building a foundation

Still struggling to find my feet a bit. Not in the sense of knowing what I’m supposed to do – that, I’m very clear on – but in the sense of feeling as though I’m doing everything but what I’m meant to be doing (reading) and just not having time to think very much at all. I just feel like I’m staggering from one deadline to another, one meeting and class to another. And the days are slipping by so fast, its frightening.

I must be doing something right though – my supervisory team have made it clear that they’re happy with what I’m doing so clearly this feeling of not quite being able to get my feet underneath me isn’t perceptible to those around me. I just don’t feel quite grounded. A bit like this:


That, of course, is from Bambi (1942), but it is how I feel – as though at any moment I’m going to fall flat on my backside in a spectacular and hugely embarrassing fashion. And this morning, after an incredibly frustrating day yesterday (with just two bright spots in the whole day), I resolved that something has GOT to change.

When I first returned to studying, six years ago, every time I hit a hurdle, I’d vow: ‘work smarter, not harder’. Logically, I knew that each time I found something difficult, while hard work might be the answer, that could not continue exponentially. There are only so many hours available in the day for studying, after all, even if you work full time at it – and studying every waking moment is neither desirable, healthy, or even productive. Hence; work smarter, not harder. Largely, that’s worked. It’s like I’ll periodically hit a cliff, work harder for a bit while I figure out how to get over the cliff, in other words, learn something new. I’d then find a new plateau, maybe work a little harder while I mastered the new skill and got to grips with wielding a new tool with more confidence and flexibility, but soon, I’d be back at my usual level of actual working hours and effort. I wouldn’t be working that many hours more than before I’d hit the cliff, I’d just be working differently. Smarter, not harder.

That’s what I think is happening now: I think I’m hitting another cliff.

In some ways, it’s about due. Again, logically, each time you step up to a new level of course (i.e. from diploma to BA, BA to MA, MA to PhD) you’re learning new skills, new ways of studying, there’s going to be a series of cliffs, right? That’s the learning curve. And since I’ve just started the PhD… well, a cliff is about due. Not that that’s much consolation, when you’re at the bottom of the cliff looking up – although right now, said cliff feels rather intimidating – Beachy Head sized!

And in feeling so very unbalanced, unsettled, I’ve realised at least part of what it is that is making me feel that way – I don’t have a foundation, a routine. I’m rushing from post to pillar, class to class, my study base is at home, where I have my own study, my own space, but I’m hardly there at the moment. And while I’m normally very organised, with a to-do list in my journal (done Bulletjournal style), it’s not helping me to feel in control and organised. My study, too, is a mess – piles of paper everywhere, books scattered around, no sense of organisation. I have no sense of routine – my daily grind has, in the last month, changed completely from what it has been for the last 18 months (7.30, take partner to station, get home at 8am, start work. 6pm stop work to go to station to collect partner. Now, with his change of job, it’s all over the place), and I am very definitely someone who needs a routine. Perhaps its no wonder that I feel so unstabilised. The base of the PhD, the foundation, just doesn’t feel like it’s there at the moment.

This sense of being out of control, on rocky, or slippery ground is illusionary, I’m sure. Although the upheaval around the structure of my days will continue for a few months yet, I can perhaps try to institute some kind of routine outside of the upheaval, which might help. Tidying my desk and sorting out some of the paper piles will definitely help! I have to make some decisions on the administrative methodology of how I’m going to work, and STICK to them (e.g. bibliographic software and annotated/notetaking software vs printed copies and journals for secondary material). I’ve established and kept to a paper filing system which somewhat mirrors my email and computer file structure, thankfully, so that doesn’t need sorting out. I’ve a quiet weekend this weekend. I think some time at my desk, some time tidying up, some time sorting things out will help a great deal. See if I can build a foundation, or something firmer from which to go for the next few weeks. See if I can feel – hopefully – just a tad more stable and settled.


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