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What I am Learning About Life While Completing a Dissertation


As I shared last week, I am completing my dissertation currently and gosh it is teaching me lots of lessons about life. I decided to share them with you because they apply to us all regardless of ever doing a dissertation.

In no particular order, here are some of the lessons I have learned and have been reminded of:

1]. “The master of P & A becomes ABD”!

This is a quote included in a great book, “Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish” by John D. Cone and Sharon L. Foster that I am currently using. Allow me to fill in the blanks. This quote is saying: the master of procrastination and avoidance becomes “all but dissertation”. Basically, if you continue to procrastinate and avoid the real work, you will never get the dissertation completed thus being “all but dissertation” [this is a term given to those who have completed all of the coursework for a PhD and are working or not on a dissertation].

What is it that you want to do with your life? What are you doing to get there? Are you avoiding and procrastinating it? Know that if you continue to be a master of P and A, you will never achieve your goals. Create a plan and execute it!

2]. Self Care!

I am a huge supporter and lover of self care. It is a sign of sexiness to me because those who care for themselves are able to do so much more for themselves and others! Knowing this, I am having to be very intentional with my self care now more than ever. In order to keep pushing through, I need to allow for breaks [even if they are short] to care for myself. I am reading “Carry On Warrior, Thoughts on Life Unarmed” by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I have an hour set aside each night that I read with my husband in bed. This helps fill me up at the end of each long day so I can turn around and have another productive day. I am also standing [about half of the day] while I do research/write/email at my makeshift standing desk to avoid any more sitting than necessary [it is really hard on my body to sit for long periods of time]. These are just a couple of my acts of self care.

What self care can you incorporate daily, weekly, monthly, annually that can help you relax, recharge, and be able to go out into the world and do great things? They can be big, little, medium sized, whatever, just as long as they serve you!

3]. It is F-ing HARD!

So in case no one has told you yet, life is f-ing hard. And so is doing a dissertation. I do not say this in a negative way, in fact, I can appreciate the periods of tough times. The sooner we can realize and accept this fact, the quicker we can come up with strategies to make it through. For me,  I feel even more accomplished when I am able to get through the hard stuff and I KNOW  I will once I make it through to the other side of this darn dissertation!

What are some strategies you can use to make it through the hard parts? Can you change your thinking around the hard times and see it as another accomplishment?

4]. You learn as you go!

This might be my biggest lesson of the dissertation! I always have expected myself to know everything already and obviously I don’t, NO ONE DOES! Yet I still find myself  at times disappointed by my inability to come through on this expectation. I am learning what the heck I am doing literally as I go through the process. I cried on the phone the other day talking with one of my advisors who is also my statistician and with his gentle voice, he reminded me that this is part of the process, that I won’t know until I do it. Brilliant really, and it was the validation I needed to receive from a survivor of dissertation work in that moment.

Please remember this; it truly applies to all things in life. Would you expect yourself to know how to be a parent before becoming a parent? No! So for goodness sakes, forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it! I promise, I too am constantly forgiving myself. Compassion is an essential piece of self love and self care in life.

5]. Patience is a true virtue!

Yep! Not much to expand on here, just be patient. Oh and breathe too, that helps a lot with being patient.

6]. Support is essential!

It may not be easy to acknowledge or ask for, but support is essential. We cannot do it all on our own. [Feel free to refer to last week’s post “Reach Out” for more information on this]. With life being hard, we need support so let go of any hang-ups you have on it and keep moving forward.

7]. You will have to say “no” now to say “yes” to so much more later!

Already I have had to say no to many things I otherwise would have been doing. I have to keep reminding myself that in saying “no” now, I am setting myself up for a life of “yes” when I am done.

You may have to say “no” to get to say “yes” later, but it will make it all the more enjoyable and appreciated! Besides, it may not always be a “no”, but perhaps a “next time”.

8]. If you say you can or can’t, you’re right!

I bet you can count on at least one hand how many times this became true for you. Our mindset is essential in succeeding in anything we put our mind to. Why not give yourself a boost of self esteem by focusing on doing whatever it is you would like to accomplish, continue to say it aloud, do the work it requires and begin to believe it! I bet you can do it with those steps followed!

And thats that! I hope these serve as great reminders or messages to take with you in whatever process you are in today!

Until next time,



headshotAbout the Author:

Dr. Lily A. Zehner, MFT-C is a therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy, and relationships. Her private practice is located in Denver where she helps others reach their fullest relational and sexual potential. To learn more about her and her services, please feel free to take a look around her website.


About the Author