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.
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.
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 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 LanaCook.net. She is seeking a career in administration in higher education and the arts.