Recovering from the PhD

A year or two ago, a colleague I adore and respect were chatting. At one point she expressed interest in how I have adapted to life post-PhD. I've been thinking about that question for a while. Over a year, actually. I don't know how well I have adapted. I used to think I was fully adapted. Wrong. Then I think I have not assimilated at all. Wrong. This is probably something that you can never tell until you are years out from the process. Right now, if I was an egg, I'd be soft boiled. 

In January, 2009, I started my online PhD process. Eight months later I was in Lubbock taking classes full time. December, 2011, I received my PhD. Fast, intense. As I prepared to graduate, I thought it would be easy to stay at 80% of that work pace when I went into Academia.

Wrong. Totally wrong. Oh so frigging wrong. The pace that I created has stuck with me. That is a metric by which I judge my success. And, frankly, that stinks.

Even though it's been nearly three years since I received my degree, I am still not working at that pace, that rate, that insane mind grind I once had. I used to feel like an idiot because I was not at that pace. Three years of that pace set it as a standard, a norm, in my emotional sense of self. When I am not consciously alert to a sense of timing, I find that my TTU-work rate settles in as my default expectation. I did it for three years, so why not now? Obviously I am lazy, slacking, if I can't do that now. If that was not enough, then in my delusional moments I would generate self-disparaging dialogue and inserting my self-doubt-shit-talk into the voices of my former faculty. While it was relatively easy to silence myself, putting doubts into the images of people I respected was harder to fight. I still fight it, but not as often.

What is professional identity? I hate to think it is material-based: publications, positions, grants. But that does seem to be the core. That's akin to judging our friends on the stuff that they own: what type of house, car, shoes they have. While I respect and understand the importance of evidence-driven evaluation, it seems pretty harmful to us if we evaluate or base our sense of professional identity upon material goals alone. <This is so sadly similar to K-12 high stakes testing...>

I can still make a long bullet-point list of all the things that I have not done. I am more than aware of most of my errors--and that includes my hubris and self-centeredness. That list gets longer every day, every week. If I have moments of weakness and want to pull at emotional scabs because--just because that's what we with self-doubt often do--I can center my highly trained skills of obsession, analysis, and reflection on just how sucky things could or might be. Doubt. Questioning. Core parts of identity building or self-bullying.

These are just some of the costs I have paid in shifting from a doctoral program to faculty. On the PhD range, there are some fences and some dogs and herders to keep you on the range and, in most cases, away from the wolves. On the faculty range, there are far fewer of these--in fact, the freedom from them is what makes tenure track so incredible. However, it is incredibly easy to wander off, to fall into a niche of distraction, to stray away from your initial goals, or to invest time in things that don't require it. However, the worst thing seems to be just wondering about it.

I used to think that I could intelligently discuss recovery from the PhD process. Two years out I know that I don't have much of a clue.

Egg image credit/source:

Paying Respect to Prayer


Over the past twenty years, I have attempted to write about prayer's power and impact on my life. When I received my PhD, I was pretty sure I could make time to write a short e-book about prayer and how it helped me succeed in academia (not to mention the other parts of my life). No dice. It has not happened. Obviously, the book has not come out. Nor a monograph. Nor an essay. I've been reduced to a blog post, but I hope to achieve my goals with this post

Talking about prayer to colleagues--be they academics, staff, graduate students--has always been a bit odd or awkward. While wanting to share the incredible joy and relief which prayer facilitates, I do not want to be a preacher, fundamentalist, or downer. Similarly, by mentioning prayer, I don't want to hear others' ongoing chats and or rants; I do not need to be saved or converted, thanks. Then there are the people who are not religious and have no interest; some folks feel, understandably in my eyes, that the mention of prayer is an opening to take shots at organized religion. Having lobbed plenty of those stones in my past, I find them tedious and all too familiar. Usually mentioning prayer in an academic environment means I will end up noggin-nodding out of politeness. Navigating these landscapes is always interesting. Silence is usually the best approach.

Every now and then, though, there are completely amazing conversations. It is because of these and out of respect for those people--you know who you are--and the inherent power of prayer that I write this.

Rather than engaging with traditional representations of prayer as pleading with God for intercessions, as a public performance of humility, as purely symbolic communicative acts meant for human audiences, I understand prayer as emotional technology--a technology that connects us with the Divine, provides multiple perspectives on problems that appear fixed, and improves the quality of our lives.

