Some notes on the transcription…

I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.

I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.    

You can find the full interview here: https://thephdliferaft.libsyn.com/

Emma  

So thank you so much for being here. I’m gonna do as I always do and let you introduce yourself and and your PhD journey which as you said was was a while ago now, but I think it’s always the sense of looking back on that time also can bring particular perspectives and what you remember about that experience. So tell us about your journey.

Mandy  

I think my journey had a lot of unexpected twists and turns because I was coming as a graduate student from Canada, I moved to the UK. So I was in a although it was an English speaking country to another English speaking country, but there were a lot of cultural nuances. There were a lot of things that were different. So it wasn’t just starting a PhD journey. It was all of the how do I get a place here? How do I get a bank account? What are all the things that I need to do as a foreign student? So there were just those logistical pieces too that I didn’t anticipate would take so much energy and it was also quite exciting. There was also the upside of being in a completely new country, different people, different accent, all of that. And the journey itself was challenging. It was exciting. There were a lot of you know, it’s a very typical kind of Disney adventure where there’s high highs and low lows and you come out the other end and you know, the as the curtain falls it it all works out in the end, but I think there were certain things I didn’t anticipate I thought it was going to be very structured. I thought it was going to be very straightforward. It was, as I said, I’ll let you guide me here but it was how deep you want to go into this. But there were a lot of unanticipated twists and turns and it really required an iteration of myself a new level of being in myself that I didn’t anticipate.

Emma  

Yes, see, this is the thing I always say PhD is a personal development project. And you get the thesis as a bonus, and people don’t expect that sense as us so beautifully said this is kind of this this iteration of yourself a way in which you need to show up in a different way. Is was there anything particularly around that that you can can reflect on now or remember from from those changes that came about?

Mandy  

I think a lot of it was also learning how I work. Yes. I think if it’s something that you’ve come from a very structured environment, where it’s like read these chapters and answer these questions, all of a sudden, urine terra incognita, where it’s like, okay, just begin and come and see me in a month. So it’s very challenging not to be swept up by all of the many, many shiny distractions along the way and to actually start to create your own structure and to identify what good looks like. So I think what ultimately I learned some of this the hard way, because I flapped a lot at the beginning. But I think part of this journey is also learning how to structure your own time. So one of the things that I learned that was helpful was the compounding effect of boring basics. I think it’s so seductive. When you start a PhD program, you think, Oh, this is going to be so exciting and so glamorous and and some of it is, but most of it is incredibly dull, and very unstimulating and sitting in the bowels of libraries, taking notes on books that you can literally blow the dust off of that nobody’s looked at in 17 years. So I think one has really been understanding how to get yourself to do the boring basics and not to be chasing shiny things. That was one of the really, really big learnings.

Emma  

Oh, yes. Yes, I remember expecting that. Oh, be thinking big thoughts all the time. Actually just did quite a lot of photocopying in my first year.

Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, a second thing i noticed I’ve got a couple of here if they’re helpful. So the second thing I noticed is coming in there can be this real gung ho energy. Yes, I’m going to be the best and I’m going to achieve all these things. And I think a lot of big hyper achievers over achievers tend to go on to do graduate work, because actually, most people would have said, Okay, a master’s is enough or a bachelor’s is enough. So it takes a I’m using air quotes here. It takes a special breed, to go into doing PhD work to begin with. And I think one of the things that now when I look back I wish I could give this advice aside from the embrace the boring basics. The second piece of advice I would give my PhD self is, dear Mandy, please understand were good enough is good enough. And save your excellence as the whipped cream that you put on very specific things, as opposed to every single thing does not necessarily require the same amount of attention to detail, because energy is a finite resource, even for you know, I was in my late 20s, early 30s At the time, even for a young person. So I think that would be the second thing I would say is where is good enough, good enough and where which parts of this truly require excellence?

Emma  

Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, I miss. And this leads us to the topic that we’re selecting for today around enoughness. And there’s enough myths which we’ll talk about in terms of feeling enough this in yourself but this kind of this good enoughness in the work and Absolutely. PhD researchers are likely to be those a type personalities and what what golden thoughts in terms of good enough working with good enough so that you can maintain the energy and the momentum, the PhD is a marathon and you need to be able to work through that. So let’s dive into this enoughness idea, which is something I know you work a lot with which is which is why I really wanted you to come and talk to us about it. So can you explain in explicate a little bit of round that enoughness?

