Sunday, March 2, 2014

Celebrating Milestones and Handling Setbacks

Top - Dissertation Proposal Defense,  Bottom Left - Ready for a great ski day with the family,  Bottom Right - Waiting for rescue after knee injury

I recently had to put some things in perspective and I thank God for moments of clarity to help me take a moment to celebrate milestones and handle setbacks. The dissertation process is something like this.  

I celebrated 2 milestones in my doctoral journey. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal and submitted the IRB application.  I am happy to report that I received a letter from the IRB and with some minor edits, I am confident that I will get the green light to conduct the interviews for my study in the timeline I planned so that I can then go on to the next milestone – collecting data!

I also experienced a major setback. I thought I would be celebrating another major milestone in my physical fitness life, but it looks like plans will need to be changed. On the day before I was supposed to take the test for my Red/Black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a major step before the Black Belt, I suffered a ski injury.  I tore the ACL in my right knee (the one I need to drive!) and now I will require surgery with a long recovery.  I envisioned that this year I was going to celebrate two major accomplishments - completing my doctoral degree and achieving Black Belt status in Tae Kwon Do.  I now have to modify that plan both mentally and physically. 

I was lucky to get some perspective the day of my injury. As I was feeling sorry for myself at the bottom of the ski mountain, I looked up and saw an 80 plus year old man coming down the slope with just one leg and when I looked closer at his jacket, it turns out he is one of the ski instructors! This was truly a spiritual and inspirational moment that I feel blessed to have experienced.  I took this vision as a sign from God that each of us has to carry on no matter what obstacles might seem insurmountable.  My knee can and will heal and I can choose to stay positive and move forward.

Interestingly, since this injury happened, I have had many people share stories with me about similar ones they’ve had.  I guess my crutches and knee brace make my injury visible to all and people can’t help but to ask me what happened and the exchange begins. Now I'm learning so much about my friends and colleagues - things I never knew about their struggles because they are no longer visible.  The part of these stories that I enjoy hearing most is about their healing process and how much better they feel now.  It makes me wonder what other invisible struggles people are suffering through that I never get to hear about, but would help me get a better understanding of the source of each person’s resilience and strength.

I feel like this is exactly what happened when I started blogging about my dissertation process and sharing in the Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees Facebook group.  There is something special about people being willing to tell others about their struggles that creates a shared solidarity that helps them realize they are not alone and that there is hope for overcoming setbacks, big and small.

Although I have had to modify my expectations with the milestones I expected for this year, I am still very happy with my dissertation progress and look forward to my physical healing process. My new favorite word stated often by my excellent dissertation mentor as I have been moving through the process is: Onward!  Yes. Yes indeed.