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Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Category

In the Mad Men episode “The Strategy” (5/18/2014), advertising copy chief Peggy Olson is angry and demoralized because the more experienced, assured Don Draper has suggested possible changes to her pitch for an ad. Panicky, she questions her own idea. She hates the uncertainty of not knowing whether her idea is really good or crap.

“How am I supposed to know?” she asks.

Don says, “You’ll never know.”

Peggy’s lack of confidence in her own opinion illustrates one of the series’ major themes, that is, gender issues in the 1960s. Peggy, unlike Don, is immobilized by her uncertainty and lack of confidence.  And she lacks the strategies, past successes, and self-confidence that would help her make a choice and move on.

Furious that she lacks resources and must ask for help, Peggy demands, “Show me how you think. Do it out loud.”

That an idea may be good enough does not fit with Peggy’s perfectionism. Don suggests that if it’s almost done and it’s good, then maybe you should accept your idea, but Peggy does not want “good enough”—she wants perfect.

Peggy has risen in the company from secretary to copy chief. She is uncomfortable in her own skin.  And, it is with good reason. She is routinely reminded that being a woman comes with many handicaps in business. Don’s first impulse is to show his sense of humor and his ease with the situation. He says, “Whenever I’m really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need” (Peggy smiles).  Then, Don says, “I take a nap.”  He’s telling her to step back and disengage a bit.

What Peggy needs are strategies that will help her problem solve. Grabbing the faithful yellow legal pad, Don says that the way he thinks is to “start at the beginning to see if I wind up at the same place again.”  The point is to go at your problem from a different angle, and don’t be invested in only one idea.

His process makes sense.  When in doubt, slow everything down and step away—take a nap (or go for a walk or pull weeds) and then look at the issue from a different perspective.  Don isn’t afraid of reframing the problem, and he doesn’t think there is only one possible answer for a problem.

So why am I looking closely at this scene from a television show? This scenario with Don and Peggy could happen only in the 1960s, right?  George Packer writes in The New Yorker, Mad Men presents a world that’s alien enough to be interesting as anthropology . . . and yet not entirely so. It’s still close enough to us, or we to it, that there’s a certain familiar pain beneath the viewing pleasure.”

ABC News reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay argue in their 2014 book The Confidence Code that women’s lack of self-confidence and need for perfectionism continue to undermine their success.

Are women in 2014 more susceptible to a lack of confidence than men?  If so, why? What role does indecision and perfectionism play in our writing lives?

What do you think… about Mad Men and Peggy? And, as a writer, how do you decide if your idea is any good?

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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As I sit here, waiting for our daughter and her husband to arrive for Thanksgiving, I think of all the people traveling today.  The bad weather has added an extra dose of anxiety to the trip.  Yet, we saddle up and head for home, no matter the weather.   Well, many of us do.

A cousin in Boston emailed me today to say, “It has been raining here since last night.  Traffic has been a nightmare.  Glad I am not going anywhere.”

My cousin may have the right idea.

With so much invested in the travelling, it’s likely that once we’re all gathered under the same roof, some conflicts could arise.

One dissertation client today told me that, yes, she is travelling, but once she arrives, her plan is to have two one-hour writing sessions during the holiday.  Each session will be at the beginning of her day before she becomes involved with family activities.

I asked, “Is this going to be a good holiday for you?”  And my client answered hesitantly, “I think it will be o.k.”

Maybe you, too, have a bit of concern about how this holiday will turn out.  What can you do to make it an o.k. holiday or maybe more than just o.k.?

  • Be in the moment.  Try to be appreciative of your family.  Think of one special person that you have been looking forward to seeing and either plan an outing or make an effort to ask the kinds of questions of that person that you know will make her feel good.
  • Take time out to rest or to be by yourself.  When you are physically tired or over-stimulated by too many people in one place, small things may begin to bother you.  Anticipate the need to recover before you’re exhausted.
  • Make time to walk or exercise—either with people or by yourself.  Exercise will help burn up some of those calories from the Thanksgiving dinner and will also help you generate positive feelings and a more tolerant perspective on your relatives.
  • If you are not a shopper, plan something special with a relative  in order to avoid the Black Friday shopping expedition. A museum or a park or somewhere quiet that is far from the mall.  This may be your only chance to get to know your cousins a little bit better.