I would I have a loose working definition. I’ve been studying this concept for 10 years. And if I think about all the different pieces that cohesively constitute enoughness there are so many things and I’ve kind of been putting those proverbial pieces on the dining room table like a puzzle and piecing them painstakingly together to start to see themes around this. And when I think about enoughness enoughness is a state it’s a state of mind where we are in a state of chronic and I mean chronic in a good way in this case, self acceptance in a state of self compassion. In a state of not taking ourselves too seriously because some things are too important to be taken too seriously. Not only just a PhD, but our existence on the planet to hold ourselves with kindness, compassion and levity. That is a process and it is an awakening to the fact that we are whole we are not our results in our PhD we are not our occupations that we go into later. We are not our achievements. And I think academically intellectually, we know that but actually starting to practice living from that place on a regular basis. Walking towards enoughness is really removing all of those barriers to knowing it’s actually okay for me to fail. It’s okay for me to not be good at something it’s okay for me not to know the answer. It’s okay for me not to be so overly identified with this PhD that I become brittle. And I become so scared to fail that I don’t actually open throttle and experiment with things. So enoughness is really a place it’s kind of a Northstar, that we keep coming back to this and reminding ourselves that we can have some porousness and some playability in the way that we’re showing up to something very, very serious and potentially life changing, which is doing a PhD but holding that with a lightness and holding ourselves with that same lightness as we go through that process.

Emma  

is so gorgeous, so gorgeous. This this sense of being able to have that acceptance and to be able to you talked about being able to this being scared as as kind of putting the brakes on the not going forward. sense of lightness in being able to go forward. Could you say a little bit more about that and how the kind of the opposite not feeling enough can can sabotage.

I think there’s something about really doing some inquiry and this is parallel work, in addition to the research and sitting in the bowels of the archives in the basements of libraries and all the all the data collection and everything else. It’s really, at the beginning when I sit it’s really getting to know yourself and how you work. I don’t just mean on your PhD. I mean how you work as a person. And one thing I noticed as I started going into that deep inquiry, which by the way is ongoing and as long as you have a heartbeat, that self awareness journey, I realized a couple of things I realized that I was only doing things that I was already good at and I actually ended up pursuing a degree that I actually didn’t turn out to be that interested in, because that was the top grade that I had in university. And I didn’t actually pursue my passion, which was something different. So I was pursuing things that I knew I would be less likely to fail at because my identity was so over identified with Mandy is a winner. She achieved everything that she sets out to achieve. And actually, perhaps a more interesting journey would have been to allow myself to experiment with things where maybe I wasn’t so good at it yet or maybe I would have flopped a little maybe I would have failed maybe I would have walked boldly into uncertainty and discovered something even more exciting. So I think they’re start to pay attention. What is your relationship like with failure? What is your relationship like with uncertainty? So there’s a blogger who I follow called Sahel bloom. And he says that fears are energy magnets. And this is such a beautiful phrase because if you start to think where is that zone in your research, that is partially if it was like a Venn diagram, half, one circle of the Venn diagram would be excitement and the other circle of the Venn diagram would be nervousness, and that overlapping bit is what I call nervous excitement. Go into the nervous citement in your research and also in your later in your job and in your life. That’s where the juice is, is where there’s that freeze on of, you know, something is happening here that I don’t quite know the outcome of it. That’s what I would say about fear. Fears are energy magnets go into them.

Emma  

Oh, yes, yes. And I think that this is so important in the PhD because as you say, most people arrive on a PhD because I aced it to that point, and then go oh my goodness. Now I don’t know what I’m doing because research is stepping into that unknowing and as you say, in the unknowing is all the possibilities and excitement but also massive fear. And I love this sense of fears or energy magnets and acknowledging that going there will have energy to it. But you can shift up the energy is this is what you’re saying, isn’t it in the sense of of using that energy to take you forward? And

