Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Through my mental health challenges and my love/hate relationship with Harvard, I have learned to build a strong support system. I've got a therapist, a psychopharmacologist, and an academic therapist. I've got a writing group and a committee of professors to move my work forward.

Though my life has been amazingly wonderful and wonderfully amazing in the past few weeks, I've learned the hard way I cannot put all my happy eggs in one basket. I have to take care of all parts of me to feel self-assured and independent.

The truth is, I didn't accomplish all I wanted to during this break in terms of my academic work. I am so close to completing a major milestone in my program, but I keep getting blocked. It's my usual mind-f*cking cocktail of procrastination, an unrealistic need for perfection, and the "significance" of this milestone I self-impose. Add to this feelings of failure and inadequacy because I'm not doing all I want to do and I get paralyzed in front of my computer.

So I met with my academic counselor yesterday. She reminded me of how I work best, the strategies I've used in the past to successfully manage my time, and how to reframe my thinking so I'm not so hard on myself. She also introduced to me a way to think about my goal setting that is not so hung up on a due date, and more attached to a daily time commitment. It's not that crazy a concept, but it's new to me, so I'm excited to try it.

One of the things we discussed is how I see myself in relation to other people at Harvard. At Harvard, I think if myself as an average student, at best. I am very smart, but I'm not producing work that knock professors out of their seats. However, when I talk to other people about what I've accomplished, I realize I have done some great sh*t. It's not that I've done better stuff than the non-Harvard people in my world...it's just not average, you know? It's far from average as a matter of fact.

You know what else I realized while talking to my counselor? At Harvard, average equals mediocre in my mind. Even in my program where we profess to be all about support and never about competition, the hidden curriculum says otherwise. With every success a colleague celebrates, we all feel a little worse because we're not there yet. So to just be average...to just be moving along, is actually to be less than average.

It was a powerful realization because it helped me understand why I'm so adverse to being average. Average in a doctoral program at Harvard is no joke. I should be proud...especially since this program hardly ever gives out "C"s, so average is an "A-." And if I can make all other parts of my life extraordinary while being here, then I'm doing a damn good job.

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