Plan for a good holiday, a holiday with a few special moments that you can carry home with you, memories that might even put you in a good mood when it is once again time for a writing session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a comfortable, relaxing holiday.  Safe journeys.

And bring back a snapshot of a moment to remember.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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I’m grateful to have a wise and funny husband.  Occasionally when I’m indecisive or anxious about my writing, he’ll say, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

On a recent, blisteringly hot Saturday when I was feeling prickly because I couldn’t write worth a darn, he said, “Let’s go to a museum.” What? The afternoon had already gotten a good start, and we would have only an hour or so to walk around once we went through the heat and trouble of getting downtown. Was it really worth it?

We went, and you can bet that I wasn’t the best company for the first part of that hot trip down to the museum.

But lucky us—as we walked into Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art‘s East Building, we were met with an electric atmosphere. We had happened upon a free, intimate performance given by stars of Russian ballet: two ballerinas from the Bolshoi Theatre and two dancers from the Mariinsky Theatre.

Dancers from Russia performing excerpts from ballets

Anna Antonicheva

There on the East Building’s mezzanine, we joined a relatively small group of people in summer garb, surprised at their good fortune as they were visiting the Smithsonian.

We sat within yards of these amazing artists, closer than one could ever hope to be, as they danced for an hour in honor of the special exhibit, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music. They performed excerpts from the repertoire of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

So let me give credit to my husband for his good advice, applicable to all sorts of situations—especially to difficult moments often encountered in writing a dissertation.

Ease the pressure. Awaken your creative side and aesthetic sensibilities, or whatever your strengths are, and see what happens.  Oddly enough, doing something that at first might seem as if you are procrastinating and merely fleeing the hard work of writing can yield unexpected benefits, such as increasing your mental toughness.

Breaking open a tired writing project

When you return to your writing, you most likely will note greater mental clarity, quickness, and toughness, as well as an increased patience for your writing process. An improved mental and emotional state will help your writing come more easily.

If the perfect word, the right beginning of a paragraph, or the heart of the matter isn’t coming to you and you are twisting yourself into knots, just do something, even if it’s wrong. Doing something could even mean going to a museum. You might be surprised at what can invigorate an exhausted mind and break open a tired project.

When you have felt stymied by your writing, what breaks did you take that were particularly helpful?  I’d love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Walking up to the United States customs agent in an airport after a trip out of the country always makes me feel uneasy. Will there be something wrong?  Where should I look as the agent flips through my passport?

So I stand there, feeling awkward. Finally, the agent looks at me one more time and then, with what seems like genuine feeling,  the agent calls me by name and says, “Welcome Home.”  

Whew. I’ve passed muster, but I’m also curiously touched.  I know there’s nothing personal in the greeting.  It’s predictable that the customs agent welcomes the traveler, but I always feel a bit of emotion rising in my chest.       

I guess I belong here after all.

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio

Have you seen the movie Inception?  I got around to seeing it a few weeks ago and was particularly drawn to the ending when the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio shows the same unease I often feel as I wait to see what the U.S. agent may ask me.  DiCaprio gives a slight acknowledgment to the agent and then lowers his eyes—how are you supposed to look in this situation? And where should you look?  Finally the agent says, “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb.”

 

And the relieved and happy Cobb/DiCaprio crosses the boundary into the U.S. He’s home. Of course, he had reason to worry.  He could have been denied entrance. 

But that’s another story. 

A customs agent in the role of gatekeeper reminds me of how often we can doubt that we belong in a community or in a situation which formerly had seemed or claimed to be our home. 

The notion of home, returning home, and feeling at home in various situations goes beyond familiar settings, sentimental snapshots, or an address on a customs form. 

 

The writer’s home

Most ABD’s come to a graduate program feeling at home, challenged, but nevertheless sure that this is where they will find the opportunity, the collegiality, and the inspiration that will bring out the best in them.

