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I recently opened up my next round of dissertation coaching groups, and, as usually happens when I start to share about these groups, I get quite a few emails from individual dissertation writers, each sharing with me their specific story, and asking if the coaching group can help them.

Some of the challenges I read about include: the dissertation writer who is the sole caregiver for his disabled father. The dissertation writer whose advisor passed away. The ABD who recently had a baby and can’t get any sleep, leave aside finding time to work on the dissertation. In addition, there are financial challenges, personal medical challenges, and mental health challenges.

If we’re not careful, it would be easy to view this as Life conspiring against you.

But I don’t believe this. I believe that Life is always for us- it is always operating on our behalf.

The key is to find ways to use AND/AND rather than either/or.

Let me explain what I mean.

Each time you commit to working on the dissertation and making progress, you unleash a lot of energy into your life. You could think of this as drive, or motivation, or intensity- whatever you call it, when you get clear on any goal, and take action to meet it, you release intentional energy into your life.

Newton’s third law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

To my way of thinking, sometimes Life happens (people get sick or pass away, your health suffers, your plans go awry) as a response to the intensity of your conviction.

And the truth is, the fact that you are ABD when all this is happening is coincidental. In many cases, the Life events you are experiencing would be happening anyway. The main difference is that you would have a different set of resources to deal with them.

Here’s what I mean:

If your mom or dad is disabled, they are disabled anyway, whether or not you are ABD.

If you were not ABD, you might find it easier to manage their disability- maybe because you’d have more money, more time, or be under less pressure.

But the basic underlying facts of the situation are the same.

Similarly, if you are a new parent, you would have your child anyway, and you being ABD is coincidental to that.

What I’m trying to convey is that having an incomplete dissertation is not necessarily tied to any Life events you are currently going through. In many cases, your dissertation process went off track before anything else happened in your life. Yet, many of you cite these life events as reasons you can’t finish your dissertation. That may be true. Or not.

Yes, terrible things happen. Yes, we sometimes need to take a break before we can work again. But the same way you resume your habits of living after a tragedy, you could resume your dissertation progress, if the dissertation remains important to you.

So if you start to think of it as “I am having these life challenges AND I still want to make progress on my dissertation” rather than “I can either deal with these life challenges OR make progress on my dissertation.” – you will find that you have a different perspective on your project. Perspective is the first shift you must make in order to have access to a new set of actionable options.

When Life is going to happen anyway, it’s probably always better to experience it as a PhD than an ABD.