Thursday, 17 August 2017

'The PhD Commandments'

(Found on an old file in my computer, written during the PhD. Unpublished, unfinished; I probably meant to go back and say many more things. I'm just going to publish it now.)

Here are The PhD Commandments:


Thou shalt not work from home too often. If overused, home becomes lonely and depressing. Home is booby-trapped with distractions and tasks (cleaning under the oven, tidying socks) into which the hapless procrastinator runs.

Thou shalt get thyself a small portable computer (for around £200), so that thou canst work in libraries and university cafes, but without breaking thine back or wrists in carrying the thing.

Thou shalt take regular breaks from work, and reward thyself with treats.

Thou shalt take at least one full day off a week.

Thou shalt try to write thine PhD for at least 10 minutes non-stop every working day. If thou succedest, try writing for 30 minutes. If that works well, try doing tomatoes. ('the tomato approach' is outlined briefly here.)

Thou shalt not skimp on exercise, meals and sleep.

Thou shalt not say 'I am not worthy'. [I am not clever, my PhD is rubbish.] Thou art VERY CLEVER. (Thou wouldst not have gotten this far if thou did not have some pretty special gifts.)


(And thou shalt get off this blog now, and go do ten minutes of work!...)

CN xx

'What have I done'

I had a sad thought cross my mind the other day, and it was this: am I just a big waste of space?... I don't really do anything, I haven't really ACHIEVED anything; four years on from my PhD and still I haven't found a decent job; all I do is potter around in my Grotty Job from time to time, pursue a few creative projects half-arsedly on the side, and mostly I just sit around, have a nice time, cook and eat far too much and spend too much money, go to gyms and exercise, scribble useless things in a notebook, and apart from that, nothing.

This is one of those thoughts that comes to you when you are trying to work alone and are a bit panicked, and you haven't planned your time very well so the day stretches blankly ahead like an empty succession of hours to be wasted; you know you have lots to do, but you can't even remember where to start; and then the thought comes to you, masquerading as a perfectly logical truth, based on the 'facts' of that day (I'm terrible, I'm not even doing anything, I'm not doing anything good with my life).

It's not true, of course. I had to think very hard about this one, but eventually I remembered that the I am a waste of space thing is bollocks. I think I'm often confusing the notion of 'success' with 'financial success', which, tis true, is something I haven't yet completely achieved. But if, actually, the point of being in this world is to light up your corner of that world a little bit, and contribute something, and help a few people achieve their goal, then maybe I haven't done too badly.

I have:

- helped one or two people finish their PhD (and the proof is in their comments!... Thanks, lovely people!...)

- taught many students, over my time as an 'academic', and at least one of those students reports being inspired by this

- I have done a lot of creative projects and have amused many people with silly, pretty things... (I was trawling through my laptop the other day, searching for a specific file, and I was surprised by how many forgotten old little commissions I ran across - and actually how much effort and joy had gone into them...)

- I keep forgetting this one: I have written a book!... (and I want to write another one - I have so many projects in the pipeline - but how to do them all?... How?... ... Note to self: dig out The Procrastination Bible. That is ALWAYS the solution)

- I have written things and published things online that people have enjoyed.

- I have been nice to friends and family and cooked them food and tried to give them love and kindness (I've probably failed quite a lot at this last bit, I know, but I do try)

... Quote of the day:

"Let your life be shaped by decisions you made, not by the ones you didn’t."

(Maybe I haven't really made too many 'bad' decisions; none that I wouldn't own to, and none that I wouldn't 'stand by'. It's not too bad, this life of mine. It's what I created; it's genuinely and honestly mine. Maybe people will say nice things about me at my funeral.)


Contact me on hatemyphd 'at'

Sunday, 18 June 2017

'Know Thyself'

Can I just say: I’m loving the Myers Briggs personality test indicator thingy. A friend wrote something on Facebook about wanting to know her friends’ personality types, and as a result I spent a happy couple of hours revisiting mine. It says some nice things. 

If you haven’t already had a go at it, and you are struggling with your PhD right now: have a go at it, do it. Set aside a chunk of time when you’d only be procrastinating all day anyway. Spend some time mulling over your responses; get them right. Prepare to be amazed. (As you will know from the very end of a previous post, I thought mine was kind of revealing.)

