Phew, it’s finally over.
Yesterday, I handed in my Master’s thesis – the biggest thing I’ve written so far (but hopefully not the last) and the research that I worked on in the last year.
If you had asked me what I thought about my Master’s year a few months ago, I would have told you that it was on track to be the worst year of my life. For a long time, I believed that it really was, indeed, the worst year of my life. When I told my mother this last month, at a café over some hot chocolate, she looked at me and said, “Don’t say that. 2018 has been a blessing.” If she had told me this a few months at the height of the shitstorm, I would have been annoyed. But now that months have since passed and there is now a safe distance between the storm and I, her words induced a pensive mood.
Hindsight is almost always 20/20, and looking back on a journey can feel lighter and brighter than the journey itself, but I realised that she was right. Perhaps 2018 was the worst year of my life, but it was also a year where we were given opportunities to come back from new low’s. I may have nearly lost my father, but he’s now alive and well and has been given a second lease on life. My partner was hospitalised, but he’s okay and we’ve learned to appreciate the time we have together more. My Master’s was, in ways, an ongoing disaster, but I learned so much this year – about academia, the nature of science, and myself.
But rather than write a long-winded and gratuitous account about all that has happened this year, here are three important lessons that I learned in the last year. (Other lessons involve: friendships are give and take; tether yourself to what brings you joy; sometimes listening is better than speaking.) I believe that the best lessons are the ones that you experience for yourself – especially when it comes to life lessons; I can endow you with the wisdom of the universe, but it would be meaningless unless you experienced it for yourself – but, maybe, these lessons may help you. (Or, at least, make for an interesting read.)
Sometimes bad things happen, and it forces you to face things you aren’t ready for — and maybe, you’ll never be ready
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I nearly lost my father mid last year.
My family, though young, has been fortunate for most of our lives. We have evaded major health problems. So when my father experienced a significant medical event, none of us expected it; my dad may be old, but he is fit and could outperform people half his age in his sport. When it happened, it flipped our lives upside down.
The month that my father was hospitalised, awaiting surgery, and post-surgery, was hell. But as the eldest child in the family, something inside me changed. I have always been a very expressive person, but when it all happened, something inside me switched into survival, mechanical, autopilot mode. I honestly cannot remember what happened in that month – the only things that I remember was the time I spent with my dad in hospital. Those were the times I felt most alive – perhaps because those were the times I had to put on a brave and normal face for my dad, who was terrified and grappling with his mortality.
Moreover, when this happened, I was at the height of my Master’s thesis. I had finally figured out a topic, it felt like I was on the cusp of something great, and I was starting to feel like I could do it. But those things seemed to matter less when my dad was hospitalised. I put my Master’s aside and put my loved ones first, a decision that I do not regret. I had to face the gravity and implications of what was happening — that all children have to confront the mortality of their loved ones one day. For me, I felt like I had to suddenly face a future I was not prepared for.
I think something that we don’t talk enough about – or maybe people do talk about it and I just missed the memo – is how much life changes in your 20’s. Life takes you on paths that you may have never planned, friendships change (more on this later), but your relationships with your family changes too – and not just that you like them more or less, not just because you move away for whatever reason, but it is also the beginning of the time where you begin to notice that your loved ones are getting older.
I don’t think what follows is ever something that I’ll be ready for. And maybe that is okay. I’m trying to make peace with this, and rather than dwell on it (which I am inclined to do because I am anxious-me) I’ll try to make more time to fit my loved ones into my life even if I’m busy and enjoy the precious time that I have with them.
Sometimes you don’t know everything, and that’s okay
Across my education, I’ve always been a person that worked hard and knew what to do. Aside from the question of ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ (ugh), I always felt like I had the answers and, if I didn’t have them, the answers felt like they were always within reach.
Being in academia and being in postgraduate study is a challenging and emotionally draining experience. Although imposter syndrome is rife in academia (just google ‘imposter syndrome academia’ and you’ll get oodles of articles about it), a genuine and daily fear for me was that my supervisor would realise that I was too unintelligent for academia and would disown me as her student. I was terrified of her asking me any questions that I couldn’t anticipate, let alone answer, because sometimes I just didn’t know. In addition, you are constantly surrounded by people who are incredibly accomplished, knowledgeable, capable, and seem to know much more than you do, and you have to confront with how much you don’t know.
Sound silly? I know it sounds like it. I know that I deserve to be where I am because I have worked hard, have accomplished all these great things, and had to be accepted to be where I am. The good part of my brain knows. And yet.
However, something that I had to come to terms with, and am continuing to teach myself on how to come to terms with it, is that you have to make peace with the fact that you don’t know everything and that one person’s vast knowledge does not reflect on your shortage of it. Particularly in the realm of academia, where our goals are to understand the world a little better whilst also learning that there is still so much that we don’t understand, where mistakes and failure is inevitable as we try and fail and try again.
