Friday, 6 October 2017

For those of you who have just FINISHED A THESIS...


Here is a little blog post I wrote when I was musing on my own beautifully finished thesis, one sunny October, not so long ago.

(I added that quotation at the end just now, by the way.)


Happiness in academia

Lovely article which I read this morning:

In a nutshell:

 - Don't compare yourself with others; moderate your expectations; be kind to yourself, and practice self-compassion; don't be too concerned about getting that promotion, or loads of money; and meditation and 'savouring' [the moment] are very helpful.

(You heard it all here first.)


Dr Cloud Nine

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


I went to an amazing art exhibition recently, on a very famous artist. (You’ve probably heard of the guy; he goes by the name of Raphael.) (Erm… I’m sorry, I’ve got no idea why I’m being all patronising all of a sudden.)

If you stopped by the entrance of the exhibition, and you looked at their little timeline of important events in Raphael’s life, you would notice that Raphael’s year of birth was exactly 500 years before mine (here’s to everyone born in ’83!!!…) So I felt an instant affinity with Raphael. (He, too, would have been one of those ‘millennial’ types, like me. Or something. You know what I mean - he would have lived his life with similar milestones to mine, a turn of the century as he came of age, and so on…)

And then if you did some maths (which I did, and it always takes me a little bit of time), you worked out that… Raphael was only 37 when he died.

I am 34.

I stood there for a bit and considered this, and I thought to myself: … live as though you only have three years of your life left. This thought has occurred to me before, now and again: none of us know how much time we have left on this earth. I could be hit by a car tomorrow and my life as I know it could be over. I could get cancer tomorrow. Today might be the healthiest I’ll ever be. Today might be the happiest, richest, most carefree, most productive I will ever be. You just can’t know these things. So when people tape postcards to their fridge that say things like ‘Live as if this is all there is’ - this is what they mean. Live as if this is all there is. Live as if you only have three odd years left.

(The Barbara Sher book which I have mentioned on this blog before asks you exactly this question: ‘What would you do if you had six months to live?’)

This is all a bit tricky. On the one hand, we don’t know how much time there is left and we should live each day as though this is all there is. On the other hand, I am occasionally brought up short by the panicky thought: Oh my God I don’t have a retirement plan!… Oh my God, I haven’t got a pension!… That six-months-to-live question, whenever I consider it, always brings me tremendous clarity: I always know exactly what work I would desperately want to bring into the world if I suddenly found out that I have limited time to get my best work out there. And I know that, if I needed to, I would beg, hustle, be pushy, and never hesitate to draw on every single contact and advantage I have ever gained in my miserable little life, if I ever thought that this would help me achieve my goal. 

Interestingly, though, whenever i do this exercise, I always end it by thinking: but I CAN’T do that in real life, because if I did only have 6 months to live, then, d’you know what?… I wouldn’t have to worry about money. I would’t have to think about safety nets and paying bills and retirement plans and the future. I would only need to get by for six months. I could just plan to live off my savings, and sit down and do the work I want to do, and it wouldn’t matter if I got paid for it or not. It wouldn’t matter. And it does matter to me now, in real life, because I need to pay bills. And I need to think about the future. And so I find myself distracted by needing to look up occasionally, and accept paying jobs, and fill in job applications. And then I wonder why I’m not spending as much time as I should on my own important projects.

The eternal conundrum. Do I live as if this is all there is - ignore the I-don’t-have-a-pension voice, assume I might die at any moment, and just throw myself into living life in the now?… Or am I actually being very foolish if I do that, and will I look up in 20 years’ time and see all my friends comfortably moving on with their elegant lives, while I still have to scrabble round for low-paid contracts to survive?…

I don’t have an answer. And I don’t have any advice, either. (I don’t even know what is right for myself; let alone what anyone else should do…)

Anyway, I’m going to try to strike a balance. I once read an interview with an actress who was maybe in her fifties, sixties (forgive me, famous actress, for I can’t remember the exact things you said…) What I remember very clearly is that she said that she tries to live as though she were still 27. Whenever she is offered an opportunity, or a challenge, that might make her think ‘I’m too old; I can’t do that; I should have done that years ago, now it's really too late’ - she tries to respond to the invitation as though she were still 27. I love that idea. I’ve been trying to copy it.

So: I’m 27 (though really sometimes I’m also 34); I might live another three years; I’m going to make that three years the nicest and the most productive ever; I’m going to live as though this is all there is.

(But I’m also secretly hoping that, if I do that, maybe the next bit - the ‘if you build it, they will come’ bit - will fall into place too. Maybe if I just focus on doing my best work, someone will eventually pay me for it.)



CN xx

Good Advice from the Internet

I logged into LinkedIn this morning (an odd thing for me to do.... And, by the way, my LInkedIn page still said that I am doing a PhD. Which gives you some idea of how often I update it.)

(I have been on a business course this week, and have been learning a little bit about 'marketing yourself', amongst other things; hence the sudden urge to check out LinkedIn.)

Anyway, there are some clever people on there who are constantly tweeting out good business stories (so it doesn't count as procrastination, because I found it on LinkedIn. OK?....)

Anyway: here is an article that caught my eye.

'You Need to Give Up These Toxic Habits If You Want To Be Exceptionally Successful'

I like it!... In a nutshell, the article says things like:

- 'Comparison is the thief of joy' (Theodore Roosevelt). Don't compare; be happy with your achievements. (I read somewhere else that you only need to be better than the person you were yesterday.)

- Listen to people properly.

- Stop being 'too agreeable' - say 'no' to things, to avoid overstretching yourself!...

-'Give up the gossip' - don't gossip about people, because you'll lose their trust.

- 'Stop aimlessly roaming the internet' (this one made me smile, because, mwahaha, how else would we find all these weird and wonderful articles??... But, like I said, new rule: if I got it off LinkedIn, it doesn't count as time-wasting. If you got it off my BLOG - similarly, well done, you're off the hook. But now go do some work.)

- Stop procrastinating - choose a tiny bit of the task and make a start. (Regular visitors to this blog will know all about the Procrastination Bible - Neil Fiore's 'The Now Habit' book.)

- 'Dump the toxic waste' - if someone negative preoccupies you, don't think about him or her. Give your energy and brain space to thinking about people who make you happy instead.

Love it. And now go do some work.


CN xx

ps Just for fun, I'm having a read through my blog - from the bottom up. Read this: it's good stuff.

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 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 I am not a waste of space. 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