I have generally simple tastes. A good cup of milky tea, a new book, painted nails…things that aren’t too hard to come by. People always say a good cup of tea can fix anything, which I’ve generally found to be partially true- it may not fix my problem, but it certainly wont make it any worse.
I’ve had a bit of a time of it lately (as evidenced by recent postings on my health) so when my internal progress review with my department came around, I was fully prepared to be filled with an overwhelming disappointment in myself that I wasn’t meeting my own goals and expectations. What I didn’t expect is that the conveyor of my review would give me exactly what I needed to hear in five little words: do what makes you happy.
Not all the tea in the world could have made me feel the way that phrase did. I hadn’t realised until that moment, but I wasn’t doing what made me happy. In fact, it had been some time since I focused on my happiness versus to-do lists and deadlines and things that I felt had to be done versus things I wanted to do. I never expected that at 25, I would have to re-learn what made me happy.
I chose to do my PhD as a self-funded student, not because I have money to do so (far from it) but because I genuinely loved the topic I chose, and had the chance to work with supervisors who inspired me. Somehow, over the course of a year, I’ve let that joy and excitement for my topic dissipate as the stress over finances, health, and research roadblocks, compromise my sanity. Whereas I was once the studious planner, following my own deadlines and schedules to a T- I now struggled to respond to emails within a week, or meet any sort of deadline set by myself or my supervisors. It had went from bad, to worse before I could blink, and my happiness was the last thing on my mind as I scrambled to regain some composure of the mess that had become my life.
I’ve been told, repeatedly, that the PhD is not your life. The PhD is in your life for a short window of time, and then you go on living as it becomes a thing of the past. Despite hearing this from everyone around me, it never really took the edge off how desperately I felt the need to succeed and push through the nights, working myself into fainting spells and brain fog. But the loss of my happiness? That stung. What was the point of it all if I wasn’t happy- if I lost my joy not just in my topic but in the simple things in life?
So here I am now- finding my happiness again and feeling better than I have in a very, very long time. I am currently sitting on a train, watching the lake district flash by as I make my way home after a couple days in London. I planned parts of this trip some time ago, but as it became clearer what I needed it to be, the other pieces clicked into place. My primary objective was to make this a mini-research trip- to visit an exhibition I’ve been anticipating for awhile. As I planned this ages ago, I got a steal on some first-class rail tickets (no this is not my norm, but I am totally living right now!!) and booked an AirBnB that I saw had a desk in the room so I could work…but that plan changed. Instead of spending my 48-hour window in the city just visiting the exhibition then tucking away to write- I was on a mission to have fun. I saw the Lion King. I had tea at Fortnum and Mason. I bought too many books (not all having to do with my PhD). I saw parts of the city I had never been to and people watched as I sat stuffing my face with macarons. I woke up at 6am to do a fitness class in the city. I spent the better part of three hours marvelling over the exhibition I was so excited to see. I was happy.
Everyone gets enjoyment out of different things in life. For some, it’s hillwalking. For others, it’s movie nights with friends. I forgot what it was that lit me up from the inside-out- what sparked my imagination and peaked my curiosity. I’m thankful to have been reminded to pay attention to my happiness, as it is the key ingredient to success and fulfilment. A good cup of tea is only the surface.
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