## Friday, April 22, 2011

### Incremental Progress

I remember sitting in geometry class my sophomore year of high school. The teacher was talking about points and lines and planes...about how points have no length or width...about how they take up no space...about how one point, all by itself, basically accomplishes nothing (math people, go ahead and debate me on this...this class was like 20 years ago, so I'm sure I've messed this lesson up somehow).

But, the teacher (I believe his name was Mr. Munson) said that if you take a whole bunch of points and you put them one by one by one byonebyonebyone next to each other, you get a line. All those points that are insignificant in and of themselves? If you mash them up in succession, you actually get something. Something you can measure. Something that counts.

Today I found out that I have something that counts.

After more syntax files and mocked-up tables and reams of output than I can even bear to imagine...
 This is but a fraction...
...I have a regression model. I have variables that work. I have statistical significance (at least a little).

I have a dissertation.

I'd like to tell you that I feel proud. Or excited. Or even just relieved. But honestly, the only thing I feel?

Don't get me wrong...this is some damn good and hard-won (if only emotional) progress. And I am proud...and excited...and relieved. The end is actually in sight (my advisor said so...so it must be true). But it was a long time coming. Too long.

Some people rocket through graduate school. They are academic hot-shots who come in, soak it all up, crank it all out and are done in 4 years. I thought I was going to be one of those people. I intended to be one of those people. I may have even started out as one of those people. I was going to be a faculty member. I was going to write and present and publish. I was going to live the life of an academic.

For too many reasons--some valid, some fallacious--this was not my journey. Maybe I chickened out. Maybe I was (am?) lazy. Maybe my heart knew something that my over-reaching head would not admit, and I was cut out for a different life. I wish I had more peace about this decision (was it even a decision?)...but I'm not sure that I do. I'm not sure that I ever will. I honestly don't know right now.

Those of you who know me well know that I do not believe in regret. I think regret is a wasted emotion, and I try not to spend much time mucking around in it. I think it's important to learn from our decisions and experiences and then live with them. I think it's important to appreciate the moment. I think it's important to move forward.

But it's hard with this...because some days it feels embarrassing...because it feels like I've failed...because I didn't do what I said I was going to do...what I set out to do.

I remember during graduate school orientation, we heard stories of how it takes people 6 or 7...or 10 or 12...years to finish. I scoffed at those people. "Six years? Please. I'll be done in 4...maybe 5 if some really interesting project presents itself...one that will give me crap-loads of publications. But 10? 12? These people aren't even trying, are they?" And now here I am...at the end of my 7th year. Some days that number humiliates me. Other days, I try to convince myself I must just be doing the math wrong..."2004-05 (that's one year)...2005-06 (that's two)..."

What happened?

Getting married happened. The St. Clair Broiler happened. Sewing cute little wallets happened. Being there for my husband and my parents and my siblings and my friends happened. A job in institutional research happened. Bejeweled happened. Teaching and advising twenty enthusiastic, first-year college students happened. Trips to New York and Seattle and Star Prairie happened. Chuck and Bones and Justified and 30 Rock happened. An opportunity to come back to a big, public research institution happened. This blog happened.

Nothing happened.

Life happened.

Dissertations, like every other damn thing in life, are journeys of incremental progress. Sometimes you look at where you've come from, and it doesn't seem like you've moved at all. Other times, it seems like you take a huge leap in just a fleeting moment. Some days, you are completely energized for the voyage. Other days, the smallest step feels completely unreasonable and impossible. There is rarely rhyme or reason to it.

At least that has been my experience.

I've finally reached the point where progress is rhythmic and significant. Every day (or week), I get closer to being done. The last 7 years have been a series of points that make a line...and even lines that have intersected into planes...planes that have become the terrain that makes up the very substance of my life.

I can look back and see how I've grown...as a person, as a professional, and as a scholar. My life is richer for this experience. But at the same time, it's hard to remember who I was before it all started. It feels like this process has always been with me...and has always been a part of me.

So there is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm gathering steam...coming down the home stretch. Go ahead, choose your own analogy. The point is, I'm almost there.

It took a long time. Much longer than it should have.

But I'm doing it...and I've done it...

Point by point by point by.................

lanie@ plumb tuckered said...

Sweetie, I DO know how you feel. My mom just sent me a bunch of my papers from about 9th grade- college and sprinkled throughout were consistent references to how I was going to become a writer, writing samples and the like. For about three days I was so crushed I wanted to crawl UNDER the bed and just hide. At least you did something with your time... I wasted it playing rummy 500 and flirting with boys. Also, I LOVE the paragraph under the photo. Unreasonable, INDEED!

Patty said...

The two of you are so much the opposite of FAILURE! Look at what you have accomplished and done and seen during these "wasted" years! I think it is amazing that we set out on a journey with an intended destination and start beating ourselves up when that journey isn't a straight line. In reality, it was never meant to be a straight line...all of those "detours" make us who we are and who we were meant to be. Personally, I am grateful that one of those detours brought you to our shop, otherwise I wouldn't have the honor of having you for a friend! So, congratulations on taking another step toward one of your many goals. I so admire your persistence. Sounds like it might be time for a bit of celebration with the girls...what do you think?

Kristendom said...

My favorite line? "Bejeweled happened." Boy, do I understand that. All the things I should have completed in my life by now (including a PhD, thankyouverymuch) that aren't done. But all the other things I have to remember my life by - I'll take those any day.
Congrats on making headway - maybe some day I'll join you.