So, I’ve been writing a dissertation, and I am finally starting to enjoy the experience. I have read through the theorists that ground my work1. The research is (mostly) coming together, and I am absolutely savoring the experience of just sitting down and writing. The chapters are starting to really flow, and I am looking at having a full first draft completed by the end of the year. In fact, I am behind on other important work2 because I have been enjoying the process of writing so much.
I think a good portion of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I have made a conscious effort not to allow feelings of guilt or lack to limit me. For a while, I did. I was trying to fit everything in and working very hard to please everyone. I was miserable, but I really didn’t want to face the alternative. It is amazing how difficult it can be to acknowledge and affirm our priorities to other people. This is especially true when those priorities mean that people will be disappointed or upset.
For me, that has been the real benefit of the dissertation. It is a consuming project. It demands that I set priorities. Now, to be sure, it is not the only project I am working on, but the amount of effort it requires has forced me to make serious choices about what I am going to focus on. This is where the other real benefit of the dissertation comes into play; it is a personal project. No one else is really working on this. It is mine. It is amazing how freeing that is. The dissertation gives me, for the first time in a very long time, the excuse to say I am going to focus on my project.
Those choices have forced me to confront my own project management demons. I have a real problem with potential, I love it. Someone comes to me with a project or an idea and, if I can see potential, I want to make it a reality. I dive in, put in work, and push myself to make it happen. I don’t take ownership, though, because it’s not my idea. I too easily take on the worker-bee mindset and just get to work assuming that the others are as invested in the project as I am.
Quite often, that is not the case and that is absolutely okay. Ideas are just ideas. Someone may have a great idea, but that doesn’t mean they have the bandwidth or even the interest to see that idea through. They have other priorities too. Sure, they may get excited and caught up the in moment, but they aren’t really invested in an outcome. The problem is mine. I get excited, and I don’t stop to consider those people. Instead, after a time of intensive work and then nothing, I get frustrated and the project just fades away.
I was complaining to a friend about this not too long ago. I have felt like my entire academic career has led to a slow decline in my project management skills. He thought I was too focused on applying business pressure to an academic context and there is some real truth to that, but not entirely in the way he thought. I have spent most of my life working on other people’s projects. In fact, I made a pretty solid career working on, planning, and executing projects for other people. In so doing, I placed my projects last or simply didn’t work on them. I needed to learn how to focus on my projects and make them a priority, and I am still trying to learn that.
I think, finally, that I may be moving in the right direction. Facing the dissertation and the potential risk to very personal projects related to my own mental and physical well-being, I am absolutely setting my priorities. If I am working a project, it has to have a definitive outcome. It has to have a path to that outcome, and I have to have a sense of ownership in it. In all my years of working, I actually have a chance to work on my own projects and see them through. That is just amazing.