I’m a PhD student and a very common question I get is what my area of research is. People expect you to specialize in order to learn lots of stuff about one smaller area so that you can contribute to that area. I don’t find that problematic, and I’m working on determining where I want my research to go. The first semester, I just wanted to get my bearings and learn if I could actually do research and write academic papers (the answer, I discovered, was yes, I was competent).
But even when I figure out exactly what I want to write my dissertation on, I am not defined by my area of research. I like lots of different things. And I like more than philosophy.
I am not a philosopher. I am more than that.
I don’t have to define who I am. Who I am is more than what I can define. It’s too big. Who I am is all of my existence, not a summary. The summary would inevitably leave out some important bits.
And it’s okay to summarize. I summarize when I’m introducing myself to people. I summarize in my journal and my blog. But it becomes problematic when I start believing in that summary more than believing in all of me.
I feel so blessed this year in so many ways. It was just a good year. I’ve had a lot of hard years to get to this point, so I feel so grateful. A lot of things I was working towards for so long have been realized in amazing ways. I own a home. I am building a career now. My kids are older and much more self-sufficient. Life changes–and sometimes it gets better.
I started graduate school this year. I always wanted to get a PhD, but it more seemed like a dream, not something that would actually happen. And now I am in a program, starting my research. I feel incredibly lucky that things worked out–that I ended up in a place where I could do this.
We are almost done with our home renovation. We actually finished rooms this year. Lots of rooms. Bathrooms. Laundry rooms. Toy rooms. Office. Bedrooms. Living rooms (except for the ceiling). We are really close to finishing and I LOVE my home now. It’s the first time I really feel like I have my own home. We also worked a lot on the yard–doing an in-ground trampoline and a clubhouse.
I did the Proper Mountain Woman Club for the summer and it was life changing for me. I usually just set goals based on what I want to get done or think that I should do, and they often feel like an obligation. But this was a program where I did things just to do the things. It changed how I set goals and thought about my own progress. I became more well-rounded by recognizing the good I was already doing and being able to try and explore new things. I now do a Discord server with my sister where we share our goals and accomplishments with each other. Being able to share and recognize the accomplishment of small goals has really led me to be a lot happier.
We had a lot of fun as a family this year. We went on a vacation to the woods and the beach, but we also did a lot of hikes and adventures–going to a baseball game, trampoline park, corn maze, swimming, camping etc. My favorite moments in the whole world are being outside with my kids and my husband, whether we are throwing snowballs at each other, climbing rocks, exploring somewhere new, sledding, swimming, building a fire–those small moments are simply the best.
And I loved going backpacking for the first time in a long time. And snowshoeing. And climbing mountains (well, most of a mountain). We even went tubing down a river and hiked through a cave. And we have a new cat and a new turtle.
I made a lot of new friends, from a writing group, a writing workshop, going to school, and the parents of my kids’ friends as well. All those new relationships mean a lot to me.
I improved as a person, in getting better habits. I did weekly piano lessons with my kids, for example. And with the added structure of going to school, my mental health improved a lot. I found better boundaries between my family life and my own career.
The small moments are often the best moments. Recognize the good you do in your life. Write it down! Share it with others!
I celebrated my life more this year, and it led to a great deal of happiness for me and my family.
(I do have many lovely pictures of my kids too, but I try to keep them a bit more private.)
At a writing group the other day, we wrote about a Christmas memory that was discordant. Christmas is often this happy time of year, where we share happy memories and miracles, but we explored the other end of Christmas, when that expectation of happiness is instead met with difficulty.
One writer shared about when she no longer believed in Santa Claus, transitioning from childhood to being a teenager. The presents weren’t fun anymore, and her parents gave her a doll that she hated.
Another writer shared about a large cousin present exchange, and the strong feeling that she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by being disappointed. She cared more about others’ feelings than herself.
And then there was a heartbreaking story of a family trying to find happiness on Christmas morning–but instead of seven children, there were only six.
I thought about the Christmas not too long ago when we moved on Christmas Day. I made frog eye salad because I make it every Christmas. We put it in a cooler and we pulled over to a rest stop and ate frog eye salad for Christmas lunch with plastic forks, straight of the bowl. It snowed the day, hard, and we got into our house late and exhausted.
There was another Christmas, a few years before, where I was dealing with mental health issues and did not have a handle on my emotions. I was overcome with anger and ended up throwing the frog eye salad in rage–it landed everywhere, even on the Christmas tree.
Why was I making frog eye salad for Christmas when it was tied to so many difficult times?
Because I really like frog eye salad. It’s a weird combination of custard and acini di pepe pasta and canned fruit and whipped topping. Yes, I’ve eaten it during hard moments, but it still tastes good.
Sometimes Christmas doesn’t need to be the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes it’s hard and difficult. Sometimes we cry more than we laugh. That’s okay. No Christmas is really perfect. We’re all still people trying our best and failing a lot. But we still keep trying. In all that trying, it’s okay to just let life come in all it’s imperfections.
And if you are going through hard times, it’s good to remember that your favorite food can still taste delicious.
A while ago, I got some brutal feedback from people in two different areas of my life. I think one person said, “I don’t want to be discouraging, but . . .” He then proceeded to be say something very discouraging.
It was hard to hear. To be honest, some of the feedback I didn’t even fully understand, making it that much more difficult. I’m not even good enough to understand what I’m doing wrong . . .
I’m not great at accepting feedback and criticism. I think I do okay, but then when it comes down to it, I want to be praised. I want to be doing a good job. I want approval. And that’s actually a good thing! Those desires help me work hard and learn.
But I’m not going to get all the approval that I want. Other people don’t need to believe in me. They might have opinions and feedback, but they think about me a whole lot less than I think about myself. They aren’t going to see everything in the way I do. And it is easy to see flaws when you are being a critic–and a lot harder to actually fix them as a creator.
I need to have a higher opinion of myself than other people do. Because believing in myself helps me keep going–it gives me the optimism to keep trying, over and over again.
So what do I want to do when I receive criticism?
First, I cry if I want to. Crying is a good response, actually. I let myself respond emotionally and accept and validate what that response is.
Second, I want to give myself some time to process. My first reaction is filled up with emotion, which is fine, but I need to let those emotions subside before I go on to the next step.
Third, I decided whether I am going to accept the criticism or not. Sometimes I decided I’m going to make changes, but sometimes I decide that I can ignore what they are saying.
Finally, I start to make changes. Often, those changes don’t need to be major. Minor adjustments can make a huge different.
And I want to try to avoid getting angry or upset at the person giving criticism. I can blame them very easily. I can say that they don’t know what they are talking about. I can say that they are wrong and insufficient. But this way of thinking doesn’t help anyone. I can choose to ignore or accept what they say, but either way, I don’t need to judge them for their words. That just adds insult onto injury.
I know that I will receive a lot of feedback. And I want that feedback to help accelerate my own growth and learning. But it’s good to accept that feedback will always be hard to hear, and to make sure I give myself the time and space to deal with it appropriately.
Can I run away from the commands of the Lord? Can I flee when it is too hard? Board the ship, pay the fair, sail away.
But the Lord is there, in the wind on the sea, in the violence of the storm. Even when I sleep, the Lord is there.
I cannot awake and pray for deliverance without facing my own shame.
Throw me into the sea. The Lord found me on this boat, and I cannot run from him, and I will face the stormy waters.
Off the boat, and into the Lord’s hands. I do not deserve to live.
But the Lord saves me in the belly of a fish, and in the deep I pray to him: I remember you, Lord.
Onto dry ground, go and do what the Lord commands–but I do not yet understand his compassion.
For the Lord saves even those who run from him.
At a writing conference, I asked a writer about advice on networking. And she said to treat everyone as your equal.
There are certain situations you get it that have a hierarchy: at a writing conference, there are presenters and attendees. In college, there are teachers, graduate students, and undergraduates. Often, you are surrounded by people who are not on the same plane as you are.
But treat them as your equal anyway.
Treat the grocery store clerk as your equal. Treat your students as your equal. Treat your bosses as your equal. Treat your children as your equal. Treat random strangers as your equal.
When you start to really love other people and see their worth, you can make better connections with them. Your conversations are fuller and more vibrant. You gain empathy and can help others who need it.
You can learn together. You can feel like you are on the same team. You can find better confidence in yourself and better ability to encourage others.
Treat everyone as your equal.
You might have some big barriers and walls in your way to accomplish what you would would like and what is right. In your relationships, maybe there is contention and incompatibility that seems insurmountable. In your goals, maybe you have bad habits that always seem to ruin your productivity. You might simply not have the right opportunities. You might not have enough time. You might feel like there is no way to make this work.
But sometimes instead of spending the effort to overcome those huge obstacles, you need to step around them instead.
It’s good to have a destination in mind. You need to determine what you really want: greater peace, greater love, unity, productivity, achieving certain goals.
But then realize that there might be a unique pathway to bet there that makes everything a lot easier.
It’s really hard change certain habits: but can you still achieve my goals with your bad habits intact? Maybe it’s okay to stay up late or watch movies or get distracted–how can you work around those thing instead of having to eliminate them?
It’s really hard to stop arguing with someone all the time: but can you still build up a loving relationship, even with those disagreements? Maybe it’s okay to fundamentally disagree about certain things–and instead look at what you have in common and build on that.
Sometimes you might have to adjust your end goal a bit, but you can still hold on to the things that really matter to you.
