It’s been a year of highs and lows. I decided to move to a new country for my research, I attempted to write a master’s thesis, I tried to find an awesome internship, and I tried to maintain a relationship.
One of these four failed, because I was giving up.
Looking back, I can see how that happened but in the moment I hadn’t noticed the decision to throw the towel in creeping up on me. I failed to adequately write my master’s thesis, and even though all I had to do was pay a relatively small amount of money to extend for another few months, my pride almost let me drop out. My friends and family pulled me back from the brink, and now I am solidly on track to getting my paper done and the future looks bright again.
It’s seems out of character for me to give up, but I almost did. What were the warning signs?
- Spending less and less time thinking about my project.
- Finding a bunch of unnecessary tasks to replace working on it.
- Seeing it as a burden rather than an investment in my future.
- Beginning to list justifications for not doing it.
- Rationalising that in fact I had achieved all the things I wanted to get with it (the job, the city, the apartment) without even graduating, therefore I didn’t need to accomplish it.
- Telling myself how thousands of others also decide to drop out, so it wasn’t a big deal
- Calculating that it was a risky financial decision.
- Convincing myself that I had been overambitious in thinking I could get this qualification, and that I should accept my academic abilities for being lesser than I thought.
- Not caring about the quality of my work.
- Brushing it off in conversation as unimportant, rather than speaking about it enthusiastically and with pride.
Let’s discuss these points a little more.
1. “Spending less and less time thinking about it.”
During the first few months, I was excited. This was something new, something challenging. However, when the scope of the project started to become apparent and I had underestimated the preparation necessary, it became a monolithic task, a mountain I could not climb. So, to prevent panic, I stopped thinking about it and distracted myself by working more, watching more TV and even listening to music at night so my brain would be forced not to mull over the roadblocks I had encountered.
To remind myself constantly that it wasn’t over yet, I placed books and notepads around the room, and notifications on my computer so that I forced myself to think about it.
2. “Finding a bunch of unnecessary tasks to replace working on it.”
Essentially, this is procrastination. I went so far as to take some floorboards out from under the kitchen work area to clean under them! I was too “busy” to spend time researching and writing. I was caught up with trying to do interviews for jobs, even though in reality I had plenty of spare hours to get some school work done. Ironically, these were jobs requiring a masters degree. There was never “enough” time when I could find ten other things that “needed” doing.
To stop this silliness, I made a strict list of tasks that truly needed doing ordered by priority. Everything else got ignored.
3. “Seeing it as a burden rather than an investment in my future.”
The project became the enemy, the barrier to my happiness, that which sapped my free time and finances. Imagining the future benefits of putting in the hard work now became foggy and I began to wonder why I had bothered to put myself under so much pressure. Wan’t it more important to have my health and happiness, rather than trying to chip away at this endless task? I had forgotten why I had spent three years considering a masters, choosing a masters, the tense application process, the joy of admission, the things I had learnt in the classes leading up to the writing of the dissertation. I had forgotten how I had been spurred to do this by wanting to challenge myself to my limits, to open my mind up, to acquire deeper thinking, to be better placed in the competitive job market.
I remembered that I would end up exactly where I had started a year ago, and that jolted me out of this apathy.
4. “Beginning to list justifications for not doing it.”
It’s giving me sleepless nights. It’s depressing me. It’s too hard. I don’t need it. I want my weekends for myself, not for writing and reading and compiling data. I am not able to do it. I suck.
Arrange a time management plan to balance study, work and free time. Ask for advice from everyone possible, don’t do it alone. As for thinking that you suck? Come on – you would not have gotten into the program in the first place if that were true.
5. “Rationalising that in fact I had achieved all the things I wanted to get with it (the internship, the city, the apartment) without even graduating, therefore I didn’t need to accomplish it.”
