Three Lessons I Learned In My Masters Year

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?

  1. 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!
  2. You’ll get to meet my co-bloggers sometime in mid-March!
  3. 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.
  4. Some small changes across the Pond so things are easier to find.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. ✨

 

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24 thoughts on “Three Lessons I Learned In My Masters Year

  1. I’m so proud of you, CW! I enjoyed reading about your year and the things you learned from it, and found myself relating to each lesson as well. I’m glad to hear things worked out for your dad and your partner! I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to go through that.
    I hope you get a restful break and get to do all the things you love. I’m cheering you on every step of the way, whether it’s for your blogging projects or personal life. 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw Shari! I’m glad you related – it makes me feel less alone.
      Thank you so much! I’m struggling with the break right now, because a part of me still feels like I have to do something, but it’ll feel better with time. 💛 Thank you so much for your support; I really appreciate you.

      Like

  2. This was such a great post to read and I think you’re amazing for sharing it all.💛I tend to find it really difficult to talk about personal matters, but it’s good to (if the person wants!) and I really feel for you with the lows in your journey over the recent months. It’s really hard when you need friends there for you and they’re just…not. I feel for you there. And I’m really glad your family is doing ok after the scare with your dad. Taking a break and some time to breathe sounds really really good. I hope it goes well! (And can’t wait to see the new header, although I do love this one. 😍)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw Cait, thank you so much!

      I do too. I’m typically a private person, but I guess I had a lot of pent up feelings and it all just spewed out.
      Yeah, friendships failing you is tough, but at the end of the day when you can look back on it safely, it’s also a learning curve.

      Thank you so much for your supportive and lovely words, Cait. I appreciate it. 💛

      Like

  3. I’m so happy for and proud of you, CW! I can’t imagine handling school, a family scare, reading, blogging, writing a freakin’ thesis all at the same time! I’m glad that your father recovered and is doing well. I have a friend who’s going through grad school right now and it’s totally a beast, and I admire anyone who wants to put the effort into returning to school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Nicole; I appreciate your kind and supportive words so much.

      Yeah, it was a pretty intense year!! In hindsight, it didn’t seem so bad but it was pretty tough at the time.
      Haha, grad school is defintely a whole other animal compared to any prior education! It’s rewarding in its ways though. 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved reading your post, those were things that could be applied to what I was/am facing and definitely makes a lot of sense and gives me some peace of mind. I can’t wait to see the new header and what you’ll post!! Congrats on your Masters ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats on such a huge milestone! Completing a master’s is no joke, especially with so much life hitting you at the same time. I really like what you said about what it feels like to be in your 20s, when we all feel like we’re supposed to have life figured out, but the reality is that no one does. I think about this on a pretty much daily basis, and it’s always nice to hear that other people feel the same. I really relate to the imposter syndrome thing too. I have it in just about every aspect of my life, and I’m about to go to grad school in the fall so I know it’s only going to grow. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone though! I really admire you and the work you do on this blog, so thank you for sharing some personal stuff with us. Best wishes in the future!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much!
      I can’t agree more. Your 20’s is such a chaotic time and it’s just so messy. I’m glad that my words resonated with you, and that you can relate as well. It makes me feel less alone!

      Oh my! All the best for grad school. It’s a fun experience and you’ll learn and grow so much. I’m wishing the best for you.

      Thank you so much for your kind and support words, Christine!! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations on finishing your thesis! I’m coming to the end of my undergraduate degree and in the process of applying for a masters and it is such a scary thought. I wholeheartedly understand that fear that someone will realise you aren’t intelligent enough to be there, but it is important to try and remind ourselves that we got accepted on to these courses so we can’t be that bad!! Sorry to hear about the scare with your dad but I am so glad he is okay now.

    Excited for the new header!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry 2018 was such an awful year for you! I’m so glad your father is okay – and your partner! That must have been such an awful time.

    I think one of the things that people don’t talk about enough is the period AFTER the crisis. It takes such a long time to feel normal again. My brother has epilepsy and thankfully he is healthy most of the time, but has been through some very rough patches over the years, and I always find it is so hard to come down from high alert survival mode. Even once things are okay it is another job to trick your brain into actually believing that. I hope you’ve managed to do that now.

    People not showing up for you during times of crisis is just the awful WORST. It’s this whole new pain in addition to all the awfulness that you’re already going through – and it’s so common! This has happened to me too, during hard times. People make a point of NOT asking how you are, or getting super awkward when it comes up, so then YOU end them comforting THEM about your problems when it is the last thing in the world you have the energy to do. I don’t know why people are like this. I was chatting with a lady in my spin class who was widowed a couple of years ago and she said when that happened half her friends just vanished – she said it was like double the grief.

    It is so completely strange how so many people just can’t cope with being a friend when the going gets tough. I think perhaps they worry about saying the wrong thing, or somehow their presence being a burden when in reality someone just taking the time check in can mean everything when you’re going through a crisis.

    I know we don’t know each other that well, but DMs are always open if you’re going through it ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness, Lydia. Your comment just spoke to my heart and you really UNDERSTAND me. I cannot agree more with everything that you’ve said.

      In particular, yes — no one talks about the recovery time. I’m thankful that most of the people that I work with understood, but it really is tough and it’s so frustrating that it takes so much time to really recover.

      That’s so awful re: the widow that you spoke to. It definitely is an added layer of pain. I’ve tried to look on the bright side of it all, and try to examine the friends who have been there for me thick and thin. I hang on a little tighter to those friends, and treasure them a lot more now.

      I appreciate you reaching out though and sharing your story as well. 💛 It would be lovely to catch up some time!

      Like

      • Aww I’m so glad. It can feel so isolating when you’re dealing with this type of stuff – it’s important to know that no matter how heavy it all feels, and however many people don’t understand, you’re not going through it alone.

        I’m really glad that you’ve got understanding people around you. A lot of people find it difficult to understand that even once the crisis is over it takes a loooong while to feel like things are normal again. I managed to arrange for my mum to see a therapist after my brother’s most serious period of illness because she really wasn’t able to come down from that Emergency Mode for months, and that really helped her.

        You’re so right – it is important to look on the bright side. Realising there are people in your life who will give you rides to the hospital at any time of the day or night (and realising that you are able to ask them to) is a blessing – albeit a very weird and traumatic one.

        Definitely! ❤ x

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hope your dad is doing okay and your family is well, CW. Congrats on completing your thesis ❤ I'm in my final year of Undergraduate college and I have no idea what I wanna do with my career either, so kind of feel you on that. Hope you have a fantastic break and looking forward to the changes to The Quiet Pond.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Nia. 💛
      That’s okay. Sometimes figuring it out takes time, and more often than not, a lot of people jump into the next steps without carefully thinking about what they really want. So it’s okay to be unsure and it’s okay to do what you need to figure it out. I wish you the best, and if you ever need someone to talk to about the whole transitioning period, my DMs are open! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Huge congratulations of finishing your Masters, I honestly can’t even imagine all the work you put into it, and given all you’ve been through this year it’s admirable you were able to complete it – and, from the looks of it, are proud of it. I’m working on my BA thesis right now – minimum 52.000 characters necessary – yet, I’m struggling with it so badly, so it really inspires me to see yours ready. Hope your 2019 will go fantastically and wishing you a nice, long break! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh thank you so much!!
      Oh no! That sounds pretty tough and a big project! If you ever need help or want help proofreading, my DMs are always open to you. Theses are tough, but when you finish them, it’s the best feeling. I’m rooting for you!! 💛💛

      Liked by 1 person

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