All of that is true, but the one thing that I’ve been missing is the feeling of triumph. All of you career students out there know that you really do have to win sometimes. Sometimes you have to do better than you expected. Sometimes you need to be told something was excellent. This is what keeps you going, keeps you thinking that maybe you really do have a contribution to make.
Doctoral programs, however, are not designed to make you feel good. They are designed to push you, to challenge you, to make you think harder and more deeply than you ever might on your own. I don’t know about other programs but in my first few weeks at McMaster Divinity College I can’t count the number of times I heard some variation of “our job is to push you.” Well, the faculty are doing their job and then some. The very best work I ever did in my M.A. is at best acceptable here. All of this is important. I need to be pushed, and as one of my friends reminds me repeatedly, I did pick this path.
But for all of that it still feels nice to win. Today I got back an assignment from the toughest marker I’ve ever sat under and it was much better than I’d expected. That felt great. Then this afternoon I presented a paper that frankly wasn’t fantastic (though the fundamental idea is, I think, great). I was challenged with some really great constructive criticism, but I also received some very kind words and some affirmation that I was going in a fruitful direction. Those things may seem like small victories, but quite frankly victories of any kind feel pretty good, so I’ll take it. Only two more significant papers left to write and I’m out of the woods until the Winter semester. Time to stop celebrating and get my head down again.