27 was a really tough year. I'll be the first to admit that I really didn't like it most of the time. I didn't like the health issues, money issues, or relationship drama. I didn't like the FOMO I felt as I watched so many people I love do all the things I've always wanted to do while I felt stuck in so many ways. Despite all of that, the truth is that I was doing too much, and I know that now. I was extremely stressed, which I am not used to. It took a toll on my skin and health, and forced me to work really hard to remain content without simply quitting everything and moving back to the comforts of home. There were more times than ever when I doubted that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
I thank God for the moments when friends and family were there to support and encourage me when I needed it most. I needed certain experiences in order to make sure that I stopped making the same mistakes, became more honest with myself, and embraced the discomfort of maturity and responsibility. I'm so appreciative of the reminders to tough it out during so many "this, too, shall pass" moments. I'm grateful for the moments when I had to smile and laugh because of how ridiculous things were and for all of the little blessings that came just in time. I'm thankful for entering another year of life on a high note and I'm totally appreciative of all the experiences and lessons I've learned.
I recently came across an email I received from a former professor in response to a request for a recommendation for Ph.D. programs. I did well in her class, she seemed to like me, and since she had such a great reputation working with urban youth (a few awards and accolades), I thought that her recommendation would be a great help for my application. Her response?
"It is VERY difficult to get into PhD programs if you have not worked as a teacher for a significant amount of time, published in your field, and presented in your field, and conducted advanced research in your field. One of the other students in your class also tried to get in and was denied for these reasons. I don't know if it cost money to apply, and I don't know how much leadership you've contributed to the field, but I thought it might be something to keep in mind."
After all of that, she then added to let her know if I still needed a recommendation and wished me the best of luck.
I have never been one to succumb to the doubt that people ever held about where I could go and what I could do, but for some reason this email from almost 3 years ago is one that I continue to think about from time to time. It's funny because 3 years ago, I really considered the fact that she was right. It is very difficult to get into Ph.D. programs without all of those things, and I was applying to some of the top programs in the country. I didn't have any of those prerequisites, but I had excellent essay writing skills, passion, decent grades and test scores, and other people who did believe in me willing to write on my behalf. It wasn't about how many years I spent in the classroom as a teacher when I could identify problems and gaps in knowledge that needed researching and resolving. It didn't matter that I had not yet conducted, published, or presented formal research when I would spend the duration of my program doing just that. It was about the discouragement and doubt that was induced by the fact that a professor took a look at my resume and decided that I was probably too under-qualified and the audacity she had to share a comparison between me and another student. Did she think I didn't know any of these things beforehand? Did she assume that I was blindly entering into this process and spending hundreds of dollars on application fees simply to see what happened?
I received that email almost three years ago, and I am now entering my third year of doctoral studies in one of the top programs in the country (Stay mad, Abby). I don't say this to brag, but to remind you that if you really want to go after something, do it! If you have a passion, make sure that whoever is writing or speaking on your behalf understands it and is 100% behind you in your endeavors. I have my moments of weakness and there are definitely times when I need to take a break and recoup my confidence, but I am not accustomed to being told "no" or having people doubt me, and that is part of why I am so driven to pursue my dreams. I'm used to finding the "yes" in everything, even if it takes more work, time, headaches, or negotiation.
My 28th year is about remaining focused, intentional, and content. I'm going to miss out on things, I'm going to be exhausted, and I'm going to sometimes need a shoulder to cry on, I may even have people express doubts that I can achieve everything that I'm working for, but at 28, I'm way too old to be concerned with who's doubting me and not just focusing on doing the damn thing!