Doing things our own way

My UCAS personal statement began:

We are all different, it is the one thing we have in common

*Cringe*. It is so incredibly cliché, but like most clichés, it’s also very true. The last few years in academia I have become aware of a number of differences that at first made me feel a bit like an alien, or at least someone on the sidelines that perhaps didn’t ‘fit in’. And that is exactly true, I didn’t ‘fit in’ to the ‘typical’ and I’ve learnt that is perfectly ok, and I’ve actually come to love it.

I first noticed this during my Master’s degree, when after lunch I would take myself away to the library to get an hour of reading in, or to tweak the last few parts of an assignment, whilst others from my course would stretch their lunch break out as far as possible. And good for them! But it did make me feel slightly anti-social and like I wasn’t *in* with them. The reason for my using every possible hour in my day? Admittedly I was working far too many hours on top of a full-time course, but I also wanted to leave my work at uni at the end of the day, and not have to pick it up until I got back the next day. And I stuck by it, even through teasing (yes at 22/23 years old) about being a ‘geek’ (and we all know how I feel about that!). The most important lesson I learnt? It worked for me. At the end of the day, I am the one doing the work, and I want to do it in a way that is most efficient, accessible and doable for me.

Having now begun a PhD I am surrounded by colleagues who do things differently to me. That is absolutely no bad thing, I can see that and respect it. But there are still times when I wonder whether we’re doing the same PhD at the same university in the same department. In particular I used to question my working hours. I’ve learnt that shorter hours at a high intensity are most productive for me. Twelve hour days slogging over my desk reducing my productivity by the hour – not so much. But for some people – that works! It’s been a challenge and a learning curve to look at my watch, see its 3pm and listen to my body saying ‘I’ve had enough, I need to go home now’ when everyone else is still beavering away a their computers. Or to realise that my brain is tired and even though there is a list of things to be doing, I need a lazy morning before getting into it,

Around the beginning of November last year I was starting to feel like I was running out of steam and I had a pretty intense period of recruitment and data collection coming up. I made the decision to allocate a day off per week (on top of weekends) in order to have time to do things that were fun, or to just catch up on things at home (the boring stuff like washing and cleaning). I knew that it was exactly what my body needed, it was a relief to know I had that time aside to rest and recoup, but it was very challenging to not feel lazy or like I was skiving or like a fraud. I didn’t need to justify that time off, but I found myself trying to do so. A genuine, consciously taken day off, because you need it, is reason enough.

I guess what I am saying is that we all work in different ways. Our minds, our bodies and our lifestyles are all incredibly different – life would be boring if they weren’t. We all have our own projects, our own relationships and our own personal stuff to deal with and it can be really refreshing to see someone doing things their own way. Breaking the mould of how things are ‘supposed’ to be done. Approaching things in a way that respects themselves, puts their health and well-being before anything else.

And to be the person doing that? It’s incredibly empowering to do things your own way. To trust that you are making decisions based on what is truly best for you. Your body, your mind, your emotions, your energy, your motivation – in any given moment. What works for one person might not necessarily work for another. It takes time and practice to get into the flow of knowing how you work best, but you must have the courage to go against the grain and risk being judged. Ultimately though, the most judgement probably comes from ourselves, based on expectations and ‘shoulds’ that we’ve picked up along the way. Just because everyone else is marching along doing things the same way, doesn’t mean that you have to as well.

Is there something you are doing right now, whether it be at work, in a relationship or personally that you are doing simply because you feel like you are ‘supposed to’ or ‘should’? Is there an unspoken rule that you are following and that you want to challenge? Is there a part of you that knows better, a part of you that wants to try something different? I urge you to follow that call.

We gain nothing from doing something a certain way to avoid judgement or to fit the grain, except often feeling worn out, fraudulent and generally rubbish. What about doing things our own way and feeling so good doing them that we couldn’t care less about being judged or breaking the mould? We might even become proud of doing so.

Until next time 🙂

P.S. I’m really pleased to let you know that I am now available for speaking at events on request. Please check out the details on my website and get in touch if you are interested in arranging something. Testimonials to come soon.

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