I think I’m broken. I may actually have been broken for a while, or possibly fractured. Anyway, I’m admitting I’m broken because admittance means I can now start the process of fixing myself.
In case you aren’t familiar with the back-story: over a year ago I set up a plan that I would start a PhD program in Autumn (Fall) 2012 in the field of organic chemistry. The time in-between would be devoted to an industrial internship in Switzerland to gain more research experience…and enjoy a life in another foreign country, of course.
Then the following things happened:
(1) I applied to 5 institutions in the USA but didn’t get offered a place. It could simply be because I was an international student who’d come with higher fees. It could be because my GRE score was too low, I lacked publications, my referees were not well known or a typo in my personal statement. There were probably numerous factors behind the decision. In any case, I got their responses over the course of a month or two. I didn’t know the exact dates I would receive the decisions, they came as sporadic emails & letters.
(2) So I’ve been looking at the continental European universities. I’ve had several months of little success: waiting on emails, hitting “Refresh” endlessly, re-drafting my CV, hovering over the “Send” button. I get the replies that the professors aren’t taking on students right now, or else they had to choose between many talented applicants competing for a small number of places. More sporadic emails.
(3) The time I’ve spent on applications, letters and browsing research group websites has been significant. Not only is the process itself stressful, dejecting and frustrating…it takes away time & energy from the things I do that make me happy. Socialising, travel, reading a good book. I’m left with stress, dejection and frustration but no way to offset them.
(4) None of this is happening in a vacuum. Emails come during “business hours” and work takes up the greatest proportion of my life. Ergo, my professional life suffers. Enough for others to notice, but most crucially for me to notice. I know I’m out of character, that makes me feel even more alienated and unhappy. It reinforces the sensation that I can’t do anything right.
Hence where I am right now. My self-esteem feels absolutely battered. I’m tired, borderline exhausted. I feel like my priorities are all out of sync. I lack motivation and focus. My work is suffering. I’m drinking too much coffee. The world seems to be all shades of grey. If this doesn’t count as being broken then I don’t know what does.
Despite the unhappiness I know I’m not beyond repair. I’ll never be beyond repair.
This working week ended badly. Another day in another week in another month in 2012. I stopped off on my way home in the Manora supermarket (the Swiss equivalent of Marks & Spencer, for my British readers) and bought a packet of loose leaf Darjeeling tea. When I got home I proceeded to finally brew myself a decent bloody cup of tea. The sun came out too this evening, finally. I’ll probably run myself a hot bath and retire to bed early with my copy of the National Geographic (German version). Goodness knows I could use a decent night’s sleep…
There are a variety of competing options running through my mind right now. I need to chat things out with my mentors, friends and family before I come to a course of action. A few things are clear right now, though.
(1) I need to put the grad school applications on hold. If only for a week. Maybe in the end for longer. I need some time off from what is evidently a destructive and unhappy activity. I need to take time to do things I enjoy, to be free from stress and to try and fix what has been damaged.
(2) I should look again at my priorities, plans and what I want to get out of life. There are many ways to get to the same destination.
(3) Life is always going to be divided into the things I can control and the things I can’t. I need to think about the proactive choices and decisions I can make. Proactivity is healthier than passiveness on a number of levels.
I’ll end with a specific message to one individual.
To the person I shared some my worst news with, only to receive silences in return. You can never know how upsetting & damaging those silences were to me. Then when I told you my last piece of bad news you finally broke your silence.
You can never know how much those two words meant to me.