Friday, 22 August 2014

‘That source of popular wisdom known as “The Hairdresser’s”’

A few weeks ago I went to Toni and Guy’s, for a student haircut, as is my custom.

(By which I mean: a hairdressing student cuts my hair; a fully-fledged grown-up supervises. You pay the student ten quid and you leave looking like a million dollars. This and other money-saving tips are brought to you by ‘I Hate My PhD’!...)

So the student is cutting my hair, the grown-up is chatting away in the corner, and I am doing some important catching-up with the latest copy of ‘Red’ Magazine… when suddenly I start to tune in to the conversation of the grown-up hairdresser lady behind me.

She was telling her trainees: ‘There’s this exercise that they make you do in training sessions sometimes. Imagine a brick wall. Go on, imagine that you are walking along and you come up against a brick wall. What do you do?...’

A wall rose up before me in my mind’s eye. (Go on. Do this exercise. What do you see?...) Brick wall. I stared at my imaginary wall. What do I do?... well, there didn’t seem much I could do. There is an insurmountable brick wall before me. As far as I can see, there’s only one thing to be done: turn around, walk away.

Prompted by her trainees, she went on: ‘What do I do?... I just step over it.’ […] ‘You get some right funny answers when you ask this question in training sessions. Some people just say things like “I would jump over it”, but some people are like “Me, I would smash right through it, with my fists, like this: RAAAAAA!”’

I just step over it. When I envisaged my brick wall, I saw an impermeable, impenetrable structure, obstructing everything, impossible to get past. I turn around and leave – honestly, this felt like my only option. It didn’t even occur to me that a ‘brick wall’ can be small enough to walk around it, climb it, step over it. It made me think, we all have our (imaginary or real) brick walls, and we deal with them so differently; because the way we perceive them is different. How we approach a problem depends so much on our experiences and environment, and our perception of ourselves. There’s no way I can get past this brick wall/ I’ll just step over it. And just to do this exercise, to realise what your perception of the ‘brick walls’ of life might be, is revealing; in itself, that’s perhaps one brick wall gone already…

This and other mysteries of this world I was able to ponder at the hairdresser’s. Life is a wonderful thing sometimes.

Today’s quote (found on the internet many months ago, and now remembered) :

‘The brick walls are there for a reason – they’re there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. The other people. […] Brick walls let us show our dedication.’


‘Don’t bail; the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap.’


  1. Dear Dr. C,
    I have been a frequenter of your blog for the past year - as I hit the wall of my phd, had to take time off, go to counselling and generally work out how to cope with this big difficult thing that made me feel like crap 90% of the time. Your blog is so great. Thank you for writing it, and continuing to write to ys now that you are a DOCTOR!! Amazing. Massive congratulations! I was SO happy for you when I read that the viva had gone well.

    So, now I am 32 days from submission and I have returned to reread all your posts pre-submission, once more. Or maybe, twice or thrice more... It might sound odd but they bring me a little comfort as I inwardly hyperventilate and tell everyone I'm fine because I DON'T HAVE THE TIME to tell them how I actually feel. (I realise I am manic...)

    So really, all this little post was to say was Thank you. You really should consider that Motivational Writer gig. You are up their with the Procrastination Bible and Gurus, in my world.

    Now, back to "The Thesis". It is a selfish, possessive, jealous b*****d.


    1. Hey there!... Thirty days (ish) to submission is a good sort of time. If you haven't already done so, find out which office to take it to, get a quote (and a deadline) from the binders, stuff like that. Remember: it doesn't have to be perfect - it just has to be DONE. Think 'good enough'. Cut stuff out, big up the original point you're proud of, make your line of argument as easy as possible for your examiners to follow. You are about to enter a phase of superhuman achievement that will astound even yourself. 'You'd be surprised how much you can get done in two weeks - if they're the last two weeks', as one motivational Guru wrote in some motivational Bible or other. The last 24 hours is basically a Herculean marathon of amazing achievement after achievement.... after which you will be DONE!... Good luck, am rooting for you, and feel free to write in if there's any way in which you think I can help!...