“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said.

“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said…
Little do they know, I already cry a lot.

“You’re going to be stressed,” they said…
I have had a stress-related eye-twitch for most of my life.

“It’ll break you down,” they said…
Even when broken, I always land on my feet.

“You’re going to cry a lot,” they demanded.
And so, I continue to cry.

In what feels like 1/3-part care and concern, 1/3-part projections of self-doubt, and 1/3-part hazing, the PhD journey has commenced, and I am deep in the waters of my first semester as a doctoral student. In true Michael manner, I jumped in with an Olympic diving attempt that probably looked more like a belly-flop than a gold medal dive. Loosely proud of my belly-flop, I am making new commitments and reevaluating the way in which I maneuver through this journey.

“One day at a time,” they said.
I nod ferociously, leaning into the comfort provided by a one-day-at-a-time mantra.

In addition to being a full-time student, I hold a graduate assistantship and also teach a class for first-year students interested in learning more about leadership (Introduction to Student Leadership). During my first class session, I promised the students we would take one week at a time. Selfishly, a few dozen assignments lurked over me.

I ended the first session and opened the syllabi for my classes, attempting to map out each assignment in my calendar. As I planned ahead for what seemed like a semester of tears, stress, and brokenness (“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said), my inner self-preserver begged, “Resist! Resist! Resist! Slow down!”

I paused, laughed, and whispered aloud, “How do you eat an elephant?”

How do you eat an elephant?

Huh?

Several years ago I had a colleague who completely unraveled during a staff meeting. They were frustrated and overwhelmed. They were grappling with the, “we should be doing more, and with more time and resources,” dilemma that new and para-professionals often unearth in their first few years of working in education.

Following our highly contentious staff meeting, I invited the colleague into my office and engaged the, “what’s going on,” conversation. Through some tears and voice-raising, it was clear the individual was trying to do the best they could with what they had, while making meaning of the politics involved on our campus and in our office.

Drawing on an old adage I used most of my young adulthood, I quickly asked this colleague, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Frustrated, they replied, “I don’t know. I can’t with your metaphorical BS, right now. What’s your point?”

We sat in silence for several minutes, and I gently asked one more time, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Both exasperated and curious, the colleague finally responded, “I don’t know…one bite at a time?”

“One bite at a time.”

One bite at a time. 

Flash forward several years later, my calendar, syllabi, and heart all out on the table (figuratively and literally); I was having my own, “how the heck do you actually eat an elephant,” moment. If I have learned anything one week in, it’s that keeping up is the only option – for better or for worse. One bite at a time.

“You’re going to be stressed,” they said…
“It’ll break you down,” they said…
“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said…

With tears in my eyes, I agree. And in courage, I move forward. A pinned, internal, one-day-at-a-time, banner flies viciously in my brain. And I pause, forced to breathe in a philosophy that has guided much of my work over the past few years.

“They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
–Mexican Proverb*

Universe, build me up.

A seed to be watered,
Michael

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*”They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds,” is often attributed to a Mexican Proverb, as well as Dinos Christianopoulos. Either way, powerful and important connection, and one that continues to center me.

7 thoughts on ““You’re going to cry a lot,” they said.

  1. I have heard that the Master’s degree is a sprint and the PhD is a marathon. If it is a marathon, then you have already done all the “training” to get ready for it. You have studied, worked in the field, read the literature, given presentations, learned and learned. Now you just have to run the marathon. It’ll be long and hard and you’ll question why you decided to do it and you may want to give up. However, the end will eventually come if you just keep going. We will all be here cheering you along the way.

    Sincerely and lovingly,
    A friend who decided her terminal degree was the MSEd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a beautiful way to look at this, LouAnna! Thank you for the metaphor, and thank you for always believing in me. You are totally right. The marathon is not easy, but when you are trained and ready, you just buckle down, and get through it. This is me, starting the process. Ah! Love it. Love you! Thanks for all the good vibes! Hugs!

      Like

  2. I truly needed this! Struggling keeping up with my Graduate Assistantship, 3 orientation classes, and my 3 classes. I feel like I have been trying to eat the elephant whole. I appreciate that reminder that you can only go one bite at a time. Thank you Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so happy to read this tonight for a few reasons. One, I was experiencing moments of doubt today in my PhD class, feeling that “am I good enough?” “can I do this?” and all that jazz. But also, for the elephant comment. I have a supervisor who is feeling quite overwhelemed and I’m trying the whole managing up thing. I may try your line. Looking forward to more of your journey!

    Liked by 1 person

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