Staying future-focused or chasing my tail?

Doing a PhD is an interesting lesson in project and resource management.  I find that a lot of the work that has comprised my sport science PhD to date doesn’t have much to do with “sport science” at all.  Much of the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired relate more to managing timelines, managing other stakeholders in my research, and managing myself.

I am nearing the halfway mark of my PhD.  On May 22nd, I will be exactly 1.5 years through my candidature; as close to the end as I am to the start of this fascinating journey.  Amongst the many simultaneous yet conflicting emotions that I am sure every PhD student feels, the overriding sense I have right now is that I need to be doing more.  I’ve been living with this feeling for the past few weeks, but with my fingers in many pies, I haven’t had the chance to just sit and absorb the sensation.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that “living in the present” is one of the ultimate challenges of staying sane throughout a PhD.  If you’re behind in meeting deadlines, then every day can feel like you are clawing your way up a sand dune; you’ve got to exert an inordinate amount of effort to make small amounts of progress towards level ground.  If you happen to be ahead of schedule, then self-doubt quickly creeps in to rain on your short-lived parade.  Why weren’t my timelines more ambitious?  Maybe I could have finished that project even sooner than I did!  Perhaps I finished the task ahead of schedule because I didn’t take the time to pay attention to the details?  What if, what if, what if…?

As every PhD student knows, you get an awful lot of advice during your candidature.  But in 1.5 years, I have never received any tips on how to let go of the constant fixation on “what’s next?”  There’s enough debate about the pros and cons of academia without my two bob, but this intense focus on the future does seem to be a cultural peculiarity of performance-based environments such as “the academy”.  After all, if you don’t have one eye on the horizon, then someone else does, and that someone else will be the one to win the scholarship/win the grant/publish the seminal paper/write the classic textbook, and so forth.

But as for me, I’ll just be happy to feel free enough to enjoy two days off in a row, without having PhD guilt on the brain…

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