I did the Myers Briggs test back in about 2010-2011, when I was hopelessly drowning in PhD, and was signing up to all the ‘Motivation’, ‘Time Management’, ‘Planning’, ’How to do your PhD’ type courses at my Graduate School, hoping to infer something from them that would magically help me transform myself from the chaotic mess I was into the kind of person who… could finish off a PhD easily and quickly, and with pleasure. (It didn’t quite work out like that.) A Guru in one of these seminars suggested, amongst other things, that we all take the Myers Briggs personality test. He said that to understand your personality type can help you figure out why you work the way you do. I remember that I did the test on a sunny Saturday; one day when I was procrastinating over something else, and just having a nice day doing nothing, I finally sat down to do it. (It wasn’t around the time of the seminar; it just sort of organically felt like the right thing, many months later.)

I remember that I spend lots of time thinking about my responses, asking myself ‘Is that really what I would do?…’ - and giving carefully-considered, well-thought-through answers. Maybe because of this, my test result came back particularly revealing. It proclaimed, loudly and clearly, lots of things which I had for a long time kind of known about myself, but never articulated. Most surprisingly, it labelled as ‘strengths’ several qualities which I had long thought of as ‘bad things’, ‘rubbish thing’, their opposites being labelled in my head as ‘that thing I’m no good at’, or ‘that thing you’re supposed to do and I’m not doing, and I don’t even know why’. To see your inherent ‘weirdness’ written out on the page, but in complimentary language and packaged as a human ‘strength’, gives you a different narrative to begin to tell yourself. (It took me a long time to get used to that narrative and let it actually inhabit me; for a long time after taking the test, and after finishing my PhD, I would still look at those qualities and think ‘Yeah, but that’s no good. That doesn’t help you find a job. That doesn’t help you get on in the world. That’s all very nice, but…’)

Knowing your personality type can help you figure out why you work the way you do - and help you become aware of your strengths, the Guru said. 

Post-PhD, I spent a long time applying for jobs with titles like ‘Office Co-ordinator’ and not being quite sure how to answer that question in interviews when they ask you ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?’ (‘I see myself as an Office Co-ordinator but with more responsibility and skills…?’ - is not really true). It took me a really long time (until about this year, I dare say, if not actually this WEEK) to realise that I don’t need to be a square peg trying desperately to fit into a round hole. I don’t need to write another job application on which I proclaim career goals and desires which are only loosely mine, things I ‘can happily do’ rather than ‘really really would like to achieve’. That whole plan, suggested by a careers coach back when I had just finished a PhD, of finding a ‘back-up job’ and going down to four days a week and then eventually having a go at your dream - I don’t need to do that. I have the grotty job which I do for a couple of days a week and which brings me a tiny income that is just fine. I don’t need any more than that. I don’t need anything. Just get on with it, I’m telling myself.

I read something the other week (in the readers’ comments under an online article) that ‘a weakness is just an overdone strength’. I’m not going to dwell too much on what this might mean for me. I’m not even sure I’ve thought really carefully about how this might apply. But I’m feeling a bit more ready to embrace the things that make me ‘me’, and go out and do them. Out loud, and unapologetically.

I have an overwhelming urge to tell the truth sometimes. 


CN xx  

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How to be Good at Interviews

I really, really suck at interviews. Why is this?... I know why: it's because I don't prepare for them properly. Ever. I just don't want to.

(I also know why because I just googled 'why am I bad at job interviews'.)

So I'm sitting here today, depressed (interview tomorrow), feeling stressed, thinking about how I really need to finish preparing my presentation for that job interview and how I reeeeeally don't want to, and the more time passes, the worse I feel ('Now there's hardly any time to......' 'Aaaaggggh'). And I'm Googling stupid things like 'why am I bad at interviews'. And I'm writing little motivational notes to myself, which i am leaving all over the place. And I'm making myself tea. And doing laundry. And... And... And...

The universe is an interesting thing sometimes. An email just arrived in my inbox with the title 'Some interview questions'. I did a double take. It is actually from my book editor, who would like to write a fun little blurb about me on the publisher's website, and to that end has sent me a few questions to answer. Can I just say: TOTALLY UP MY STREET. I perked up immediately; I feel like a celebrity already. I started drafting lovely thoughtful answers before I could stop myself: come on, bitch, you've GOT an interview to prepare already.

And then it struck me: why must I hate the job interview prep, when really it is kind of the same as the fun 'interview questions' - think about my life, think about what people want to hear, tell them a nice story?...  Why can't I see it a bit more as an exercise in something like 'Hey, I'm amazing - of course you can interview me about all the amazing things I've done!... I can't wait to tell you everything I know...'