There were many reasons carefully thought-out over the years as to why doing a masters was the right choice. I needed a career change, and without relevant work experience or qualifications in another industry I was unlikely to move out of teaching. I tried for full-time and part-time jobs in marketing and PR, to no avail. I wanted a higher salary, and a job that used more of my creativity. Mostly, I wanted to work with adults. This meant that study was the only path left open to me, as continuing as a teacher was, to me, worse than the all seven levels of Dante’s hell. Due to a series of fortunate events during my thesis research period, I ended up with the dream job and a great apartment in an awesome city. So why bother completing the course?
Reputation is important. If you don’t want accusations of not finishing your work. Also, it seemed such a waste to throw away a year’s work without the piece of paper to hang on the wall at the end…
6. “Telling myself how thousands of others also decide to drop out, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Tons of people do it! They just walk out without a care in the world and take on the challenge of life. Many role-models of mine who went from a small innovative idea to massive success tell the tale of not completing school. Education is just one pathway to learning.
Don’t do something just because “everyone else” appears to be doing it. That’s just dumb. Think about what you really lose/gain from making this decision. I just needed three more months and I’d have a masters forever. I have no idea what the future holds and maybe that title will make a difference. If not? Hey, it was only one year and I’m proud of the personal achievement.
7. “Calculating that it was a risky financial decision.”
This was the hardest one to argue against. The grand plan had been to end the internship coinciding with the submission of my dissertation, and moving to working full-time with the company. My savings were gone but I had prepared for that and expected to earn a living again within one month of finishing. This all went up in the air when I had to add three months to the study period. How was I going to ask my family for more support? How was I going to pay the extra fees? How would I pay everyone back?
My situation does not apply to everyone, but I solved it mainly by swallowing my pride and asking for help. I also had developed a good rapport with my internship colleagues, who were thoroughly understanding when I told them I would need more time to finish. Although it means a little more debt, in the long run, it is a drop in the ocean.
8. “Convincing myself that I had been overambitious in thinking I could get this qualification, and that I should accept my academic abilities for being lesser than I thought.”
I have always believed in pushing myself to bolder and higher challenges, rarely saying no to a task and usually succeeding. I enjoyed the feeling of success and the knowledge gained from each encounter. I also learned to accept some levels of failure. But this failure hit me really hard, for whatever reason. Perhaps the exhaustion of combining a 40-hour a week internship, managing marketing for a film festival and general housework was too much when you had a research paper to do on top of it all. In my mind, not being able to manage all of these tasks successfully meant that I was a failure, stupid and had finally encountered my glass ceiling.
It overlaps a little with earlier issues. Essentially, managing your time and delegating tasks when you can is important. It WILL get done. Remember you can’t be optimally productive when you are stretched too thin.
9. “Not caring about the quality of my work.”
This is where I really noticed myself starting to slide. I stopped carefully editing and re-editing. I didn’t care to check my references strictly, thinking, “Oh, who’s going to notice?” They did notice: a disjointed story, a fragmented structure, a poor argument. It was impossible to ignore but in my head it somehow seemed enough to “get by.” Since when had that ever been a motto of mine?
Make sure to have trusted people around you be completely honest when they see your work suffer. Listen to their advice, which could be “take a break”, “do something else for a few days”, or “let’s sit back and discuss what your original project was and how it has deviated”. Becoming over-involved in just one project can blind you to staggeringly obvious flaws. Step away, and get a second opinion.
10. “Brushing it off in conversation as unimportant, rather than speaking about it enthusiastically and with pride.”
When I started my research I absolutely loved telling people about it, describing what I hoped to find out, and where I was going to do it. After the first three months as the brick wall was built higher and higher I began to see only the barriers and not the breakthroughs. I got embarrassed at my lack of amazing original research and how I seemed unable to make sense of the mountain of data I had diligently collected and processed. In order to feel less devastated by this situation, I stopped talking about it in a positive way, and then stopped talking about it at all. The less I cared the less it hurt.
When I started being open about the state of affairs, it was a relief to hear how many people went through the same experience and had lots of helpful advice to offer. There is no shame in experiencing some difficulty along the path – nobody is going to look down on you for needing more time and a little help in order to achieve your goals. Better to open up and find an answer than to shut down and let the problem become stagnant.