also in the process of using that nervous excitement? Energy is I would really encourage people to to distrust their own thinking right? Often when we’re in PhD. We’re in extremely intelligent. There are people surrounding us who are extremely intelligent comparison itis is rife. And often it’s a solo sport. So there’s a lot of lone wolves doing PhDs. And one of the things I would suggest is as part of exploring how I work, not just on the PhD, but as a person. Try to get out of yourself more often. Talk to people and I’m not talking just about this as networking in the corporate sense. But explore how other we know what are other people thinking about where are they struggling? So you start to see when you have deeper conversations with other people. You start to realize, oh, it’s not just me, because we can create this whole scenario this whole story in our heads that I’m the only one who’s struggling. I’m the only one who doesn’t know what I’m doing. It can be incredibly isolating. And then those fear stories, they tend to find evidence for themselves, right? Yes. So I think once we normalize, that everybody is on a journey. Everybody is winging it. Nobody knows what they’re doing. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to produce powerful work. But it’s just we’re putting one foot in front of the other and understanding Oh, if I’m being really really hard on myself in this moment, I’m probably cannibalizing my own motivation, my own sense of self. I need to put a stop to that. And one great way to do that is to start to build a network of other like minded people who are on the journey with you. So don’t believe your own thoughts. When you think oh, I suck. I’m terrible. This is never going to happen for me. That just means your lens is focused too tightly on yourself. And I think that’s where if we can learn in that moment to put the lens outwards, connect with other people do a random act of kindness, get out of yourself. That’s how we recalibrate to get back on that journey to remember that we are enough there’s nothing that you can do. Getting your PhD, triple A star on your PhD will not make you more enough than you already are.

Emma  

Oh, we need to test take a moment for that. You know, exactly this sense of enoughness and I think that was initially kind of we made contact it was this sense of that crippling shame that people can feel I’m not enough I don’t belong here. And I just love this affirmation of you are enough. A PhD is not what’s going to make you enough. You are enough. Is there anything else you would say around that? Because I know you work with people a lot around this issue. And I say it’s crippling shame for people with with this not being enough. Well,

I think part of it is going back to it. I can’t stress that point enough. Is doubt your thinking. This voice is that yes. Telling you that you’re not enough. Most of us actually never interrogate that voice. We just move into whatever direction it tells us like a tom toms we don’t actually ever pause and say Hey, hang on a minute. Who are you? And I think that’s what I mean by disbelieving our thoughts. Yes. And starting to have a dialogue because we all have an inner critic, and you may as well meet your inner critic. Let’s put it out on the table right away Emma? My inner critic. I’ve named her she’s called judgy. Janet and judgey Janet shows up and she has an opinion she’s very she’s She reminds me a lot of Joan Collins from Dynasty. Remember that show in the 1980s visual very critical never has a kind of thing to say anytime I did something great. She’s pointing her red lacquered fingernail at me saying Well, that didn’t work. That wasn’t good. So if I understand that’s what I mean about holding it lightly. Yeah, right. If I say oh, Janet, it’s you again. All of a sudden my relationship with the shame shifts in that moment. Because I realized that’s probably some kind of programming from my childhood. That I don’t need to go into any sort of deep analysis of it, but I can disconnect from it. And I know that I probably need to step away or I need to call a friend or I need to have a cup of tea, or I need to really think am I experiencing FOMO in this moment, I’m probably experiencing the fear of people’s opinions. FOMO and how do I get myself out of myself?

Emma  

Because I am learning a new phrase and which I absolutely love the idea of people’s opinions photo that is that is going that’s going above my computer.

