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{PhD} Sometimes, everything goes tits up…

How’s this past week gone for you? 

Has everything gone to plan? 

Or has this been one of those weeks where everything – absolutely everything – has been the research equivalent of dropping a perfectly baked cake all over your kitchen floor?

This was me 3 years ago, right in the middle of my PhD. 

I got news that a really good friend and mentor died very suddenly. 

One month later, another of my closest friends – someone I considered family – lost her battle with cancer. 

In between all this, I had awful health issues which dragged for more than 6 months and I just couldn’t get the medical help I needed for it.

I was struggling with sleep. 

I was in pain and discomfort all the time. 

I was utterly and completely exhausted. 

I couldn’t even eat nice things as everything was triggering my health issues. All I could eat were courgettes, tofu and rice!

It was also around this time I had to prepare for my final thesis advisory panel meeting. 

My friends, I hadn’t written a single word in 6 months

You know when people tell you to take a break and come back to it? 

I took a break, and that break lasted more than half a damn year. 

I’m here to tell you today that if you’re worrying about not writing enough chapters…

… or not writing enough words…

… or not reading enough…

…that it is going to be okay. I promise it will be. 

I accomplished absolutely nothing for more than half a year. That’s not an exaggeration. I really didn’t do any thesis-ing all those months. My only focus all those months was to get through each day without bursting into tears. 

That was enough and that was okay. 

If this is you now – or at some time in the future – know that it is absolutely okay too.

(even if you’re not a PhD student, but things are going totally bonkers sideways, everything I’m saying here still applies…)

Make sure you’re speaking to the people you need to speak to – supervisors, team mates, colleagues – and let them know what’s going on with you.

Work with them to figure out some sort of plan to allow you to take a full break from things for awhile, so you can let things settle and find your equilibrium again. 

Surround yourself with the support that you need – people, pets, your yoga mat, a regular supply of doughnuts.

Then give yourself that permission to rest and heal from whatever it is that you’re going through. 

Sure, it’s important to make plans and work to a schedule,.

But the success of that schedule is largely dependent on also having adequate rest and incorporating pauses to deal with the many messy in-betweens that may come up. 

I promise that even though it doesn’t feel like anything is happening and you’re not ‘getting work done’, the hidden, quieter parts of your brain are still ticking away – thinking, assimilating, processing, percolating ideas.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you’re highly intelligent and a great thinker. Things don’t just disappear into the ether when you’re away from your computer – the thinking is still happening.

But you’re not going to be able to access all that backstage goodness if it’s chaos at the front of house.

I also promise you that taking a break or some time off doesn’t mean that everything stops forever. It’s literally just a pause – not a complete halt.

I took those many long months away from my thesis. When I got back to it, I churned out a full chapter in less than a month – the words, the thoughts, the arguments all fell out easily. They’d already been stewing away in the background and the time was now right for them to come through. 

I presented it at my thesis advisory panel and got through it fine. It was all okay in the end – as it will be for you too.

So if you’re looking for a sign, coming across this blog today, in this moment, is your permission slip to treat yourself kindly.

Take a break. Pause. Go slower. Give yourself what you need.

Remember: You are so much more than your research / work / project / business.

You are a human being first. And then, a researcher / lawyer / consultant / boss / colleague / friend…

When you’re fully at ease, in joyous health and balance, everything else will fall into place – the reading, writing, working, world-changing researching, doing, acting bad-ass that is All Of You

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