On the Importance of Finishing

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This guest post was written by Lana Cook, a PhD can­di­date in the Eng­lish depart­ment at North­eastern University.

In my final post before grad­u­a­tion, I would like to reflect on the art of fin­ishing.   As we close up one part of our lives, in my case an edu­ca­tional pro­gram, we are most often asked ques­tions about what is next.  We have our eyes pointed to the future, plot­ting out new jobs and plans.  Having a future ori­ented mindset is essen­tial for goal set­ting, but we ought to pay equal due to the past as such reflec­tion can help us better assess what we already pos­sess and what we need to make those future goals a reality.

In the midst of fin­ishing a dis­ser­ta­tion and checking off all the grad­uate require­ments, paper­work, and end of year events, I was also trying to set up my future, applying for jobs, taking training courses, and net­working for oppor­tu­ni­ties.  Even­tu­ally, I had to hit the pause button on the future so that I could fully attend to fin­ishing up the work of the present. I real­ized that I needed to finish before I could start anew.   Fin­ishing is more than com­pleting the oblig­a­tory tasks at hand.  It is also about reflec­tion, restora­tion, and renewal.


Periods of major tran­si­tion can bring up a lot of mixed emo­tions from the spec­trum of elated joy to sour regret. After grad­u­a­tion, reserve time to process your expe­ri­ence. Write in a journal. Talk to a friend or ther­a­pist. Think about where you were when you started your degree. How were you shaped in the process?  What did you gain?  What sac­ri­fices did you make?   What are you most proud of?  By taking the time to reflect on your expe­ri­ence, you will gain the self-​​knowledge that will put you in a wiser posi­tion to start the next stage in your career.


Restore Rela­tion­ships

Grad­uate school can be very time con­suming and can take a heavy toll on work-​​life bal­ance, causing stu­dents to often sac­ri­fice leisure time with friends and family.  Spend your newly gained free time with your family and friends, expressing your grat­i­tude for their patience and sup­port.  Find ways to give back to them as they gave to you over the years.

As you finish your degree, take time to thank the fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tors who helped you along the way.  Though you may be fin­ished with your degree, you should con­tinue to main­tain the rela­tion­ships you have built.  Sending a hand­written per­sonal note or card is espe­cially appre­ci­ated today in an age of hastily written emails.  Thank you cards are more than polite ges­ture; they estab­lish rela­tion­ships for the future.

Restore Spaces

After fin­ishing my dis­ser­ta­tion revi­sions, my desks at the office and at home were crowded with a flurry of papers, stacks of overdue library books, unpaid bills, and junk food wrap­pers.  Restore your spaces by clearing out your office if you are moving, and orga­nizing your home office. Sort through papers while they are still fresh; scan and file those you want to pre­serve, and shred and recycle the rest.

Restore Your Energy

Sleep.  Go for long walks. Med­i­tate. Do yoga. Go out with friends. Go on vaca­tion.  It is essen­tial to leave time to rest, ide­ally away from the stresses of the job search or starting a new posi­tion.  Jumping imme­di­ately from one posi­tion to the next can leave you exhausted. Take some time to restore your energy so you can start fresh.  These last few weeks, I have found myself repeating this quote from the Amer­ican philoso­pher William James, “The time for ten­sion in our souls is over, and that of happy relax­ation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no dis­cor­dant future to be anx­ious about, has arrived.”


Cel­e­brate your accom­plish­ments, and with that pos­i­tive energy, dream of what is to come. Take stock of what you want out of the next stage in your life, the values you hold, the goals you want to work towards, and take the nec­es­sary steps to achieve those.  If fin­ishing is about reflecting on the person you have become, starting is a time for rein­venting your iden­tity.  Do not be afraid to start anew. Take stock of the qual­i­ties that enabled your edu­ca­tional suc­cess and trust that these will carry you through the chal­lenges that lie ahead.  Finally, remember there will be no one straight line in your career path so be open to the many pos­si­bil­i­ties that you will encounter along the road.


Lana Cook - HeadshotLana Cook is a PhD can­di­date in the Eng­lish depart­ment at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. Her dis­ser­ta­tion traces the devel­op­ment of the psy­che­delic aes­thetic in mid-​​twentieth cen­tury Amer­ican lit­er­a­ture and film. Lana is a 2013–2014 grad­uate fellow at the Human­i­ties Center.  She received her bach­e­lors of arts at Uni­ver­sity of New Hamp­shire.  You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or LinkedIn. You can view her port­folio at Lana​Cook​.net.  She is seeking a career in admin­is­tra­tion in higher edu­ca­tion and the arts.