And when you have enough hope in that destination, that hope can help you see a way around obstacles that appear insurmountable. When you are determined to make things better, you can see different pathways that you didn’t notice before.
This is how I make all of my major life decisions, and most of the minor ones too. Where I went to school. Who I married. When to have kids. When to go back to school. Where to live.
It just feels right, so I do it. I have reasons. I list out reasons, but I really don’t make measured decisions from a pro and con list at all. There are usually always reasons for and against, and it’s pretty much impossible for me to measure them properly. I can’t tell the future, after all.
Sometimes, I feel like I do things without ever making a decision at all. Why did I end up going to graduate school? It just sort of happened. I didn’t really make the decision when I applied, and yet I had already made the decision when I accepted. I have no idea when I made the decision. At some point, I just became accustomed to it.
But then again, I think I do know when I made that decision: there was a moment when I felt like going to graduate school is what God wanted me to do–that it was the right thing for me. It was a feeling, and I had to submit myself to that and let go of my own reasons.
I trust my feelings more than I trust my mind. My mind is often mixed up in indecision, but if I pay attention to what I feel, I can better know the right way forward.
Marriage isn’t equal and fair. It’s not about two people doing 50% of the work so it all gets done.
In many ways, my husband is better than I am. He can have more energy, and can work longer and harder than I can (particularly in physical things). He remembers to rotate laundry and he can work a full day and then be home and still clean up and do dishes.
It’s easy to compare and measure myself against my spouse. Sometimes I come out ahead: I am doing all the planning and organizing and making sure that things no one really notices get done. Sometimes I come out behind: I can get super distracted and unfocused, and my energy runs out earlier than the day does.
But we both have our strengths and weaknesses, and instead of worrying about fairness and equality, we both just need to jump in there, put in 100% effort, and then try to smartly divide who is doing what.
In economics, there is this concept called comparative advantage. Simply put, just because one person is better at doing something than another person doesn’t mean that they need to do that thing all the time. There are opportunity costs too–if I’m better at doing housework, and spend all my time doing housework, than I don’t have the opportunity to go to school or spend time with my children. And even though I may be better at both housework and playing Yahtzee at my kids than my husband, it’s better if we divide and conquer a bit more cleverly. If he doesn’t love playing games, then it makes more sense if he does the dishes and I play Yahtzee (and I ignore the fact that I don’t like how he loads bowls into the dishwasher).
If he is better at fixing up cars and he’s better at home renovation, he doesn’t need to do all of that. I can work on the home renovation even if I’m not as good doing it as he does, because that gives him time to do things that I can’t even fathom how to do.
As I’ve gone back to school, we’ve had to shift over responsibilities for a while. I was feeling particularly exhausted and realized that I was placing a lot more burdens on my shoulders than I needed to. I did not need to be solely in charge of the house, the children, and all my schoolwork. Since I go to school every day and Dillon works from home, it made more sense to shuffle things around. He is now in charge of rotating laundry, cleaning the bathroom every other week, and cooking about half the meals. And I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not doing everything.
It can be really hard to divide up responsibilities right, but instead of aiming for fairness, just aim for works best for you in the season of life you are in. Keep adjusting as needed. Keep expectations low and try the best you can. And if certain things don’t get done, that’s okay. No one knows the last time you washed your bedding or dusted your lights fixtures, and it’s okay if it’s been a while.
We don’t know as much as we think we do. We are often mistaken and wrong and we need to rethink some of our beliefs a lot.
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about uncertainty and correcting beliefs. But I also have been reading and thinking about commitment too. Sometimes we want to commit to beliefs, and hold to those beliefs, even when other people say we’re wrong.
I think it’s a miserable existence to only believe in what is supported with a proper meta-analysis and scientific consensus. Science can be great. But science is not the most important way we gain belief.
I believe there is truth, truth that is not relative. But I truth cannot always be discovered through the scientific process. There are many ways to discover truth, and to hold on to truth.
We learn through living. We learn through relationships and connection with others. We learn with experience. We learn sometimes through faith and action and seeing what works out and what doesn’t.
I want to be open to new beliefs, to updating what I think is wrong. But I am also committed to certain beliefs–beliefs on how to be a good person, how to raise my family, and how to live my life. Those aren’t the sort of beliefs I want to rethink over and over again. I just want to hold on to them and keep trying to live up to them.
I pray every morning and every night, and my prayer is often that God can guide me and that I can hear Him in my life. There are moments when I feel something that cannot be adequately explained except to say it is divine, that it comes from a power outside of myself. That is what I am committed to. That is what I believe.
So I will be a skeptic, sometimes, and I will be a scientist, sometimes, and then most of all, I will be a mother and a wife and a daughter and a friend, and my commitment to the most important beliefs will guide me to become an even better version of myself.