Becoming Doctor: How My Four-Year-Old Self Prepared Me For My PhD

When you enter into the room to defend your dissertation, you will be nervous.

You may feel sick to your stomach.

You may want to run and hide.

Time has run out.

It’s showtime.

When they announce, “Congratulations, Doctor!” You will feel weird on the inside.

Your mind will take a few moments (maybe a few days) to register that it’s over.

You did it.

You defended your dissertation.

You won’t instantly feel over the moon.

You will feel the same way you did the day before.

You will be a little confused. You’ve been waiting for your whole doctoral journey for this moment.

You’ve dreamt about this moment.

I remember the day I defended my dissertation.

I couldn’t sleep the night before.

I laid out my black ballerina skirt.

My favorite t-shirt by Dr. TJ Stewart.

And a light, white linen jacket.

I wanted to pay homage to my four year old self.

On the first day of preschool, I needed to wear my sparkly pink ballerina dress.

This was the day I waited so long for.

You see, my birthday is in November. The cutoff date to enroll in school was September.

This meant that I was always one of the oldest kids in my grade.

It also meant that I had to wait a whole year to go to school.

I was ready the year before and was shockingly disappointed when I had to wait.

So, I looked forward to that day for a whole year. Which is a lot for a 4 year old.

I practiced spelling my name. Remembering that it was eight letters.

Meticulously writing out each of the letters, and being careful to be as neat as possible.

I repeated my phone number and address over and over so I could make sure that I could impress my teacher.

I didn’t want to be behind.

I wanted to keep up with the other kids.

When the day finally arrived, I knew exactly what I wanted to wear.

That dress.

I also knew I needed my hair to be pressed.

I mean, this day was bigger than my birthday.

The day I defended my dissertation was no different.

The colors more muted, but the attitude is still the same.

I had waited so long for this moment.

28 years to be exact.

I got to the room early.

Plugged up my diffuser with my lavender oils.

Made sure my presentation was up on the screen.

Rearranged the furniture.

All the while, freaking out in my head.

During my presentation, I couldn’t think straight.

Everything that was coming out of my mouth was pure gibberish.

“Who is going to pass me?” I kept thinking to myself.

“How could someone actually successfully pass with a dissertation they wrote in 4 months?!”

I kept going.

Looking at my friends in the back of the room for support.

As I entered into discussion with my committee, there was a moment.

A spark where I realized that this was it.

I was already Doctor.

I was going to pass this defense.

I immediately relaxed in my mind.

I just knew that I had to make it to the end of the conversation and it would all be over.

They asked me to step out.

My friends knew it too.

This was it.

I came back in and there was applause.

“Congratulations, Dr. Lacy!”, my awesome chair exclaimed.

And then as fast as this moment came, it left just as fast.

There was a small discussion of edits and publication possibilities.

Then committee members rushed off to other meetings and classes.

It was just another day.

I don’t say this in a sad way.

I say it because it was all so anticlimactic.

I went to teach my class.

Everyone went on with their day.

I was just “Dr. Lacy” now.

Same responsibilities.

Same everything.

People would ask, “How does it feel?”

The same as it did yesterday.

Nothing special happens.

The truth, as cliché as it sounds, is that the magic is truly in the journey.

The late nights of writing.

The hours of staring at a blank screen.

The analysis of endless transcripts.

The writing in circles.

Endless coffee shops.

Endless edits.

A dizzying slew of articles and books.

The non stop questioning if you’re smart enough or good enough.

Do I even need this degree?

All of that is the transformation.

The developing of discipline through writing an entire dissertation.

Designing and conducting a complete research project on your own.

You’re proving to yourself that you can do it because you are doing it.

Constantly showing up for yourself day after day even after you swear you were going to quit.

The tears.

The curse words.

The missed birthdays.

Sacrificing time with loved ones.

All of the pain.

That’s the true gift.

By the time you get to the defense, you’ve already become Doctor.

So there is no miraculous shift. It was happening in those moments.

To the four year old me, thank you for your curiosity and your excitement.

For teaching me how to work hard and enjoy the process.

For knowing that dressing the part is just as important as the preparation process.

She taught me that the reward was the anticipation.

She reminds me to keep going because I love it.

You are already there.

You’ve already proven yourself.

You just have to show up and get to the end.

Success is already written in the stars.