Resilient spirit

Photo of the back of a climber ascending Mount Everest, blue sky and clouds above one of the peaks

I have entitled the draft of my Ph.D. thesis, ‘BRUNO’ because ‘we don’t talk about Bruno’. We don’t talk about my thesis. Or graduation.

According to the timeline I set for myself at the start of my candidature, I should have finished by now. I’ve seen most of my peers graduate and I’m still here. Should I have followed a different path? As difficult as it’s been, I am certain I would not have made a different choice. 

I read a climber’s blog post on his experience of reaching the summit of Mt Everest. He described it in four critical phases - the trek in, base camp life, acclimatization climbs and the summit bid. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but see it as a metaphor for my past few years in uni.

“I take my time, no need to rush" - This is basically how it felt for me during my first year - the trek in. I was thrilled and excited and just immersed myself in reviewing as much related literature as I could find. I also signed up for as many CaRST activities as I could manage. At that stage, I felt as if I had so much time. Alas, it was on to base camp life. 

“This is the time for patience. With weather changes, avalanches, health issues, and other unforeseen delays, your ability to stay focused is continuously tested.” I would say, base camp life for me was patience but also persistence. It felt like forever just managing to finish one chapter of my thesis, one published manuscript. This was when I started to realize that there were some things that were out of my control - one of them being a pandemic.

“Time to get serious.” Indeed. This describes my acclimatization climbs. It wasn’t altitude that I needed my body to adjust to, it was adjusting to a pandemic, stops and go’s in writing, lockdowns, and so many more. What really got me through this bit was a hopeful mindset. Hopeful that I will get to the summit one day.

"We develop a hopeful mindset when we understand that some worthy endeavours will be difficult and time-consuming and not enjoyable at all." There are many worthy endeavours that produce some amount of pain - Ph.D.s, parenting, freedom, giving birth, change, growth and so on. These are all beautiful things, aspirations and goals truly worth the climb. I’m not at the summit yet, but already looking back and seeing how far I’ve already gone, I see behind me, all the amazing experiences that are worth the moments of struggle.

Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness. *This is part of a blog series from my reflections during Mental Health Awareness Month and integrating the guideposts from Brene Brown’s book, the Gifts of Imperfections in my HDR experience.

Tagged in What messes with your head, phd, Student life