“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
These inspiring words are from Eleanor Roosevelt’s book You Learn by Living: 11 Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, which was published more than 50 years ago. Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was one of the earliest advocates for human rights, children’s causes, and women’s issues. Her active role in politics and public issues earned her great praise, but also criticism. Orphaned by the age of 10, Eleanor faced many challenges throughout her life. However, Eleanor Roosevelt is remembered as a great humanitarian who was dedicated to fighting for political and social change in a tumultuous age (1).
Many graduate students experience “imposter syndrome,” especially in the beginning of their graduate experience. Imposter syndrome is acknowledged as a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. These feelings may creep up when someone feels extreme pressure to achieve (2).
During my first few semesters as a graduate student, I felt as if I had been thrown into a turbulent Academic Sea without a life jacket. I had been out of school for almost ten years, and I discovered that graduate school required daily commitment to tasks and critical thinking at a new level. During this period of transition, I questioned myself to the core: Why am I doing this? I’m not smart enough to do this. What if I fail? What if I find out I’m not capable? What if I do fail and others find out I’m not smart enough? How will my family, friends, and employer view me if I don’t succeed? Through the doubt (and occasional tears), I persevered, and very soon I will graduate with an MBA.
Recently, I started thinking seriously about my cardiovascular health. With a family history of heart conditions, and the age of 30 in my rear-view mirror, I knew that I had to get moving. I had always entertained the idea of being a runner, but my attempts collided with the brick wall of my lung resistance. In the past, I had always given up. However, throughout the course of my graduate journey I have learned one very important thing: Do not be defined by your self-imposed limitations. To quote the former First Lady: You must do the thing you think you cannot do. I started running. I started with a tenth of a mile . . . yes, you read that right, a tenth of a mile. Little by little, I ran more and more. Suddenly, I could run two miles, and I realized: I am doing the thing I thought I could not do.
Graduate school pushes you outside of well-defined comfort zones. Demanding commitment, the task of pursuing an advanced degree requires that you dig deep and expand upon existing knowledge, as well as learn about new concepts. Along the way, you also learn about yourself. You begin to question what you know, and develop questions about what you don’t. You learn to consider alternate points of view, and have civil conversations with those who hold ideas differing from your own. As a graduate student, it is common to question your abilities, and truthfully, self-doubt may be the most formidable adversary to success. However, when you reach the edge of your self-perceived limitations and comfort zone, don’t give up! Keep going, and keep doing those things that you think you cannot do. Embrace the process of watching yourself grow.
- Eleanor Roosevelt Biography. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/eleanor-roosevelt-9463366
- Feel like a fraud? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx