiation.
I want to leave you with these headlines: (1) You are in a process: step back, you’ve been in them before, and you’ll be in them again. (2) Take a moment to consider what you have/will gain through the process and what you want to bring back and what you’ll do with the boon of your time separated from the life you had. (3) Relax. I know it’s easy to say from the other side, but there are lots and lots of Ph.D.’s, Psy.D.’s, Ed.D.’s in the world. With perspective, faith, and the experience of your life, you too will be one of them.
Best of luck on your journey,
James Lani, Ph.D.
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