Doctorate on Fire

Approximately six months ago I was sitting on a plane, flying back to Portland after my first intensive doctorate session at Azusa Pacific University. I had learned the names and faces of 18 new classmates, and the faculty and staff of the program. During the flight I kept smiling out the window; inspired by the five students who had earned their degrees that day and by the new friends who were walking this journey with me.

Hundreds of pages of reading and writing later, I’m back on a plane headed to Portland.

This second trip has been just as much an adventure as the first. Our first week was focused on a statistics review, with a rather daunting assent at the end. We were told several times that the score on the exam / test / assessment / instrument didn’t matter. And then we heard that a very low score meant a conversation about whether this was the right time and program. Safe to say there we’re a few sleepless nights with late night cramming.

The rest of that first week included presentations by each student about their initial research proposal, which was again inspiring about the variety of possible topics in higher education. It was a great catch up method and complement to many dinners and stories about who did what, survived what, questioned what, and left what freezing cold temperatures behind (all while the sun outside kept us in the 70s or 80s).

Week two meant the start of spring classes and this time I have three to juggle instead of two. I’ve already put them all into my planner with some serious fear and trembling. Each course includes a major research project, plus presentation and other assignments along the way. Once that third syllabus was handed out, I knew that coaching would take a break this year. My Strengths-Based Research course is particularly exciting as I only had one classmate. I have to develop a strength-based program or curriculum, and at this point intend to create a Learning Community course focused on strengths and service for sophomores. Although I have no idea where to start, my mind keeps spinning happily about the potential product.

One other adventure from the trip deserves mention, but first an assignment for you my reader: Google “Glendora fire January 2014”. I’ll wait…In case you don’t know, my school is in Azusa, CA and the hotel I lived at for two weeks was in Glendora, CA. Yep, that Glendora. On Thursday morning I got up early with a crazy idea to walk to Starbucks and then get a ride into class. I had a new book to read so I wasn’t paying a ton of attention to my surroundings. After a few blocks I noticed the clouds in the air and marveled that I was seeing some LA smog. And I began to feel warm, but assumed it was just the walk with a jacket and heavy bag. It was not until I noticed ashes on my sleeve that my eyes went back to the cloud and slowly followed it over to the hills beside me that were literally on fire. I was walking down Route 66, parallel to flames that would eventually burn over 1,700 acres of land and the “A” that I had hiked to with friends just a few days before (I learned later that the cross survived). Amy picked me up at Starbucks and we drove to class, directly towards the fire now and past a school that was already closed for the day. I never felt in real danger for myself, but I did regret and worry about the family photographs sitting in my hotel room (including the only good one I have of my father). I also kept wondering about and praying for the APU staff who were divided between thoughts about their homes and serving their students. I’m not positive I would have the same poise and focus they shared with us that day.

One of our instructors last week asked us to reflect on what we experienced over the past semester, including what strategies helps us survive and how we have changed. I believe my great change has been in the discovery and application of my voice. While there are still doubts that whisper almost constantly about not being good enough, pretty enough, nice enough, or smart enough, my own voice is growing louder inside my head and out of my mouth as I turn the question I often pose to students back on myself: what’s the worst that can happen?

At the end of my blog in July I included some major stars to shoot for in regards to study and graduation. Those goals are still there, and I want to add a few smaller ones beside them
-Write more: I’ll be reading and writings hundreds of paged again this semester, but I must also find time to write in places that won’t be edited with topics that require no syllabi.
-Read more: Again, I have to find time for stories to escape into and inspiring words to float upon (like the Brene Brown book I just started). The lives and words of others can be such an inspiration and deserve a few more minutes of my days.
-“No” more: I’m not exactly sure what this means yet, but my fingers crafted the phrase without me so it had to stay. I do know that there were some days this fall when the commitments I chose and those chosen for me almost left me drowning in quicksand. My lack of sleep and increasing sugar intake are evidence I can’t live that way again if I ever want to like myself in the mirror or enjoy 8 hours without guilt. Something else has to go into the garage for a while.

So that’s me. Six months in and still breathing, still believing this is the right program for me. I’m inspired and terrified and exhausted and hopeful at at the same time. And I have a paper due on Monday, so guess what I’m doing this weekend?

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