“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
This phrase is hand-written on a small card that I carry around in my wallet every single day. Despite its ubiquity in my life, this is a lesson that I am still learning.
This past week, during my week off from work, I got a lot of tasks both big and small done. One of the major tasks was cleaning out my office at work. Over my two years at Michigan, I accumulated quite a lot of stuff there. Between textbooks, random office supplies, and class notes, I now have 5 boxes sitting in my car.
Of course, I threw away a lot of things too. This was difficult for me; I have a hard time letting go of anything that has memories attached to it, even if the memories were bad ones. But in cleaning out my office, I decided to embrace the above quote and let go of anything that only served to make me feel bad about myself. Into the recycle bin went notes from classes I didn’t enjoy and drafts upon drafts of grants I didn’t receive and essays my advisor disliked. Since I am now done with grad school, I no longer have a reason to keep any of those things. Speaking of being done with grad school . . .
While I consciously made the decision to leave grad school, I should be honest with my blog readers about one big fact: my former advisor also asked me to leave his lab and consequently the program. By the time he finally approached me about this, I had already decided to leave (mostly due to conflicts with my former advisor about expectations, direction, and research interests). Even though I am happy about my decision, being reminded about my former advisor and his lack of support still stings. Therefore, the most important thing I recycled was the sheet of comments from him about my progress in the program. In a previous time, I would have saved this “for posterity.” After all, that sheet of comments does, in some way, represent where I’ve been. But as I came across the sheet while cleaning up my office, I realized that the comments only serve to make me feel awful about myself. They are not a true reflection of the person I know myself to be, and keeping the comments was allowing them to have power over me; I allowed the comments to make me feel inferior. By getting rid of the hurtful comments, I am taking away permission for those comments to make me feel inferior. I am now one step closer to healing and moving past the negative aspects of my grad school experience.
It is important to recognize that this is a process. I doubt I will ever reach a point where negative comments or sad memories cannot pierce my impenetrable armor. In fact, I don’t mind being a little soft; it’s part of being a perceptive human. But I am working toward a space where I acknowledge negativity, understand it, and move on with life without letting the negativity bring down the person I know I truly am.