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What You Do Now Will Not Define What You Do With The Rest Of Your Life.

November 11, 2011

This is currently my mantra.

The looming MA thesis process has been the cause of many anxieties, but they can all be traced back to one thing: I fear that what I do now will define what I do with the rest of my life. Which PhD programs may or may not admit me, the PhD dissertations I may or may not end up writing, the classes I may or may not end up teaching, the research I may or may not end up doing. I’ve always had a tendency to live in the future rather than in the now. That’s kind of a weird thing to say about myself, because professionally that has not always been true. For years, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. Until about three years ago, I didn’t even realize PhD tracks were an option – not because I didn’t know I was smart enough to pursue this, but because I’d never been confronted with the possibility. When I was younger and completely clueless, I chose to get my degree in Tourism Management because it was practical (a business BA) and it would allow me to travel a lot (I ended up going to Prague, Thailand, Australia, and England, all for my studies). While I was pursuing this degree, I was aware that something was missing – a more academic angle – and incorporated that lack in my senior thesis on literary tourism, which ended up much more theoretical than those of most of my peers. But after I’d finished my studies, I was clueless once more. I found a new career to pursue when I went back for a degree in English Language and Culture, and it was there that I discovered the possibilities of academic research, intellectual communities, undergraduate teaching, and so much more. I discovered them, learned them, lived them, loved them to such a degree that now all I envision for myself is an academic career.

Unfortunately these aspirations have resulted in tremendous mental pressure that goes hand in hand with tendency to picture and plan the next 20 or so years of my life. In this plan, my MA thesis is the starting point of it all – the excellent work which will set me out on a path of dissertations and publications. A quick glance at my professors’ CVs tells me nothing could be further from the truth, but the nagging voices inside my head will not be drowned out by reason. And so I keep vacillating, going back and forth between studying some of my favorite texts, adapting certain theoretical approaches, attempting to discover omissions in certain discourses and theoretical frameworks, analyzing texts/works which I’ve always found difficult but intriguing. There’s so much I want to do, so much that I am interested in, but I’m caught up in a train of thought that convinces me that whatever I choose, it had better be perfect, because with any luck I’ll spend the next 5 years of my life on it.

I’m writing this after I’ve changed my mind about my thesis topic for the third time a week. They’re not massive changes, but significant ones nonetheless. I’ve spent the night doing more research, reading more secondary literature, after spending 2 hours reading for a colloquium and then 7 hours of back-to-back seminars and lectures. Not the best time to undertake heavy thinking (or blogging, for that matter). But that’s the way my days are structured at the moment: the daylight week time hours are for work and class, the daylight weekend hours for class prep (both as a teacher and as a student), and the nighttime hours for thesis thinking.

When trying to think through my topics, my mind keeps wandering back to a few weeks ago, when I was working on a midterm for my apocalyptic literature class. I wrote on the concept of hope in the face of cataclysm, using several Doctor Who episodes as my case study. It was a paper that came ridiculously easy to me. I massively enjoyed doing the research, I had a fantastic time writing the paper, and I am stupidly pleased with the final result. It reminds me of how very easily research and writing becomes to me when I’m passionate about the concepts and texts I’m working with. It reminds me that that is the type of feeling I need to have while working on my thesis. I hope that, in the end, knowing this feeling – of passion, accomplishment, pleasure – will guide me in the direction of the right topic. Until then, though, I shall need to keep reminding myself that what I do now will not define what I do with the rest of my life, because that type of thinking is a mental roadblock of epic proportions.

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