Four years ago I was working in fashion and blogging about Failure and Resilience in the Huffington Post, dreaming of dropping out of administrative positions and of pursuing a degree in Psychology. I am now on my final year of my MSc in Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy and last week, I was accepted into a PhD program where I will continue my studies starting August. I decided to write this blog as a thank you to the medium that fostered and nurtured my affinity to psychological matters and to keep crusading for failure.
Applying to a Psychology PhD program in the States is a complex process that involves steps such as taking two types of Standardised Tests, developing a personal research interest and corroborating it with publications and conference presentations, interviewing with different faculty members and interning in Clinical contexts. All in all, this process took me a good 2,5 years of library hibernation, swimming in the ocean while rehearsing psychotropic medications’ names, two-day travels around Europe, actually engaging in solving math pop quizzes on Facebook and an internship in a psychiatric hospital in South Africa. Through these years, I tried to hold my breath and make it before the December 1st 2018 deadline.
“Just this once, I told myself, don’t back out. Don’t overthink this, don’t step back, just do what you have to do”. Now that the acceptance letter is here, that I’ve let go of my breath and that I’ve posted the “I’m in” photo of the campus on Instagram, I caught myself thinking of why I was pursuing this in the first place.
As the people close to me know, I continuously check in with whether what I’m doing is in sync with who I feel like I am or with who I wish to become in the future and I do not hesitate to step back from paths that are not fit for me. This is why I dropped out of the corporate world even though I had managed to secure myself a good salary and then I turned down a scholarship for an MBA degree during orientation week. So please don’t think that this post is about a success story. It is actually the quota of my failures and some mid-way conclusions that I’ve drawn on them.
Dear friend, before deciding to apply to a Psychology PhD I had failed miserably at asserting my aspirations and at defending my decision to study Psychology to both myself and to my surroundings. Thinking that I would finally leave all failure behind, stay true to who I was and pursue my goals fearlessly, I was disabused of three misconceptions:
- Chasing after success meant not engaging with my present environment, which meant not attaching to them which also meant emotional bubble-wrapping myself before it was time to say goodbye. In holding my breath and in beginning to prepare for my PhD applications even before enrolling into my MSc studies, I felt that I would be free and unbounded, not in danger of feeling sad about leaving new friends behind when it would be time to move again. I was wrong, I will miss them.
- When I would succeed, I would rest somewhere and find out more about who I was when I would be settled. Wrong again. During an especially difficult time for me last year, I stumbled across the documentary “Expedition Happiness” on Netflix. As I was watching a couple of German artists and travellers, draw their way across the American continent, from Alaska to Mexico in an old school-bus converted into a loft in wheels along with their dog Rudy, I began to remember that there is not one correct way to live and that I was among the privileged ones who could have a say on whether a linear, settled path was right for them or not. That is when I decided that I was breathing fuller breaths when in motion so I sold a couple of old handbags of mine and bought a ticket to Africa, just because it was something I had never pictured myself doing before.
- If I were to succeed, I would no longer be afraid. See, this one is my most important myth to be brought down yet. I once read that solving one problem creates a list of other problems that are inextricably bound to that very first one. Now that I’m 2,5 years older than when I started working towards my PhD application, I carry with me different types of worries. Settling into a program for 5 more years of education, which will be my safety-net, my parallel plan or my “life jacket”? I have mastered engaging into a context through making myself believe that I’m actually going someplace else so what will happen when I will have landed? Will I find another goal to go after or will I just give in to settling? If I breathe fuller breaths when in motion, what will happen when I pause? How will I incorporate movement into my new schedule?
When I started my clinical training, terms such as self-reflection, grounding techniques and breathing exercises would impress me as semi-immobilising and thus intimidating to a person used to running from one thing to the next. Even though I am now getting used to incorporating these concepts to a reflection, a grounding and a breathing “in motion”, I still find it paradoxical, how I was drawn to a quasi-meditative science since I feel more reflective, grounded and breathing when sliding through a Cambodian river or getting lost in wandering the streets of Lisbon.
What I mean to say is, even though I succeeded in a long- term goal of mine, I feel just as afraid and just as eager to see what’s coming next as I had been after the many, many times I’ve failed. After every success, just as after every failure, life continues to run through and over us and it remains just as intimidating, just as challenging and just as subject to how we handle it until it reveals where it will take us next. After every success, just as after every failure what’s important is how you handle what is coming. I’m grateful to have achieved something that matters to me after I’ve also failed at similar things many times and to be able to say, in the long term, success and failure are not that far apart.
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