Even if they had felt completely at home as they took classes or as they wrote papers for classes or perhaps even acting as teaching assistants, once the students have moved past their course work or into the dissertation process, they are too often thrown by the process and feel out-of-place as they try to finish their dissertations and earn their degrees.  

As I coach writers, I am struck by how frequently brilliant, capable ABD’s become stuck and start to feel incompetent and unworthy. 

Incompetent and unworthy

ABD’s know what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to make goals and meet deadlines and just write.  But for many ABD’s, deadlines have become counterproductive. The pressure and the isolation of trying to grind out text somehow raise such self-doubt that they start to question whether they belong in this doctoral program.  

Some compare themselves unfavorably with others who are further along in the dissertation process.  They feel such regret and, worse, they feel such shame for time wasted during the doctoral program that they’re almost paralyzed. 

Do they have what it takes to finish this degree?  The familiar situations and professors no longer seem reassuring, but rather seem to raise barriers to the extent that ABD’s start to see themselves as frauds or imposters. 

Lower the stakes

If this sounds like your situation, you could take a cue from some graduate students who have gone through periods of self-doubt and shame and have rewritten the process to make it work for them.  

Instead of focusing on the product or on finishing, focus on the present moment. Determine the block of time that you are setting aside each morning for yourself and decide what your choices will be during that time.  You can decide that you will write and that’s all, or you could have a variety of tasks to choose from, as long as you put in the time.  What is important is that you step back from the process and lower the stakes from producing something brilliant and perfect to doing something.

Ebb and flow 

The writing process will be one of ebb and flow. Some days, the writing will be crappy, and other days you might think the work you did wasn’t half bad. What is important is that you show up each day at the time you have carved out for yourself and write. Do something. And it will be good enough.

Welcome home

The block of time for your daily work is your place and your time. Rewrite the script; redesign the scenery. Make the delivery and the timing your own. This is your home place. And at the beginning of each writing session, greet yourself. I bet you would smile if you greeted yourself each morning with “Welcome Home, Mr. Cobb.”  

Warm regards,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com 
 

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Did you think you had much of your shopping done for the holidays, but now you can’t find key presents? Are you wondering where that stocking- stuffer stuff is?  In the multiple piles of boxes that you have around your bedroom and basement? Did you really buy them…or maybe not?

Did you schedule your holiday gathering for your extended family during the busiest week of December? How can you walk around the usual family dynamics at these gatherings and not get testy?

And now there are last-minute meetings or final conferences at school? And, of course, you haven’t finished your grades.

What will help this week go a little better?

1) Make sure you have all commitments (meetings, conferences, deadlines) written down in your calendar—and make sure your calendar is accessible. Too often the big things don’t go into your calendar because you know you won’t forget those, but then as you look back over your week you don’t see that you spent two hours in a meeting and three hours in conferences, and you wonder what the heck did I do with all of my time?

2) What is your 24-hour goal? Write your 24-hour goal at the top of the schedule for each day. Twenty-four hour goals are the small but important goals that you set for yourself to take action on during a 24-hour period of time. These are the non-scheduled tasks and goals that you are committed to do. One 24-hour goal may be that you will work with edits for an article or you will edit a paragraph of the dissertation chapter. Look at your calendar for the bits of open time and claim those bits of time for your 24-hour goal.

3) Don’t burden yourself with thoughts of the impossible. Block visions of the must-do lists of all that you have to do over the next three months. It sounds silly, but too often you allow yourself to think that you have to do all these things now. Then you open yourself to feeling that you are ineffective and slacking off when you’re really doing so much.

4) Don’t compare your house and relationships and work to others. Do you have the idea that there’s this perfect person who has the clean, uncluttered house, and of course it’s beautifully decorated for the holiday? The perfect person also has a spouse/partner who jumps in and cleans. The perfect one didn’t put off grading and so she isn’t sweating because now her grades are due and she is behind.

When you are overwhelmed, do you think, “Oh, so and so has it all together.  Why can’t I?” At those moments, you need that inner best friend to sneer at you and say, “Really?  Really?” If you need help in dispelling the image of the perfect person, then imagine her at her worst moment.  Image her screaming at her child. Not so perfect, right?

