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on process, abundance, and living in the daily of a doctoral student

November 23, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

I have an app on my phone called TimeHop. Basically, it’s an aggregator, collecting posts from my social media past and providing an update each day about what I was doing last year, two years ago, etc. I enjoy checking it every day because it’s a bit like having an external memory, opening a time capsule and reading a message from past Lisa—seeing a photo of baby Ruby.

Last year today was apparently the first time I submitted my dissertation proposal for formal review to the prof who was teaching my proposal prep seminar. Ironically, a couple days ago I again submitted my dissertation proposal to my supervisor for review. Apparently late November is when one submits dissertation proposals for review.

As an educator, I’ve gladly jumped on the “delight in the process of learning” bandwagon. I want my learners to trust themselves, to trust the process and not be so consumed with achieving the perfect outcome because outcomes are flashy and fleeting—they don’t transform you like the daily engagement with process. I’ve been known to encourage my fledgling designers by telling them that if they learn to delight in process, they will eventually have both a great outcome and a great new set of skills. Through process comes abundance.

As a doctoral student, I’m so ready to sacrifice some of the transformation + new skills of process for the dazzle of a fleeting outcome. Daily engagement with process mostly feels repetitive. There’s little magic in the cycle of consuming and connecting information, writing about it, editing, repeating. Most days the only thing that is getting stronger is the voice in my head that points out how slow I appear to be moving and reiterating that maybe I don’t have what it takes. An abundance of self-doubt and low-grade shame was not what I signed up for in becoming a doctoral student.

But, here’s what I’ve learned this year—what the past twelve months of writing dissertation proposals has taught me: process does produce abundance but my definitions of both have been way too limited.

I used to think that process was like driving to a grocery store—abundance was seeing and reveling in all the choices you had upon arrival. When you delight in the journey, you are rewarded with a prize. You select, you consume, and you repeat.

Now I think process might be more like finding land and clearing it, planting seeds and tending them…watching, waiting, and hoping for good yet fully aware you are only one actor in the system. Process teaches you, but it is teaching through breaking, through reflecting, through moving on, through reaching out. Abundance too is not so much having many different options; rather it is realizing your place interwoven into a landscape whose edges are constantly shifting and changing. This new way of seeing helps me be more patient and though its far slower than I would choose, I know it is transforming me for good and at a far deeper level than I thought possible.

So back to work I go, reading, connecting, writing, editing…hoping for good yet fully aware I am only one actor in an abundant system. And for today…that is enough.

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