Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PhD Completion: What it Takes to be the Gardener of Your Own Success

gardeningby E. Alana James, Doctoral Net:

Before I start - be sure to sign up to receive all the news about the Open House which will run Sept. 5th-22nd. DoctoralNet is rolling out great fun and excellent content to help doctoral students around the world do well this year.  

The fall, or autumn, is a good time to think about what we were able to build so far this year. I've been ruminating about growing plants and the gardener's relationship to PhD candidates, entrepreneurs or anyone else who is actively building their dreams.

This post teases out both the strength and humility needed by all of us and the relationship of various attributes as we build anything new, especially the dream of becoming a Doctor. 

I hope that by investigating the many small qualities which, when taken together make up the Habits of Mind and the skill set used by a good gardener, we can hold ourselves to our own high expectations and continue to onward to success.

Before We Start

It's important to make note of the fact that these are habits of mind, and skills, therefore built over time.We all have a fantasy about where we want to go, but beginners can take on a false perspective about what is achievable and then become discouraged if they don't meet that image. 

New terrain is exciting, but when we don't live up to our initial view of how things ought to be, we can experience shame or anxiety. We can change that by maintaining a personal outlook that all of these ideas develop slowly and steadily, rather than all at once.

As a doctoral student, it is also important to remember that positive outcomes of great adventures or dreams change a person.

You will not be the same person when you finish your PhD as when you started because in between were a lot of challenges, places where you could have chosen to give up on yourself but instead you kept going, etc. Each one of these is like the cold water into which the hot steel is dipped when it is being tempered.

Your Mindset

It is important not to forget what matters most, our humanity. We need to love the work, the process of growing and putting the new pieces together. Building a dream needs to involve our creativity. That's important because trial and error is always involved in “getting it right.” 

If we love the work, if it involves our creativity then we have a natural desire to nurture that growth and to maintain the vision. These five words: love, creativity, desire, growth, vision must be at the heart of our personal view of the work we undertake.

But drive alone won't help us through the rough spots. For that we need the strength of determination, focus and an ability to weed out the undesirable in ourselves, and in the outcomes we may achieve along the way. For academic writers, this means we need to have the fortitude to keep revising our work until it is solid and defensible.

A sense of purpose about the work as a whole will allow us to hear strong judgments from others about what is less than completely desirable in our work.  It's also nice to be able to listen with a sense of humor. None of us complete a task right the first time and for that reason we cannot take ourselves or our work too seriously.

Drive, determination, sense of purpose, and having a sense of humor all rolled together with kindness towards yourself can be the greatest gift of all: the ability to forgive your own mistakes and those of others. We sail through the process of building a dream when we can do it with an open heart.

What Habits Will Support You?

It takes experience to be able to make work fun. We only enjoy the process after we have repeatedly gone through it enough to understand the inherent ups and downs in the process. This requires that we approach our work with consistency and persistence. Getting up every day and doing a little gets us closer and closer to getting it done.

We need to persevere in the face of all kinds of challenges or distractions which might get in the way. The trap here is in doggedly trying to keep going even when experiencing the pain that comes if circumstances don't go our way. There will be challenges that can stop us in our tracks for awhile. 

In order to keep going we need to be able to fail, and we cannot hold ourselves to a standard of perfectionism.

Developing a strong work ethic was probably one of the best things I ever did for myself and my ability to build my dreams and makes them come true. 

Each step along the way requires that I focus, observe what I like and don't like about any current state, and adapt as required to manually build the outcomes I'm after.  Tools like backward mapping and time management aid that work ethic and create success.


The ability to grow plants and harvest dreams whether from the marketplace, university, or garden, requires that we allow the work to change and grow and to love what manifests as we progress, keep sight of our purpose, and maintain our humanity. Taking stock about how we feel about where we are is always a good first step. 

This is written in the hopes it helps a person or two set their own internal standards a little higher. People who aim for the top often achieve it. People who don't consider what it takes, seldom do.

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