Guilt and the writing of PhDs

by Anna Blanch on February 28, 2012

For almost two weeks the wretched feeling in the pit of my stomach was gone. For the first time in months the release from guilt was palpable. I was able to spend a couple of days relaxing with a welcome visitor, working but taking time to have some fun. I even managed to get out and see the local aquarium and possibly (more) crazily swimming in the north sea! We walked, and laughed, and ate, and felt known.

But today, the feeling of guilt twisting around my gut is squirm-worthy.

For good or for ill I’ve been limiting outside distractions – the amount of time I take to answer email is around a week at the moment. I find email the most distracting thing. Many of them are good, and interesting, but oh-so-distracting from my primary task at hand – finishing the thesis draft!

But let’s talk a little more about that guilt- I don’t think I’m alone, in fact given the conversations I have with my colleagues I know I’m not.

I’m quite envious of those who are blissfully able to leave work at work and contentedly enjoy time off. I’ve toyed with whether this is because they have better perspective than I do, or because I’ve invested alot of myself into this (perhaps too much).

One of the treasures of the kind of research and writing that makes up my days is that sometimes my reading kicks me hard – and pushes me out of the abstract of it all into a reality:

Grace is having the courage to be satisfied. The “graceful man” is the one who has been inhabited by the “dancing god.” That is, life itself; he is the person whose style is serendipitous who finds grace in the most modest and hidden places […]. A wondering individual is able to find the graceful in the ordinary — in a cup of tea or the caress of the winds.

It struck me that there’s a certain kind of arrogance of self-important in thinking that my thesis, or even the finishing of it is of little more than minimal importance in the grand scheme of things. Don’t get me wrong – I do want to be done with it, but the timing and the exertion is not more important my reflection of my right playful posture of prayer before God.

And i’m not really sure there’s any place at all for the guilt I feel.

Now, try not to feel guilty about feeling guilty after all of that. At least, that’s my prayer of grace for this day of lent.

Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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