The light we carry: book reflection

A pile of books

Whether you like the Obamas or not, I found I had a lot of helpful things to take away from Michelle Obama’s recent book, The Light We Carry. I guess they are crafted as life lessons, but they may as well be a toolkit we HDR students can use on our journey towards the degree. Here are some of the things I learned that I find useful as an HDR student.

  1. Thinking small can help you with the big stuff. She talked a lot about knitting and how during the pandemic, during the lockdowns, what she found helpful and almost therapeutic for herself was knitting. In essence, knitting here is a metaphor for finding and focusing your efforts on the things you can control which help you get to the end goal. What’s the big stuff? A dissertation of 80,000 words. How do I think small here, what are the small steps that would get me to a completed thesis at the end? It’s writing 250 words every single day. “Any time your circumstances start to feel all-consuming, I suggest you try going in the other direction - toward the small.”
  2. Some fears can’t be conquered, but we can forge ahead despite them. What’s my fear? It’s failing. It’s writing all the words, spending all these years in the dissection and analysis of my topic, all to find I don’t make the cut, that I don’t have what it takes, that I am an imposter. I’m sure I’m not the only one who suffers from Imposter Syndrome, nor will I be the last. I’m afraid I won’t make it. So why even try, you say? I forge ahead because I believe in the contribution I am making. I forge ahead because my supervisors continue to believe in me.
  3. Don’t neglect your “kitchen table”. Michelle Obama refers to her very close group of friends as her kitchen table. I love that image – it feels so true. We gather around the kitchen table and those who really matter are a handful. Throughout the HDR journey, we need our kitchen table around. They are not only our biggest cheerleaders, but they are usually our sources of purpose and meaning.
  4. Know your ‘fearful mind’. It’s the soft whisper you hear at times telling you “It’s too hard” or “It’s too scary, what if you fail”. Michelle suggests that our fearful minds serve a purpose, that they help us identify risk and help us not to fall into carelessness. She suggests we get acquainted with our own fearful minds and notice when it turns up and how best to keep them in check. “Oh hello. It’s you again. Thanks for showing up. For making me so alert. But I see you.”
Tagged in What messes with your head, books, phd, HDR, study