Because we behave that way. And when we listen to our judgy Janet’s and when we listen when we allow ourselves to be pulled into the undertone of other people’s opinions. We’re not setting ourselves up to win. Yes, we can never win. Because there will always be somebody smarter, clever, cuter, richer, more well connected. So it’s really about if I can stay in my own lane. And if I can hold it lightly, and if I can understand that I need to connect with other people and do the best that I can and I’m I’ve been chosen for this program so I can’t be a total fakie pants fraud. I must have something going for me. Yes, that self compassion piece is so incredibly important because guarantee that your inner critic will be riding sidecar with you throughout this journey. And when I talked about those Disney esque highs and lows, the lowest of the lows, guess who’s going to be poking at you in those moments? Yeah. But we forget that we also have an inner champion. And our inner champion doesn’t tend to be as vocal as our inner critic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. And if we can get some kind of a stillness practice. This has been absolutely revolutionary for me. I didn’t have this practice during my PhD, but subsequently when I went through my investment banking job, which was another major steep learning curve, having done a PhD in history, and then go on to investment banking, and then also starting my own business after I left the investment banking industry, one of the most revolutionary and the paradox is that it’s so painfully slow. It has revolutionized my life, but most of the time it’s dull and boring, is getting a stillness practice into my life. And the reason that that whether it’s a form of meditation or breathing practice, I meditate every day, sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes I miss a day I also don’t I don’t want to try to be holier than thou about it. I mean, it’s a kid there is a consistency there. But it helps me to separate myself from my thoughts. And being able to have that distance of like, Oh, I’m having a negative thought about myself. Game changer, as opposed to getting pulled by it getting stuck stuck in the undertow of this again and again. And again and then recalibrating. It’s exhausting, always bringing yourself back up when you’ve compared yourself or when you’ve gone through, you know, a shame situation. Whereas if you have a stillness practice, you start to learn that I can Oh, I notice I’m having a thought that involves shame. I noticed I’m having a really negative thought like, ooh, Judge Janet’s really having a field day. Oh, that was a good one. You can separate from it. And therefore, eliminate how triggered you get by it. And it’s a lifelong game. I’m not saying you get good at this in a year or two years. It’s it’s a long game, but definitely worth thinking about.

Emma  

I think this thing of having a very smart mind is is is a double edged sword, isn’t it because you’re, you’re brilliant, but you’re also brilliant at convincing yourself why you’re awful. And yes, you’re so this I did sense of the stillness practice as a real gift to yourself. This is this is really gorgeous. And I really hope people go and explore that idea for themselves. And I am aware of time and a half there’s so much more to say and I will have all your all your details in the show notes so people can go and find find you and find out more because you share so much wisdom on the channels and but as we finish here, I’m going to ask you, after this wide ranging conversation, a very unfair question in terms of to share a top tip or some top tips with us. So what top tip would you like to people to take away with them?

I think many high achievers need some kind of progress, to feel good about themselves. This is certainly the experience that I have with myself still. And this is something that I see in a lot of the senior executives who I coach who are in those adrenalized fast paced industries so I think there’s still some kind of a golden thread between the people that I spent time with in in Cambridge when I was there doing my PhD but also that I continue to work with now is these are very, very driven, progress oriented individuals. And I think when we’re not feeling progress, maybe we’ve started a new chapter, we’re looking at a new area, we don’t feel like we’re making any progress. That’s when that inner critic comes back and brings friends. So I think one way, one top tip is something I mentioned Sahil bloom I love his his newsletter. It’s called the curiosity Chronicle. That might be something that you look into signing up for. He has something called the 30 for 30. And what that means is if you commit to doing 30 minutes a day for 30 consecutive days, that gives you a compounded 900 minutes at the end of the day. Plus it doesn’t feel so intimidating. So when I was working on an existing chapter, I felt so intimidated to start the next chapter because it felt so much more comfortable just to keep doing and editing and moving commas because that felt like I had achieved something. Whereas I wish I would have known this because I would have spent 30 minutes while I was editing and buffing and polishing starting to work on the next chapter so that it feels low intimidation because it’s only 30 minutes, but the compound effect of that over 30 days is then it doesn’t feel so intimidating to leap. Once you’ve moved commas around enough in chapter one, all of a sudden, like oh hey, I have somewhere that I can jump to. So at that 30 for 30. And that may be completely unconnected to your PhD. Maybe you want to start exercising because you’re sitting there like a lump 12 hours a day in front of your computer, maybe it’s for 30 minutes for 30 days. I’m going to have a walk and then see how much better I feel. So I think it’s low intimidation and high compound effect that can really get your progress going. So that would be my tip. Oh brilliant.

Emma  

Brilliant. Yes. And I would also find the link for the for the Cure secret chronicle too and have that in the show notes for people to Mandy, thank you so so much for your time for these golden threads for us to follow through. Thank you so much.

Oh, it’s such a pleasure Emma. I hope this is useful to anyone listening. And

Emma  

thank you all for listening.