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From PhD to Life

Don’t give in to your inner critic


My friend Lisa Munro, a fellow history PhD who works as an academic editor and writing consultant, cut right to the chase in a recent blog post. “Sticking to a writing schedule is difficult because it requires me to prioritize myself,” she wrote.

This resonates with me because – lo and behold – I’m not working on my book as much as I could be. On the surface, the reasons why are familiar. I need to update Edgar! I need to send invoices! I have to respond to that email about a speaking engagement! I’m tired; I need a break. All true, and all bullshit.

Here are some other reasons: I spend hours a week mindlessly scrolling through my social media accounts. If I didn’t, I’d have time to work on my book. I don’t plan well enough so sometimes I use up all my intellectual energy on tasks with pending deadlines and there’s nothing left for the book. If I planned better, this would rarely happen.

The truth of the matter is, writing my little book is the most important project I’ve got going. I still have a job to do and a life to live, sure, but if I’m going to move forward in a truly meaningful way, I have to write. When I don’t, I fail myself. I give into my inner critic, the one that’s really good with excuses and ideas about better things to do.

You know what’s funny? When I actually push through Resistance (hats off to Steven Pressfield), I get excited about my work. By not doing it, I build a wall of dread blocking me from enjoying myself. The more I don’t work, the higher and more fearsome the wall gets. But the wall is entirely in my mind. The way through it is to pretend it doesn’t exist and just keep walking.

That’s what I always forget.

I think what it comes down to, as Lisa implies, is that doing the work is terrifying because it means putting yourself first – your ideas, your ambitions, your goals. When you do that, you risk ultimate failure. That’s the inner critic talking, though. Our egos, like that wall, are all in our heads.

If I’m going to finish my book, I have to act as if my ideas, ambitions, and goals matter . . . if only to me. I have to act as if I matter. As if I will manifest the life I want for myself. As if it were easy and obvious to take the risks I know I need to take. Because, in a way, it is. There’s no wall. Keep walking.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. Lorraine Crean / April 30, 2016 at 16:46

    Love this. How true! Makes me want to read The War of Art again right now.