The most amazing thing happened to me the other day. Last week I started my PhD at the University of Western Ontario. I did my Masters degree there, and even though many of the people I knew back in 2009 were still there, it still felt a bit new and I felt out of place. For those of you who have experienced post secondary education you will know that it is a totally different lifestyle than work or playing football. Many students live off of very small budgets and ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. They spend hours upon hours reading, writing and studying. I had a few classes in which I felt totally lost and out of place. I needed a thesaurus to keep up with the conversational vocabulary alone!
These feelings were amplified during a workshop on scholarships and bursaries. I felt that convincing a committee to give me money would be something I was able to do. I’m a salesman, I can sell water to a well! I sat in my seat confident that ramen noodles was not going to be my daily dinner. I was wrong. The chair of the department presented on how to apply and made it clear to us that there were two type of applicants: those who were eligible and those who were competitive. To be eligible you have to be enrolled in school and have high grades. Check! At a PhD level, to be competitive you should be able to demonstrate a phenomenal track record in past research and your ability to have your work published. He went on to tell us that there is no point in applying if you are not competitive. Basically, all I heard was, “if you don’t have anything published, then don’t bother applying.”
My heart sank. Until that moment and hearing those words I didn’t know my heart could jump up into my throat and then slide back down to the pit of my stomach. I haven’t published a thing. I spend the last 6 years on a football field running into people, in the classroom mentoring youth, or in the boardroom coaching executives. I haven’t published a thing. That’s when the flood gates of doubt opened and my inner voice got loud: “Is this really for me” “I don’t think I’m meant to be here.” “What was I thinking in applying” “is it too late to quit?” “There is absolutely no nutritional value in ramen noodles”.
I couldn’t handle the flood so I took it to the secretary. I shared my concerns and soaked her with my grief. Then she pulled out a great bug towel and dried me off: “what do you mean?” she replied. “Look at the work you’ve done: you weren’t in a formal academic setting yet you took what you learned and what you studied, furthered it into a youth program that is all over the GTA. You started your own leadership coaching business based off what you learned during your Masters and continued to invest in that education by getting certified. Why wouldn’t any one want to fund your research. You have already proven to be a huge return on investment and someone who knows how to apply knowledge.” For all those who know me, know that I am not usually at a loss for words, but here I was with nothing to say except thanks. I gave her a hug and left saying one word to myself, “YES!” Yes, I am valuable. Yes I can do this. Yes I am meant to be here.”
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been in a crowd, situation or group where you felt like you didn’t belong? And the feeling was not because you were inferior, but because you were different. You didn’t walk the same way, dress the same way, study the same way, but at the end of the day, you did the same thing – provided excellent results. And in that comparing, judgmental mind of yours you put everyone else on the pedestal and put yourself at the bottom. In times like that sometimes you need to remind yourself of who you are and what you have done. You need to bring to the forefront of your mind all of the gifts that God has put inside of you and the obstacles he’s given you the strength to overcome. You need to simply remember who you are. In the moment it was a tough lesson to learn but it was definitely a valuable one. I may compare myself to others again, but even during that process I hope to remember who I am and the greatness inside of me so that I don’t make the mistake of belittling who I am and what I am called to be!