(Disclaimer: bit delusional, yes, I know. But I'm running out of time and I'll take ANY positive thought that comes my way. Anything. Really, anything.)

So now let's go ace that interview prep....


CN xx

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Statistical Analysis: How I spent my Saturday


So this is how my day is going so far...

- Number of job interviews looming: 1

- Number of presentations to prepare for job interview: 1

- Number of hours I planned to spend on job interview prep today: (like, 8 or so?... Obviously, these were going to be interspersed with productive little ten-minute breaks, during which I do a little catching up on commissions/ do laundry)

- Number of hours of interview prep which have so far happened: 0 (although do 5 minutes scribbling count?...)

- Number of hours spent having a lie-in this morning (and afternoon) : (... if you count from the moment I was awake, then I think about... 7)

- Number of loads of laundry that have made it into the machine today: 1 (yay!...)

- (number of loads that have made it out again: 0)

- Number of self-help books perused so far, when I should be working: 1 (Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real, by Thomas d'Ansembourg)

- Number of chats over the phone with best friend: 1

- Number of actual things achieved by 5 pm: 7 (had shower, brushed hair, ate breakfast, ate lunch, put laundry on, made tea, put computer on, started writing blog post :) )

- Things still left to do today: 1 (prepare for that bloody interview....)

- Number of hours still left available to me: (oh, I don't know... two? Because I have a friend who offered to look at my interview presentation and she has time TONIGHT. And also, I want to go on a date.)

- Number of small steps I intend to take: 2 (1 - write some notes on what friend said; 2 - plan very simple 10-slide presentation).

- Number of biscuits I intend to eat when this is over: fuckloads.

I am now going to spend one hour (that's right, just ONE, out of my entire day) preparing for this job interview.

And then I'm getting out of here.

(It's all about the small steps.)


Cloud Nine xx

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Procrastination: Why we do it,* when we do it** - and what can we do about it***

[* like, just because; ** ALL THE TIME. *** Read on...]

Ho hum. You know how I used to say, The Procrastination Bible is for life, not just for Christmas?... Turns out it's true. Know how I used to think I was procrastinating on my PhD because of my PhD, because I thought it was a rubbish thing to do?... We-ell.....

I think I might owe my PhD a small apology.

Being a PhD survivor, a recent therapy convert, and of course, as you know, the happy owner of a Kindle-full of self-help books, I have finally done that thing where you have an epiphany about your life and you make a plan to do something cool with it. That's right. Alongside that 'grotty' job that I still do (which is actually a lovely job, and I've been making my peace with it, because after all it feeds me and pays the bills), and that University teaching gig, which I do for fun, I have also began working on - drum roll - my own creative little business. (You might remember from a very old blog post that I'm kind of into that...)

It's not yet making enough money to live on, and it's not yet well-known or big or award-winning, but it's there, it exists, you know?.... And I've never actually felt more alive, more excited, than I have been feeling for this past year, now that I have taken charge of an area of my life that previously I didn't know what to do with, and now that I have projects of my own that I care about, and that I would do in my spare time anyway - projects which are now miraculously becoming real.

So then, I ask you, why the hell am I procrastinating for most of today on some fairly simple and rewarding and creative tasks?.... Why?...

I have been asked by some nice people to do a couple of commissions. And I've had these sitting on my 'desk' now for.... what feels like weeks. And I haven't done them. One of them, half-started today, is in front of me. The others are still haunting my poor brain. I want to do them, and I want to get them out of the way, and I want to present them to the happy people and have done with it, and yet I just.... don't want to.

How very interesting. Why?... I think I know why. That moment when you sit down at a blank page, which you are miraculously supposed to bring to life with your ideas: that moment. I'm terrified of that moment. Even though I know full well that I have all the skills and capacities to sit down at that page and bring the project to its logical conclusion with all kinds of success. Even though I know very well that if I don't, all that will happen is - I will get to start again. Really, this is the most low-risk enterprise I have ever been involved in. And yet here I am, and I don't want to do it. (it's also that thing where life intrudes, some deadlines overwhelm you, job gets a little bit busy, and all of a sudden you don't feel like doing the creative project quite as much as you might have done; every time you sit down to it, you think aaaagh, that meeting at work that I forgot to email people about...)