It’s hard – having to teach and constantly remind yourself that not knowing, in a field that celebrates knowledge, doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. I have to constantly remind myself that lack of knowledge is just an opportunity to learn, which is a process that I undergo every day. In hindsight though, I think this is an important lesson to learn: to really make peace with the fact that not knowing everything is not a shortcoming, that it doesn’t mean you are a failure, that not knowing something is just an opportunity to learn and grow, and to proceed with my academic career with humility and grace.
Tough times will show you the friends who are there for you
Friendship, the idea of it and the reality of it, is something that I think about often. I think I’ve always struggled with the concept of friendship – I’ve never had a stereotypical ‘best friend’ (even though every young girl on TV had a best friend in some form) and I’ve never had a close clique of friends that I could hang out with whenever I wanted. As I’ve grown older and seen friends come and go, I have come to the realisation that I don’t need to have friends that I can call ‘best friends’ as a label. I have friends that I can trust, can talk to, can laugh with, and that’s all that I need.
A tough lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes the friends who you think you are close to may not be friends that will be there for you. When my father experienced his medical emergency, I had to support my mother, who was his primary caregiver and had barely any time to breathe as she shuttled to and from hospital to take care of him daily, and I had to support my sister, who was in the midst of internship interviews, assignments, and midterm exams whilst also doing her best to support my dad. I spread myself thin, and, I admit, I didn’t take care of myself.
I knew I needed support. But when most of my friends, the ones I regarded to be my good and close friends, barely showed up for me, I felt disillusioned. Actually, I felt more than disillusioned: I felt betrayed, hurt. I re-evaluated all my friendships. There had been so many times in the past when I showed up for my friends who were going through a crisis and needed me, but when I was going through a tough time and just wanted a friend to show that they cared, only a few (and I can count them on one hand) were there for me.
Sometimes people don’t fit into your life anymore, even though you were trying to make the pieces fit. Sometimes your expectations of your friendships are incongruent to what they expect, and that it is a signal for you to let go of them a little – not that you have to erase them or let go of them entirely. Sometimes people aren’t the sort of friend that you may need – and it doesn’t make them bad people. So I adjusted my expectations of the people who weren’t there for me, and I feel less bitter. It’s okay to have different expectations for different friends – there will be some who are great to have fun with, but there will be some who will weather the worst with you. When shit hits the fan, the friends who are worth the work (and all relationships require work) will show up for you.
So what’s next for me?
Everyone keeps asking me this — which is a totally fair question.
First, I want to take a break. A part of me is annoyed at myself for wanting a break (I unfortunately love being productive and filling every minute of every day with a task to do), but I’m trying to remind myself that a break can be productive. As well as resting, I think I need to use my break time as time for me to process the last year, figure out my next steps with both eyes open, and remind myself that I’m not a failure nor am I useless for taking a break.
I’ll be taking a nice break until the end of this week, and then I’ll have some paid work lined up for me — don’t worry, it’s no more than 20 hours a week, so I’ll have plenty of time to rest and enjoy myself in between. I’m planning a lot of reading, art stuff (so much fanart and practice that I want to do!), getting back into weight-lifting again, and a few blog projects up my sleeve.
Maybe after a month, whilst I wait for my Master’s thesis grade, I’ll explore the option of doing a PhD, which is a lot of work in itself. And if PhD doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards, then I’ll find full-time work and I’ll be okay with that. Who knows what I’ll be doing, but whatever it is – I’m excited for it.
What’s next for The Quiet Pond?
I have plenty of ideas for projects, but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself. One thing at a time! So, what can you expect from The Quiet Pond in the next few months?
- A summary of my recent collab series, Balancing Book Blogging and Life, where I’ll compile all the data and themes from across all responses and share them with you all. I think it’ll be a great resource!
- You’ll get to meet my co-bloggers sometime in mid-March!
- The Quiet Pond will get a new header! My art style for The Quiet Pond and the pond babies have changed over time, and I want that reflected in the header.
- Some small changes across the Pond so things are easier to find.
- Another collab about the costs of being a book blogger – and if you are interested in participating, you can write a response here. This is one I’m super excited to read.
- More fanart, and some art-related posts! (Maybe I’ll also open commissions for book blog banners and graphics? Not sure yet.)
And if you’ve read all of the above — thank you so much for sticking with me. I don’t like doing personal posts (maybe a once a year sort of thing), but I felt like this big milestone warranted a little self-indulgence.
To all my friends in the book blogging community who have supported me through this trying year, who offered me kind words of support, who celebrated my achievements with me, and who believed in me: thank you so much. You are all such wonderful people and I am so thankful that our lives intersected. I appreciate you.
I hope you all have a day as lovely as you are. ✨