On The Distance Between Your Dreams and the Day-to-Day
by Jedidah Isler, PhD
(I recorded this audio before the Nayla Kidd story broke the news, in response to conversations with my mentees, but it seemed appropriate for our ongoing series about “Burnout, Bravery and Being a Woman of Color in STEM.” Listen in or read the transcript below, then let us know what you think in the comments section.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the distance between a dream and the day to day. I’ve been thinking about this in the context of many conversations that I’ve had with many mentees in several different states recently about encountering difficulty in pursuit of ones dream and how demoralizing that can be. I think we all know and understand that as being a very real phenomenon. But also how daunting it can be to your self confidence in the sense that it can cause you to think that you’re not doing the right thing or you’re not doing a good job or things aren’t going well for you because it’s so hard.
[00:01:00] I’ve said this several times and I guess I should say excuse me now because I’m literally walking down the side of a mountain. I’m on my hike for the week and I guess my weekend hike. This was on my mind so I wanted to talk about it. Here I am talking about it. If I’m breathing hard it’s not because I have any respiratory problems, it’s just that I’m actually walking.
Anyway, we all face situations that are daunting and overwhelming and seem bigger than we can actually handle and are overwhelming, but I think sometimes in academia in particular and especially spaces where we as women of color, and me in particular as a black woman, you navigate these spaces and if it’s not rolling right off the tip of your tongue or you’re not getting it immediately then maybe there’s something wrong with you.
[00:02:00] Not only is not getting whatever it is that you’re trying to get, whether that’s a class concept or a homework assignment or a test or a problem in your research group or whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter what the area is. If there is something that you are working on that’s not coming then all of the sudden all these little ideas and thoughts creep in around being an impostor, right? Maybe you’re not supposed to be doing this because it looks so easy for other people, and maybe people are right about just not being for, in my case a black woman, or a woman of color, or a student of color, or a person with disabilities or whatever.
[00:03:00] Maybe all these naysayers and maybe the way the broken system is set up is right. So I’ve spent a lot of time on this personally, coming to this myself but also sharing it with others. That is that your difficulty does not actually map directly on your ability. It doesn’t map directly onto your, whether or not you deserve to be in a place. It’s just that what you’re doing is hard. If you’re working towards a PhD, that is just hard. It’s hard. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what set of privileges you have or don’t have. Pursuing a PHD is hard and if anyone tells you different they’re just flat out lying.
“Your difficulty does not actually map directly on your ability”
[00:04:00] But beyond that, you know, whether it’s an undergrad degree in a stem discipline or you’re trying to write a chapter, you’re trying to write a book. It doesn’t matter. All of it is challenging. All of it requires quite a bit in terms of the stamina and actually self confidence. So what I try to tell my mentees and what I’ve learned to do myself is decouple the difficulty to my assessment of my self ability. If it’s hard, it’s just hard. It is. To some extent it’s helpful to know that it’s hard for others. Sometimes there will be things that are hard for you that aren’t hard for others and that’s okay too.
“Decouple the difficulty from your assessment of your self-ability”
In either case or in any case along the spectrum that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it or you can’t do it or you don’t deserve to do it. It just means that it’s difficult. Work on trying to separate how easy or difficult you think it is from you being able to do it. Because you can certainly do it. You can do anything you put your mind to. It may be hard. It may take a long time. It may look much different than you hoped it looked when you dreamt it up.
“You can do anything you put your mind to. It may be hard. It may take a long time. It may look different than you hoped it looked when you dreamt it up…”
[00:05:00] Which is why I’m saying navigating the space between your dream and your day to day because in the dream it’s all perfect. It’s 75 and sunny every day in your dreams. Someone says something, you get it, then you do it. Then you discover this miraculous thing. Then you’re on Science and on Nature and Cell Bio and all of the places (peer-reviewed journals). Before you know it there’s a Nobel prize. That’s just how dreams go. But that is not necessarily and in fact not generally the way that it goes in the day to day.
I’m on an upward hill part can you tell? Woo child! Anyway, just thinking a lot about that and wanting to encourage you if you find yourself in that situation that you can do it. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means it’s challenging and difficult and you might need to come up with more strategies or different strategies to accomplish the goal that you set in front of you.
[00:06:00] What you can’t do is constantly be doubting yourself and your ability to do a thing. You are capable no matter who you are, no matter what set of skills you have, no matter what body you’re in, no matter what language you speak, no matter what religion or non-religion you have or do not have. You can do it!
It’s just the matter of getting the right skills,[and] tools around you. Please do not align difficulty with your ability to do something. They are very separate things and we will work on how to do that. How to just take it in a very objective sense that okay, if I’m not doing well in this using these methods, what other methods can I use? What other resources do I have available to me either locally or via the internet that can help me get better at this skill? Who can I call? Who can I ask?
“What other resources do I have available to me either locally or via the internet that can help me get better at this skill? Who can I call? Who can I ask?”
[00:07:00] It’s a much more offensive way of being because it’s not a self assessment it’s not a self critique. It’s not judgement. It’s just saying hey, I’m trying to do a thing. It’s not working as well as I want it to work. What can I do to make that thing work better rather than being like, oh my gosh, this proves that I’m not supposed to be here and that I should not be doing this and the haters were right. No. The haters are never right. They pride themselves on being wrong. They don’t know that, but they do.
One of the key things that I said literally a couple times this last couple weeks is that just because sometimes your insecurities align with what people are saying about you doesn’t make either of those things true. It just makes them very scary.
[00:08:00] I want when that happens when you’re thinking to yourself you’re not good enough and then if –God forbid– someone says to you you’re not good enough then often what happens is you’re like oh gosh, they’ve just confirmed my worst fear. They must be right. No. They’re not right, and neither are you for that matter. You are not right about not deserving to be there. Just by virtue of living and breathing on this planet, you deserve to be anywhere you want in the world.
There are many many people including myself that are fighting in many different ways, to not only make sure that you know that, but to make it more like that in reality. To tear down many of the calcified falsehoods in our system and society that try to convince you otherwise. But just because you may have a moment where your insecurity aligns with someone’s statements does not make those things true. I don’t want you to take them in. We’ll talk more about this too. But I want you to master the art of creating a buffer between your inner self and your assessments of yourself and what other people think of you. Because everybody doesn’t actually even have the clearance to give you any commentary on what they think you need to do or whatever.
“Just because you may have a moment where your insecurity aligns with someone’s statements does not make those things true”
[00:09:00] I feel very strongly about that one so I can definitely give you more about that.
Yeah, it’s something that I was thinking. Sort of a short thought. Mostly short. But sort of a short thought about it. But just know that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not for you. You can still do it instead of using it as proof that you don’t deserve to do something. Look for tools and resource that can help you get to where you need to go, and separate that from your assessment of yourself.
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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