So to all those amongst you who hate your PhD, and procrastinate on it whilst imagining the array of better, shinier things that await you on the other side of it: the Procrastination Bible is for life. Turns out we might still need it post-PhD. Turns out it's not the PhD. It's something bigger than that. Do you hate yourself sometimes because you procrastinate?... Don't hate yourself. Don't worry. Everyone does it, it turns out. Even the people with the 'cool' jobs, those ones doing their own thing, and 'living the dream'. Would you believe it - they all still can't do it either.

I don't know about you, but I think I need another one of those cut-out-and-keep lists to stick on my fridge...

Notes to Self: What to do about Procrastination

1) Rule no. 1: if you ever get commissioned to do something, make a start on that thing as soon as you get it. Literally, do it that same evening; cancel whatever else you had planned. Don't let it sit on your desk or in your files gathering dust for days while you 'think about it'. That is the worst thing you can do, because this is when procrastination creeps in. Think to yourself, 'When is literally the earliest moment that I can start working on this?'...

2) Procrastinate sensibly. Have several little projects on the go. If you find yourself procrastinating on the commission, you can get excited about updating your website or writing a blog post (woohoo!). It's still work avoidance, but at least you're working on something else... (I've been doing that today, actually. Desperate to avoid the creative jobby that's been making me uncomfortable, I've found myself spending a little bit of time on some of the other tasks which I've not managed to do earlier, and which now seem curiously appealing.

And 3), Note to self: identify which tasks you procrastinate on. (for me: those ones where I need to be creative and work to a brief, so I can't just produce any old thing and go ta-daaaah, but where I am also left to my own devices, with no immediate need for action, no face-to-face interactions to get things moving, and just an open space in time for me to fret in. I have no trouble, say, selling already existing products, or doing something which involves a direct interaction with a client; but leave me on my own with flexible time frames and a 'what-if-they-don't-like-it' kind of project, and I'll procrastinate my life away.) Solution: in the future, either say NO to such projects altogether, OR ramp up your fees for those kinds of tasks, so that they'll only come along infrequently, and so that I'll also be motivated by the financial rewards (yay!).

There. That's my little conversation with myself. Thank you, everyone, for letting me share.


CN Xxx

[Business woman/ Artiste Extraordinaire]
[New! From Cloud Nine. Now with exciting life goals!]
[Emotional inadequacies sold separately.]

Monday, 13 February 2017

A memory

I have a memory from last summer which has recently been coming back to me:

I am sitting in a taxi. I'd just spent the day running errands which were to do with my own little creative business project (so I was excited, had had a fun day, felt like I was going somewhere with everything I was doing). I'd made a start on a lasagne, and then I had to get changed, grab the gift I'd bought for my friend, and run out of the house and hurry to my friend's party. (I had hoped to stay at home for an extra hour, cooking and dithering in a lovely way, savouring some alone-time, when she texted me and made it clear that she wanted me at the party NOW. I allowed myself the unusual luxury of calling a taxi - I don't normally do this - and there it was, arriving to pick me up, and there I was, nice dress and the comfy/pretty shoes and gift in a bag, and we were off.)

I remember that I was wearing my favourite dark green dress and a slick of fuchsia lipstick. It was summer, a sunny early evening, and I had a light trench coat thrown over my outfit, and I was in a taxi. Little things, but luxuries to me, and I felt like a million dollars.

The taxi driver and I got chatting - wish I could remember how it started, and exactly what was said - and somehow, we got talking about 'success'. And I mentioned to him - you know, I sometimes don't feel successful. I don't have the traditional, normal 'things' that define 'success'. And yet if someone were to look at me, it's not like they'd think that about me. I look like the very image of success.

The taxi driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror - a young woman, healthy, dress, lipstick, all bright colours and youth and shiny hair - and he said something like, really, just look at you - you've got everything you could possibly want - you are rich (he didn't exactly say the following words, but the conversation was along the lines of: you are rich in terms of health, you are rich in terms of youth, you have absolutely every thing you might need; you have absolutely won the lottery of all things to do with luck. I remember that thing I read in various 'self-help' books: you are enough. You are perfectly fine just as you are. You have everything you need.)

I remember that gorgeous summer's evening, being chauffered from one nice part of my Saturday to the next, green dress and lipstick, friends waiting for me, and a conversation with this driver, and everything being OK in the here and now. It keeps coming back to me, this memory. (I'm not sure if it's happy or sad. I think it's happy.) I must not let it go.