Stories for Lent: #19 Pride

See those trees,
bend in wind,
I feel they’ve got a lot more sense than me
You see, I try to resist.
A rubberband bouncing back to life
A rubberband bend the beat
If I could learn to give like a rubberband
I’d be back on my feet
A rubberband hold me trousers up
A rubberband ponytail
If I could learn to twang like a rubberband
I’d be a rubberband girl.

– Kate Bush

*

Leos are notoriously difficult bunch when it comes to taking criticism. It’s not enough that we are the kings of the jungle – we have to be despots, as well. It also seems that, as far as horoscopes go, we are not meant to be with anyone, even members of our own star sign.

Yesterday, my ego took a serious beating. I was at once prepared for it and completely blindsided. What was it? Did I raise my expectations too much? Was I overdoing it again? Maybe the chat I had with the university chaplain proved to be too much for my psyche, right before I had to discuss my thesis. It all came too hard, too fast – admitting that I was struggling (again), then trying to bounce throughout 90 minutes of having my writing examined in minute detail, and then receiving another (oddly personal) email telling me that my grant application hadn’t made the cut – one after another, blows to the base of my confidence, TIMBER!

You could almost hear the crash as it fell, that tree in the forest, and see the panicked flocks of birds take flight.

*

“Don’t go to grad school unless you absolutely want to,” I told my friend, not a week before. “Don’t start a Ph.D. unless there is literally nothing else in the world you’d rather be doing.”

I wasn’t talking out of my arse, and I wasn’t quoting some bleak article about the employment prospects of academics, although I had read quite a few in my time. Like my decision to write, and to not stop writing, going into academia was carefully examined, and I had no illusions that it was going to be tough. No job isn’t, mind you. There will always be days when nothing you do seems good enough, and you’re questioning every life decision you ever made, and your ego will shrivel to the size of a raisin.

The thing about academia, though, is that you can’t pants your way through it. A bachelor’s degree – maybe. Perhaps. It’s possible. In certain courses and certain countries, where you can still bribe the examiner, or get by with family connections. It can happen. Not in everyone’s experience, or even most people’s experiences, but it does happen. I was once told that a bachelor’s degree in the “soft” disciplines is less about the actual knowledge and more a proof that you can work consistently and over a number of years towards a goal, which seems like the most expensive pleasure in the world, if it didn’t also give you a few years to figure out who you are, as well as develop certain important life skills (like cooking rice in the microwave).

A doctorate is a whole different animal. There is no point to bribe your way through. You either do it or you don’t, and the way you do it is by showing up, doing the work, getting your arse kicked, and then doing the work better.

You know. Like a job, except as far as anybody else is concerned, you’re still a student. Your parents hide their concern, your aunties are asking you when you are going to get a boyfriend, your friends post pictures of awesome company retreats and team-building exercises on Facebook, and your BFF from kindergarten sends you an invitation to her wedding. While your coursemates discuss mortgages and go ring-shopping, you’re making calculations to see if you can pay off a car before your scholarship money runs out.

You don’t do it unless your ego can take a serious beating.

*

Today is April Fool’s day, and it is so tempting to just fall into despair and say my entire life is one big cosmic joke. Except, I know I’m here on my own free will, because I feel like I have something to contribute, and other people believe I have something to contribute, too, or else they wouldn’t have given me this job. And despite the very painful, very expensive years it took to get me here, I’m not really all that sorry for it. I know what I’m definitely NOT good at. I know where my skills are put to a good use.

And as for the qualities of my zodiac sign, every negative has, in its furthest extremes, a positive counterpart. And on the other side of pride, there is also resilience.

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