September is my favorite time of year, which is a sure sign that I’ve spent almost my whole life going back to school as the season changes. I love the fresh, chilly air, the eagerness in my new students, and the return to routine after the casual chaos of summertime. Like New Year’s Day, the first weeks of classes come with resolutions, good intentions, and enthusiastic motivation, but I know that these will soon wither as the stresses of teaching and writing bear down on me. This year, though, I’m really hoping to make at least one of those resolutions stick.
As a PhD student, I really love the work that I’m privileged to do, but I have to admit that I don’t always feel like the real deal. I know everyone struggles with feeling like an imposter sometimes, but the courage and confidence to think of myself as an academic are so often in short supply, especially after the starry-eyed hopes of September have faded. Unfortunately, motivating oneself to read, or write, or be otherwise academically productive is particularly difficult when it all feels pointless, because that too-busy-for-its-own-good brain is so sure that nothing it ever achieves will be good enough. This year, though, I’m determined to change my perspective.
I received some very simple advice a couple of years ago, when I decided to take up running. I was very reluctant to call myself “a runner,” and I had it in my head that, in order to define myself as a runner, I had to be an Olympian. I needed to be running marathons, to have the fancy shoes and the hardcore 6-days-a-week schedule like the people on the covers of fitness magazines. But one day, when struggling to articulate my love for running without actually calling myself (gasp!) a runner, someone asked me a simple question:
“Do you run?”
I said, hesitantly, “. . . yes?”
“Then you’re a runner. That’s all there is to it.”
This was a breakthrough for me. The next time I tied up my running shoes and hit the pavement, I thought to myself “I’m a runner!” It turns out that I’m not any different from the people you see out the car window, sprinting along the sidewalk in the rain. I’m badass too, just like them! And when I ran my first half-marathon last fall, I really felt badass. I obviously didn’t finish anywhere near the top; I wasn’t the fastest one out there, but I finished, and I was so incredibly proud of my time. Now, I really do feel like a runner, but I’m convinced that starting to think of myself that way even before I had run my first race really did help me get there in the first place.
What I’m hoping for this year, then, is that I can apply that same principle elsewhere in my idea of myself. I have a feeling that tricking Keely-the-PhD-student into understanding herself as a scholar, a writer, a teacher - all the things I long to be but can’t quite convince myself that I am - will be a lot more complicated than lacing up a pair of running shoes. I realize that changing the way I see myself is going to take some work, some serious, intense, painful growth. But I think - or at least I hope - that changing the way I think about myself will help me do that.
Because it turns out that, even in the midst of all my self-doubt, I was “a runner” all along! It also turns out that I’m already doing the things that make me a writer, an academic, and a teacher. Of course, if I’m going to meet the goals I’ve set for myself, academic or otherwise, I’ll still need to work my butt off, to push myself, to be disciplined. But thanks to my newfound confidence as “a runner,” I know now that if I’m ever going to become who I want to be, it will take a shift in the vision I have of myself - and I’m determined to sustain this vision right on through the 2015-2016 school year . . . or at least until Christmas.
University of Waterloo