So how exactly does The Grad School Series (I, II, III, IV and V) fit in with the purpose of this blog?!
I don’t know many Indian-American women who pursued higher academic studies in fields that weren’t medicine, business or law. That’s probably because many have felt the strong family pressures to “color within the lines.” There are few who have strayed from the path most traveled and we have had to make our way through trial and error, without the benefit of knowing lessons learned from predecessors. As a result, our progress and successes have been slower to reach.
I wonder how many of the roadblocks I’ve faced could have either been avoided or better prepared for if I had the knowledge beforehand. I wonder if I would have been more courageous and empowered with that knowledge. I can’t change my past but I can share what I’ve learned with the hope that it may give YOU the wisdom and courage to follow your dreams, whatever they may be.
Lesson #1: Always CC your superiors when dealing with a hostile co-worker, they’re more likely to pretend you exist that way. Okay, probably not the most profound lesson learned from this entire ordeal but still important. Office politics exist and can’t be ignored. Everyone at work has responsibilities and that includes having standard communication skills. Unless they are on vacation or are otherwise known to not have access to their email, they need to respond within a reasonable amount of time, preferably within 48 hours but no more than a week. Barring extenuating circumstances, if you send a series of emails that are ignored, it’s safe to say you’re dealing with a hostile worker. In order to make sure your responsibilities are met, CC your supervisors. It’s amazing how quickly hostile co-workers respond to that! Note: Be careful about using BCC; I’ve never done it and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really know what you’re doing.
Lesson #2: Just because your parents disapprove of your choices it doesn’t mean your choices are wrong. Not everyone’s family just walked off the set of Full House and I have yet to meet a set of Indian parents who know how to raise their children without hindering their emotional and psychological development. I plan to write more on this later, but the bottom line is: you have a right to dream of a life that may not coincide with what your parents want for you. Unfortunately, their ingrained disapproval of anything that falls outside of their narrow vision for you instills a sense of risk aversion that may stay with you into adulthood. In fact, that fear may stunt you from being able to ever turn into a fully formed adult, lacking confidence to make any life-changing decision without their approval. No one knows what’s best for you better than you do, not even your parents no matter how close you may be.
Lesson #3: Have a strong support team. No one said standing up for our dreams was easy! When we’re raised to believe that disappointing our parents is a cardinal sin, it’s understandable that we’re not going to have the strength to follow our dreams. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who do believe in you and want to see you succeed at your goals. They can be friends, teachers, counselors, religious leaders…anyone who can be that pillar of strength.
The first time I set a boundary with my dad and didn’t back down was terrifying. When I told my counselor about the experience, I was bawling my eyes out. She sat there and kept telling me what a great thing I did and how amazing I was and I just kept crying and stared at her like she had five heads. “My father is unhappy with me, how could this be a great thing?!” I asked her. She said, “Priya, of course he would respond in anger because you’re not doing what he wants you to do.” She made me realize that, whether consciously or unconsciously, my dad was trying to manipulate me with fear, obligation and guilt to change my mind. I also had enough confidence in myself and my end goal to know that I couldn’t back down because the alternative would have been misery. Last but not least, I had a strong core of friends who were there for me, understood my troubles and encouraged me when my family would not. I would not have succeeded without them.
Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid of failure. I don’t care what your family says, your lives will not end because of failure. Taking a risk gives us an opportunity to learn about ourselves, about what fits for us and doesn’t, and ultimately helps us determine boundaries that are essential to becoming fully functioning adults. Failure actually leads you closer to success! If something isn’t working for you, leave it!
I’m not saying bail ship the first time things get tough. In fact, this leads to …
Lesson #5: If you’re going to put up with insanity, the goal better be worth it. I stuck with grad school through three rounds of turmoil, giving it repeated chances.If the goal of having a PhD had been my dream, then I would have stuck with it despite the hardship. But all the troubles I experienced made me realize that I did not want the degree enough to stay there. It wasn’t working for me and was wasting my time from pursuing my real dreams. While I may have “failed” at obtaining my doctoral degree, I succeeded in taking control of my life. I removed my parents’ control over the direction my life would take and liberated myself to do anything my heart desires. That’s a pretty awesome “failure” to me.
Lesson #6: Listen to your gut. I had to defy a lot of people to get to where I am right now – faculty, parents and colleagues. There were a lot of people trying to convince me that I would regret my decisions. But I’ve always had strong gut instincts. When I thought about staying in the program, I’d feel nauseous and sick but when I thought about leaving, I felt a wonderful calmness and liberation. No amount of logic and reasoning can counter my gut feeling and I’m the one who has to live with the consequences. I’d rather deal with consequences of decisions that felt right for me at the time. As a result, I’m a stronger person because I know myself, my boundaries and kept my integrity that will touch all aspects of my life, consciously and subconsciously.