If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice at the outset of my PhD, I’d tell myself to plan a trip, to plan lots of trips. I’ve known this from the start, but it’s only my recent trip to Oban and my upcoming trip to the Isle of Mull that has really hit home how important a holiday is. This isn’t to brag, these two trips have helped me realise this because they are the first proper holidays I’ll have been on since starting my PhD and the lack of breaks hasn’t been good for me mentally or my work.
In part I haven’t travelled because of feelings of being overwhelmed, as I wrote about last week, which led to a feeling of constantly being behind from the start. When you don’t know where exactly you’re headed, what the goal looks like, it’s hard to gauge your progress and so my pessimistic side just assumed I hadn’t done enough. Being behind – at least in my own mind – meant I didn’t have time for a holiday and I’d take one when I was caught up; when I’d earned it. This led to exhaustion, sometimes illness, and often procrastination and unproductive time. In reality, I didn’t have time not to take a holiday.
On top of that when you don’t feel like you’ve earned a holiday or even a full weekend it’s hard to plan anything. Looking back though, likely when I least felt like I deserved a holiday is when I needed one the most. The feeling came from a lack of progress, which more often than not came from a lack of motivation due to exhaustion and just hitting the wall. Even the work I managed to do felt like rubbish. My brain just needed a break and recharge my batteries. For me the natural beauty of Scotland really helps me disconnect and recharge. Call it nature bathing or whatever you like, but there’s nothing like the mountains, lochs, and coasts of Scotland to put things in perspective and a contented smile on my face.
Having a trip to look forward to also did some unexpected and helpful things for me. It gave me an artificial deadline to try and get certain things done by that felt real. The weeks before my trip and now this second trip, I’m running around with a new-found energy and bit of healthy urgency to get my ducks in a row before I head off. It’s made me use my time better and procrastinate less because I can’t just do it tomorrow and I don’t want to think about it while I’m on holiday. It’s also made it easier to push that little bit harder because I know it’s not a pace I’m trying to maintain, but merely the last kick at the end. Like a wee sprint at the end of a long run to finish strong. I can push a little bit harder because I know there’s a break coming up and while I’m a bit drained starting off it’s a tiredness that feels more like the soreness after a good day hillwalking than a brutal day of manual labour in the cold.
I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences if you’re a year or two in, but as always this is a reminder as much for me as it is for anyone else: give yourself permission to take a break and take a holiday. Especially, if you’re just starting out, don’t wait till you feel on top of things. Plan regular breaks from the beginning because you’ll rarely, if ever feel truly on top of things. And be prepared, as odd as it sounds it will actually be hard to make those plans, which many people will find equally hard to believe. The reason it’s hard is because you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you’re afraid you won’t do it well or it will take too long, it’s the old imposter syndrome again. So, don’t over think it, plan a trip, and enjoy the summer!
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