A couple of weeks ago, I was in my valley phase. Feeling down, unmotivated. Just couldn’t seem to get inspired to write, or do, or think about anything really. Those dry spells are usually hard to get over – you’re there trying to visualize a better future but you just can’t seem to get over the now.
And then these three short phrases popped in my head: Work hard. Believe in yourself. Never give up.
So I wrote them down, and for the rest of the day they kept on reverberating at the back of my mind. It got me thinking about the journey of success, the process and how we get to there. Grad school can be so dry sometimes, and you find yourself either having a mental block or just in a state of unmotivation. The difference with undergrad or a course based-masters is that you often will have a mid-term or a paper to jar you out of your catatonic state of inactivity. But on the long road to the PhD, some days just go by. Unproductive. unaccounted for. The main thing I have to look forward to with dread is my annual review that goes to the faculty. Its like a performance review only for a job you are not really being paid to do. Now that is a post for another day.
Back to my three phrases: work hard. believe in yourself. never give up.
As I mulled over the words, I went further into what each phrase signified.
1. Work hard
One of the disappointing realisations I came to was that no matter what you want to do in life, if you want to be really good at it and succeed in it, you have to work hard. It was second year of my PhD, and I was super frustrated with my funding situation (or lack thereof). Something that unfortunately most graduate students can relate to. I had sent off countless funding applications, pitched my idea practically ‘everywhere’ and had received a rejection letter for each and every application. Ouch! So I decided that I would turn to my passion of baking cupcakes, which I had now been doing increasingly to offset the superlow that I was feeling from all the rejections, as my cash cow, my get-rich-quick scheme if you like. I mean my ego could only take so much rejection. As I began to research the idea, I called up one of my friends – he’s the ‘straight up advice guy’ – and ran the idea by him.
He took my idea seriously, asked me all the due diligence questions – how large will you grow the business, are you doing it from home or a location, will you be selling to stores or mailing them out through internet orders, what is the market like – questions that I appreciated on the one hand and resented on the other. See, he made me realise that if I wanted to do this right, it would take hard work. I put aside my ‘dream’ of the cupcake business and slowly crawled back into bed with my PhD…I guess we were in it for better or worse. That moment made me realize that whatever you are doing, if you want to really do it well and succeed in it, you’re going to have to work hard at it. Doesn’t matter if its your academics, your career, a new business venture, your marriage.
Fulfilling your dream involves hard work.
And daydreaming about fulfilling another dream that does not involve hard work wont get you there any faster. The difference is that when you enjoy what you are doing and are passionate about it then the hard work doesn’t feel as arduous or as burdensome.
2. Believe in yourself
Every one of us seeks out validation in one way or another. We all look to the loved ones in our lives – our spouses, our mums, our family, our friends – to say yes you’re doing great ! Your ideas matter! Keep going! However, one of the most important keys to success that I am realizing lately is the importance of believing in yourself. Sure, you can pray about your dreams and believe that God can do mighty things through you. And you need that friend who will remind you of how great you are and that you can do it at those times when you are discouraged.
But until you see yourself doing it, the fear of failure will always hold you back.
I know I am often my worst critic and my most silent cheerleader. Somewhere in the journey, you have to become your own biggest cheerleader especially as you veer into that zone of uncharted ground. Where even your friends and family will discourage out of love and concern, the ideas you have for your dream that seem too large. In that zone, you have to go from self-critic to self-confident. There’s a huge difference between being self-confident and being arrogant. Arrogance requires that you put others down in an attempt to show yourself out. And sometimes we do this when we are insecure or trying to feign confidence (trying to fake it ’till we make it). Of course its just that, a façade and soon someone will be on to us. Self-confidence comes from within and believing that you can be all that God created you to be.
How do you get there? I don’t know. Remember this post was born out of unmotivation. At some point, you have to criticize less and encourage yourself more. The bible says David encouraged himself in the Lord. At a point in time he had to say look, you can do it, keep going don’t stop now. Now this is not about narcissistic self indulgence, its about being a part of the voices that say ‘you can do it’ and being ready to be the sole voice calling out, if necessary.
3. Never. Give. Up.
Giving up is the antithesis of success. The annoying part about giving up, is that after you’re done giving up and decide that you want to try again, coming back up is ten million times worse than if you hadn’t given up. I remember around second year of undergrad I gave up. I mentally checked out. I was just done. I’d failed about two courses and I was tired of trying and tired of feeling like a loser. So I gave up. I stopped going to lectures. I stopped caring. Biggest mistake ever. I failed MORE courses and at this point in time I was facing academic probation. What a major wake up call! The once A student on scholarship was on the verge of being kicked out of university! Needless to say loads of prayers were prayed in that year and God showed me His mercy by giving me a second chance – I wasn’t kicked out of school I got a bursary to get me through the next year literally as a form of grace from the university.
But the process…was NOT easy.
In fact it was ugly and almost uglier than the mess that got me there in the first place. Not only did I have to dig myself up from below rockbottom. I had to then swim all the way up to the surface after that. The fact that I am doing my PhD right now is nothing short of a miracle. But if there was one resolution that I made to myself it was to never give up. EVER. If you can’t keep going, stand still, but remain standing. After you’ve done all you can – STAND. Don’t give up. Just don’t let giving up even be an option. Just DONT!
We’re often so much closer to the finishing line than we realize. It is darkest before dawn. When things seem to be at their absolute worst, remind yourself that joy comes in the morning, the sun will rise again and a brand new day of possibilities and opportunities awaits on the other side of the darkness.
I just managed to pep talk myself out of another valley season. I will definitely be revisiting this post because being up there at the mountain top is great, but then there are some days when three simple phrases are all you have to get you through.
Work hard. believe in yourself. never give up.
Now off to work hard…