Ugh. If I had a dollar for every dissertation student I’ve ever spoken to who could finish their dissertation – but isn’t- I’d be really, really, really rich.

This is coming up for me today as I have, again, helped another three graduate students finish their dissertations in the past month or so. Each of them has told me that they don’t know what took them so long or why they felt it was so difficult. Two of the three have passed their defenses, so I’ve now helped two more PhD’s move into the world.

It doesn’t seem like much to me, sometimes- the investment is a lot, and sometimes the progress seems slow. But the thing is, now that I’ve been doing this work for more than 13 years, my success stories continue to build, and over this time period, the one and two and three students I help each month adds up to a very respectable number.

dissertation-stop-waitingWhen I think about the students who finish compared to the ones who don’t, I see a distinct difference in what I call ‘future projection’ or ‘waiting for someday’.

The dissertation, like any other relationship you have in your life, is one that can be toxic and yet comfortable. Maybe toxic is a strong word, but, at minimum, it can be a relationship filled with guilt that you become accustomed to- and gradually, gradually, you lose track of how you can actually change this relationship for the better.

You get stuck in unproductive modes of behavior or communication. You think about the project almost all the time. You wake up some days with huge resolve, but then get tangled into the weeds again and can’t find your way out. You might find reasons to do 100 OTHER things than work on your dissertation.

Doesn’t it sound, in a way, like a bad relationship you might have had? One where you can’t stay, and you can’t go?

I raise this because you don’t need to wait anymore for someday.

In my experience, the longer it takes you to complete your degree, the longer it will take you. That means that the longer you stay in this space of suspended animation- waiting for someday- the more comfortable you get here, or, anyway, the more inertia you build, and the more difficult it is to change.

Change is tough- and it sometimes really, really sucks.

But, in my opinion, changing is better than staying stuck in a place that leaves you feeling stressed, anxious, unproductive, and powerless to change.

If you look at your own dissertation progress and planning, and find it marked by stops and starts, big gaps in productivity, no tangible forward movement, and a frequent sense of dread and anxiety about the project, it’s time to do something radically different.

As in RADICALLY different.

Join a writing group. Ask for more support from your advisor. Consider joining my upcoming dissertation coaching group, or perhaps working with me 1:1.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. That consigns you to waiting for a someday that may never come.