5)  Avoid conflicts that come up too often at family gatherings. Avoiding those conflicts takes time and planning.  If you’re the only one who brought wrapping paper and you’re in the back room wrapping gifts, how will you react when someone asks you if you’ve had a busy week? And someone will ask you that. And you know someone will ask how you’re doing on your dissertation.  Plan ahead. Are you the only academic? Or the only person struggling with a dissertation? Have a Chinese wall between you and the folks who think that what you do is odd.  Of course, you could wear a shirt that says, “Don’t ask me about my dissertation.” But if you don’t want to be quite so obvious, then have an if/then plan in place: If she says “x“, then I will do “y.” And what is “y”? Bite your tongue, smile, walk out of the room. And keep wrapping those presents. Yes, you did have a busy week.

And at the end of the week, acknowledge yourself for keeping your 24-hour goals, for imagining the mythical perfect person at her worst moment, and for smiling and simultaneously biting your tongue.

Put your feet up and be grateful that the marathon week is over.

Relax and enjoy your holiday.

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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If your goal is to work on your dissertation or your article, what gets in your way and eats up your time and energy?

Every writer can find a million more important things to do, such as watching all the episodes of the first season of Downton Abbey in one day. 

But what else derails your writing plans?

Kids?  Family?  A job?  Check, check, check.

If the derailers were just kids-family-job, you could still most likely find a bit time to write.  But there’s something else that is a wretched waste of time and energy, and it’s a frequent, even daily occurrence over which you have little control  . . . your commute!

If you have a bad commute, you have my sympathies. 

A bad commute has an intensely harmful influence on your quality of life and also on your making headway in your writing. Not only does a bad commute increase your anxiety, but it can turn you into someone you’d rather not know.  I bet you’ve seen that side of yourself when you’re stuck in traffic. 

It affects your mood and even your cognitive performance.  And those negative effects are long-lasting, affecting your ability to follow through on plans to write and your ability to focus.

Please take a minute and let me know if your commute is an issue for you, and how it affects your writing. How do you work around the stress of a bad commute and make headway on your writing?    

Hoping you’re sprinting past the barriers and writing,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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Gunter Böhmer: “Nightmare“, Indian ink drawing...

Image via Wikipedia

Most people I know speak of a recurring nightmare:

–Having to take a test you haven’t studied for

–Having to give a talk, but being unprepared

–Not being able to get to the location where your talk or test is to be given

–Feeling under great tension and wearing yourself out trying to accomplish something that you are unable to do

At some point, even if you’re still dozing, you realize it’s a dream.  And you feel incredible relief.

If you grew up in basketball state  in the U.S. or graduated from a university where basketball is a big sport, you may have watched some or all of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game a few nights ago.

The Butler University basketball team endured a nightmarish game where nothing worked for them.  It seemed as if the game would never end.

Whatever would have helped the Butler players— more preparation and practice on shooting two-point shots, less reliance on a star three-point shooter, an arena/ playing field more appropriate to the sport and the age of the players or . . . —  the Butler team lived a nightmare in full view of millions of people.

Their desperation was visible, as they played a high-stakes game that was not going to turn out well for them.

Over the years I’ve coached writers for whom the stakes are high . . . . Doctoral students who are panic-stricken at the prospect of writing the required dissertation, people who have given up their day job to write a novel, people who have made promises and commitments and still haven’t done the writing.

Some put off the writing for years, straining the good will and trust of family and spending the capital of advisors, bosses, or colleagues.  And now they are paralyzed with fear when they face the computer screen or empty page.

Writing, with its rattling chains, terrifies.

But in order for you to write, your goal is not to be fear-free.

The goal is to feel the fear and manage it. You don’t have to do what the fear says—you don’t need to flee or abandon all hope. Listen to what the fear is telling you to do and then ignore it.  Move past it.  You ignore that negative inner chatter of your being an imposter and that you don’t have what it takes. You tell yourself that you have everything you need to move forward with this work.

If you haven’t already, you will most likely someday have a nightmare of being unprepared for a test or not having written a paper (or your dissertation), but you can take the steps now that will make that nightmare nothing more than a dream.

How are you managing your fears and your goals?  I’d like to hear from you.

My best to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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