But how do you open a dialogue to address this, to create decent, agreed upon definitions, and all while not upsetting folks and remaining reasonable and not zealous? I've not been able to do it. This frustrates me. I have generated hundreds of pages, dozens of drafts, and tens of thousands of words trying to address this moving space, this place. However, I rarely saw the key point: you can't tell people how prayer works. That's just not effective--it's inherently against the nature of understanding: an internal unfolding of awareness and insight that takes place in a multiplicity of unique ways. It seems like an act of hubris, now, to say, "Hey, here's how you can use prayer to rock your world--or at least to flush out the seriously sucky bits." 

I still feel compelled to write this text: that's why I'm writing this blog post. I want to publicly acknowledge and assert that prayer (which would take a bit to define) is one of the top three human technologies for living a good, healthy, and happy life. It is important to me, too, to acknowledge that almost every single positive aspect in my adult life after the age 23 has occurred because of prayer work, insights during prayer, or understanding achieved by prayer. This extends to health, happiness, reaching goals, writing content, earning degrees, financial aid, and so forth. It's vital tp pay respect and to honor things and people publicly, so here it is.

As a closing note, one of the best and most insightful approaches I have found to effective prayer--an approach that can fit in a variety of religious paths--is described in several works by Gregg Braden

Fresh French Press: The Smell of Relief

This morning fresh French-pressed coffee accompanies relief. Numbers of financial tasks are completed; multiple small annoying start-of-term tasks have been dealt with; course/class prep is done for the day; big time-sink task is almost done, too. Better still: I have not added any more tasks to my pile.

I've seen multiple research projects over the past week--and I said no.

I have detected multiple ways to spend more time at work and in school--somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut.

I have come across multiple cultural objects and software that would be fun to explore--but I kept moving to my target.

While it is a small, simple thing, I have managed to dodge almost all of the rabbit trails and tangents out there. Instead, I actually worked on the things that have been stressing me out. And while I'm sensing and living the relief, the scent of fresh French press rises up from my cup.

Yeah, it's a good day!

Morning, Glorious Morning!

The Simple Morning Things

Mornings like today are what I live for. Mornings like today are the way every day of mine should start off. These mornings begin with:

  • waking with no alarm;
  • waking next to my significant other;
  • waking knowing nobody expects anything from me;
  • knowing that there are ravens outside;
  • knowing that hot, running water awaits inside.

These daily wonders bring me great joy and calm.

These daily wonders make me feel like this:

(Image is public domain and sourced here.)

The Slightly More Complex Morning Things

Mornings like today when I wake up and remember that I have a PhD. Maybe that will fade. I hope not. Earning that sucker took almost everything I had and it molded me into the dude I am. Surely that sounds odd, having a PhD and feeling like a dude, but that's how I feel. Dude as in I can relax and not feel totally neurotic about having, or not having, a specific skill set. Dude as in being a member of the PhD posse instead of being a wannabe. Dude as in I can be comfortable with myself. 

Waking up knowing I am Dr. Gregory Zobel means much more to me personally than it can or will ever mean to anyone outside. Mornings like this, when I remember who and what I am, are just awesome.

The other part of my morning which is not so simple is remembering how blessed I am--usually just how great the day before was. That's not complex, but it is not simple either. It's pretty easy to remember the stupid things I pulled--the getting short with Dieter, the stuff I forgot, the expenses I lost track of--and forget the great things I did: the awesome salad I prepared, the trip to the park with Dieter, the chapter or book I read. It gets complex when I remember that awesome yesterday does not equal awesome today. 

Today is a new day, and all that goodness needs to be done again. Or I can lame out and get sloppy and slide into blah. So, good mornings are a great way for me to butch it up for myself, my husband, my world. Great mornings remind me of what is and what can be. So while the great morning is an incredible start, the day does not build itself. I have to be good people, too.

Loving Great Mornings

I love great morning starts because they remind me of who and what the world is and who and what I am: an expression of the Divine. And that is almost too incredible for words. Great mornings frame a potentially excellent day, and I am grateful for every great morning I get. Great mornings give me the option to maximize and excel at being gz. I hope that you have a good morning, too! I'd love to see what you do with your day.