“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love now is mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
-- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
A year ago today, I posted this picture and quote after walking around my subdivision at twilight in a bit of a daze. The previous Friday, I rode the bus to uni nearly crying because nothing seemed to be working out. By the following Wednesday, I had a full scholarship to write my PhD at the university of my dreams.
It’s been a year now, and within the next few days I’ll be submitting my thesis outline and first chapter for review by the department. It’s been an amazing year, full of plays, concerts, travel, church events, friends, and (occasionally) academic work. The year hasn’t been everything I expected, but, in many ways, it’s been so much better.
Now more than ever, though, I’m glad this PhD position didn’t fall into my lap. I’m so thankful for those months last year where I felt rejected, and alone, and a failure.
Writing a PhD is hard work. The hours are long, the expectations are high, and the paperwork is never-ending.
What’s most difficult about the PhD, though, isn’t the work itself—it’s finding the motivation to actually do the work. It’s putting in the hours at the office when people tell you, “You’re just a first year; you don’t need to work so hard.” It’s managing to care about some entertainment that Queen Elizabeth saw in 1575 when it seems like everyone else’s project is so much more interesting and relevant. It’s keeping a smile on your face when your supervisor is disappointed and you feel you can never be a real academic.
Basically, doing a PhD is about managing your imperfections in a system that expects constant perfection.
For me, as a Christian, doing my PhD is about daily acknowledging that I’m not doing this on my own strength. I’m so flawed, so inadequate, but God has given me an amazing opportunity and He will guide me through it.
That’s why I’m glad my PhD applications weren’t a glorious string of acceptances. Because now I know that I’m not here because of my intelligence, or my academic excellence, or my copious extracurriculars.
Facing rejection before starting my PhD taught me that I am very much not perfect, but neither do I have to be. And now, whether my friends are complimenting me on a theatrical performance or my supervisor is tearing my chapter to shreds, I have absolute confidence that I am valuable not because I can somehow achieve perfection, but because He strengthens me.