Last weekend was a wonderfully poignant and eventful few days that concluded and celebrated several years of hard work, and for once it didn’t involve wearing lycra, sweating profusely, or running in treacharous conditions.
I finally graduated from my postgraduate studies at the University of Winchester.
Last Friday I ran up the steps of Winchester Cathedral to receive my MA in Contemporary Popular Knowledges (aka cultural theory, aka critical thinking and contemporary philosophy… It’s OK, my Mam and most of my friends don’t know what I studied either…) and listened to the rapturous applause of thousands of spectators (That’s a lie. By the time 361, or however many people had received their English degrees I think the audience’s enthusiasm was waning, but it was still pretty gratifying). I know that graduation ceremonies are just a load of pomp and ceremony, but after slogging your guts out for a degree I think that we all deserve a bit of ceremony, to be applauded by strangers and to pretend that they are all applauding me.
I was so pleased to finally be in the ceremony and to shake hands with my lecturer for the first time since he read my thesis. A sense of relief washed over me as I realised that I had finally finished and a weight lifted off my shoulders as I received confirmation that my efforts and ideas were valid. Those emotions are only comparable to the feeling of running across a finish line and beating your goal time: the relief of making it home with your body more or less intact and then seeing the finish time on the big clock that confirms your watch is telling the truth – you really did just smash that PB.
Who’d have thought running could have so much in common with academics, eh?! Well, actually, I did. And I’ve known for a while. Because receiving my degree concluded several years of hard work and one heck of a learning curve that has been as applicable to my running as it has to my studies and research.
I undertook my postgrad study while working 2 jobs, one full-time 9-5, and one part-time evening job to pay for the train fare to the first one. While juggling priorities I learned three of the most valuable lessons of my life so far:
1. If I want something badly enough I will make the time to do it.
2. If I want something badly enough I will find the energy to get it done.
3. I am only human.
What do these mantras mean?
1. No matter how juicy this week’s Hollyoaks looks, reading Kristeva is ultimately far more rewarding and provides a longer lasting enjoyment. She’s like the sweet potato to my white potato, the complex carb to the post-carb crash. Of course Hollyoaks is wonderful, but unless you make the time to pursue your passions, can you really claim to be that passionate about them?
2. Sometimes life is a tiring, seemingly endless cycle of: work, eat, shit, sleep. Having a lie in is a lovely, if occasional antidote. So is wallowing in self-pity and pondering upon how tiring and unrewarding life can be. When things are already so tiring, what’s the harm in fitting an extra activity into that cycle, especially when that activity could be the only rewarding thing you do all day? (If you think you don’t have time to fit that extra activity in, I refer you to mantra 1.) So try again: work, eat, shit, read Kristeva/study, sleep.
3. Sometimes, with all the will in the world, you can’t do it all. You cannot magically create an extra day in the week, so instead of chastising yourself for being human, reevaluate your goals instead. We all need a bit of respite and relaxation in order to preserve our health (mental or otherwise). But be honest: is Hollyoaks relaxing, or would a bath and an early night be a better idea?..
It all seems like life changing stuff, right? But I’ve got my degree now – why am I still muttering my mantras? I’m muttering them because running has required me to call upon the same drive and the same determination that got me through those 3 years.
I took up running towards the end of my postgrad studies and trained for my first half marathon while writing my dissertation (and moved to London part-way through). I know, I know… Why the heck did I take up a new hobby when I barely had spare time to spend with my friends? I took up running because I needed it. I needed a challenge – a totally fresh challenge. I needed a distraction, totally unrelated to work or study. I needed to feel connected with my body again, as sitting in a dim study and writing (so it seemed) endlessly tends to drive a wedge between your brain and your body. Running was, and remains, my solace.
I’m juggling jobs again and researching in any spare time I can find, but running has become a priority in my life on a par with my my other ambitions. Sometimes life seems so chaotic you can’t even remember what day it is, but having a hobby so far removed from the rest of your life makes you appreciate that time and tiredness are just obstacles, not barriers. Make the time, put the work in, and make your rest days/hours genuinely restful. Last weekend’s cathedral full of applause was wonderful, but until I can parade through a graduation ceremony to collect my PhD I’m going to be chasing the cheers at finish lines. And that, my friends, is equally as rewarding.