Kaitlin Gallagher is a PhD Candidate specializing in Biomechanics at the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a permanent author for GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @KtlnG.
Have you ever been part of a similar conversation?
Colleague: Hey, I heard that you completed [insert task] (comps, proposal, thesis dissertation document)!
You: Yes, it feels great it out of the way!
Colleague: I bet. So now you just need to [insert next daunting task] (do your proposal, write your dissertation, find a job).
You: *glass shatters*.... yeah, thanks for reminding me.
A friend recently recommended that I read the "The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in Real Life)" by Chris Hardwick (you may have listened to a podcast or two from his Nerdist Channel). It’s a nice, light alternative to the typical self-help book, concentrating on mental and physical health as well as all things time management.
While I didn't relate to the beginning of this book where he draws on gaming analogies (I wasn't a gamer growing up), the chapter that I related to at the time of reading was simply titled "Sucstress". Hardwick says that Sucstress can strike whenever we are so used to rejection or things going poorly, and as a result, we don't know how to handle success when it finally does comes.
I think that sucstress is a big part of imposter syndrome. Those who suffer are relieved to be done with that aspect of their degree and start waiting for the next shoe to drop, thinking that their success was a fluke and that it'll be during the next milestone that everyone will figure out they are a fraud. It’s easy to see how this can occur. Finish comps, up next is your proposal. Finish that, and then you have to actually conduct all the studies. Finish that, and then you have to analyze the data, write the document, and then defend your thesis...and then (or at the same time as everything else) apply for and get a job. Notice how there is no milestone on your degree stating “take a break to relax, refresh, and acknowledge that you did a great job on this part of your degree?"
Celebrating your accomplishments can mean different things to different people. To me, it means finding a middle ground between relaxing by giving yourself the credit you deserve and a reasonable break, but still acknowledging that you have other things to get done in your degree and eventually you’ll need to start working on them. If you don’t come to terms with the latter, the worst-case scenario is to let sucstress prevent you from beginning your next milestone. If you simply feel relief when the task is completed and are already dreading the next step, then take some time away from your studies to relax and evaluate how you were successful at this task and what you can apply to the next. You may want to also take this time to figure out the roots of your anxiety or Imposter Syndrome to help you out over the rest of your degree.
In the end, remember that you accomplished something big in your degree, so give yourself a pat on the back and take a reasonable break. And if you ever get into that conversation above, be sure to respond with "Yes, but today I'm going to celebrate being done with this part of my degree".
Have you ever felt sucstress creep up on you during your degree? If so, how did you manage it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.