Self defense mechanisms for PhD survival...and potentially, survival of any kinds

Throughout the ups and downs of my PhD journey for the past three years I have gradually developed some self-defense mechanisms that could help me wade through the storms of failure and/or rejection, and potentially coping with any kinds of challenges in life. I name them the 3A self-defense mechanisms for now.

1) Avoid self-blame
It is easy for most people to drown into self-blame and be overly self-critical, especially during difficult times. It is always during those volatile moments that we start questioning the decision that we have made, doubting our intelligence to finish a seemingly challenging task, and worse still, putting down our inner self-worth. We often attribute all the wrongs and mistakes to our stupidity and miscalculation. Sure, we all have our moments of ignorance and stupidity, moments when we feel that if time travels, we want to turn things around. However, it is also during such moments that we grow and thrive rapidly. We may made stupid economic, financial, personal relationship, career decisions, but no one is stopping us from redirecting the course of our life, or to challenge the status quo. Every circumstances in life, if we do not weighed them solely on economic returns, bring lots of many other intangible returns in terms of personal growth and development. At the end of the day, nothing is in vain, and even our stupidest decision, will not be in vain.

2) Ask
I am not a Christian, but there is this Bible verse that resonates with me "ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you' (Matthew 7:7). I still believe that in this world, no matter how talented and smart we are, none of us can overcome any adversities solely by ourselves. Very often, we need help. And it is important to be shameless in asking for help. The worst consequence of asking is a rejection and no more hurtful than that. Asking for help is also putting our ego down. This is especially crucial when no one around you - especially none of the people who have stakes in your success/failure - actually cares about your success/failure. These people could be direct supervisors, colleagues, bosses, who choose to turn a blind eye to your difficulties and challenges. It is okay to feel demotivated for a while (we are humans after all), but do not let it compromise your well-being and your self-worth. Most importantly, do not quit easily. Open ourselves up, and reach out other helpful and skillful beings whom you think possess the skills, patience and kindness to help us in recollecting ourselves. While we may be surrounded by self-interested people, I still believe that there are genuinely altruistic people in this world who are out there to help. Usually they are also people who likely have gone through similar challenges. Search for people who cares about or interested in what you are doing. Look for people who are emphatic. Very often we may not stumble upon them easily, but if we are persistent, and have thick skin and dare go hunt around, they are usually much closer to us than we thought. These are what I call the guardian angels. Or the behind the scene mentor. Sometimes these people may not be someone residing in the same time zone or within geographical space. They may be a previous contact that could be linked up as your virtual resources. All of us have past connections, and if you have been keeping in touch once in a while, it makes reasonable sense to tap our our past personal or professional networks. We just need to be bold to ask for permission.

3) Adapt
Adaptation can come in many forms. It can be bending ourselves for the sake of surviving the impending challenge no matter how much we hate it or do not enjoy it. It can be putting in more discipline to practice more in order to perfect our skills. It can be to endure our difficulties temporarily, and tell ourselves that our lives are still full of options, just that the current endurance means we need to accumulate certain credibility and capital for now. However, it can also be to choose another way out rather than being too hard on ourselves by constantly hitting the wall. Truth is, if we are willing to bend ourselves and adapt to the institutional/systematic culture around us, no matter how ugly and unbearable they are, is the easier way out. But if we choose to ultimately quit the challenge to pursue an alternative, it is just another form of adaptation the way I see it. All roads lead to Rome. There is no one-size-fit-all recipe for everyone. Our ability to adapt can take many forms, and no one can challenge whether a specific form that we take is the right one until we all get till the end.


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