Updated: Aug 26, 2022
The best way for me to answer that question is to tell you a story.
I remember the day that it happened.
I was sitting on the floor of my home office surrounded by binders of coded transcripts, poster-sized Post-it boards filled with codes and lines connecting to possible themes. I had a whiteboard to keep track of my themes and several legal pads containing any thoughts that popped into my head. My laptop was open with several tabs linked to various community college student success sites, plus paper copies highlighted in various colors. I was in the analysis phase of my dissertation research.
As I was sifting through the various documents, I struggled to remember how I developed a theory about one of the themes I discovered the previous night. I tried to follow my reasoning listed on the various notepads, but nothing made sense. I tried reverse engineering my thought process but couldn’t put a conscious thought together. I tried to write, but the words were not there. I didn’t understand any of the data that I had.
I broke down and started crying. “This can’t be happening!” I told myself. “You know this data, and you have been working with student success since 2016 with your chair. You can do this.”
But another voice in my head said, “Not so fast. You have no business doing this. You can’t, and it’s only a matter of time before they find out how incompetent you are.”
That other voice was whom I like to call ‘the little terrorist in my head. You probably know it better than imposter syndrome. In short, imposter syndrome is when you believe you are a fraud, and it is only a matter of time before others discover you are a fraud.
My imposter syndrome was so bad that I developed severe writer’s block. I couldn’t even write a sentence! I tried to break through the block and silence the terrorist in my head. My dissertation advisor was very supportive and worked with me, but the voice in my head and the writer’s block had a death grip on me. On top of that, the little terrorist voice was saying things to me that were downright abusive. I felt like I was worthless.
I took a leave of absence that semester to get back on track. Although talking to a therapist helped (and I highly recommend connecting with someone when you are in this situation), I needed help from someone who understands the dissertation journey and everything that comes with it.
Then I found Amy. Amy’s dissertation support services showed up on my Facebook feed. She coached women struggling to finish their dissertation, not for lack of knowledge or understanding of the content of their research, but for the emotional and personal roadblocks that get in the way. I attended a free workshop where she described the frustration, imposter syndrome, and loneliness I felt at the time. I signed up for a one-month group session. In our group and one-on-one sessions, she taught me to define my ‘why and how to focus positive thoughts and energy on it. I learned strategies to help me get back on track with my writing and goals. She helped me quiet the little terrorist and imposter syndrome. Thanks to her, I finished my dissertation and successfully defended it. I also felt better about myself.
Life coaches are everywhere. They can help you navigate an obstacle in your life or help you find direction in life, career, and relationships. They help you navigate stress, anxiety, and creative blocks that keep you from your goals. They help you seek clarity on what it is you want to achieve. In my case, my dissertation coach helped me address the obstacles that were getting in the way of finishing my dissertation. To this day, I still work with a life coach to keep myself on track in living my best life.
Does my story resonate with you? Are you feeling stuck? Do you have that imposter syndrome voice that prevents you from completing your dissertation? Share your story in the comments.