Being brave in your PhD

What would it mean if you were braver in how you approached your PhD? What might you do differently? What could you get done or achieve? The other day my 13 year old daughter came home from a shopping trip armed with various new bits for her skateboard and BMX bike. In addition she’d bought a cap with the words ‘NO FEAR’ boldly emblazoned on the front. She asked if I liked it and I said ‘Yeh, it’s great, it’s very brave’, adding, ‘where do you want to have ‘no fear’?  She replied. “Everywhere of course”. This got me thinking more about fear and bravery and the place for these in PhD’s, in coaching and in life generally.

Certainly fear is a powerful motivator and is hard wired into our DNA as an essential to our very survival. Fear helps us to avoid things that may harm us, like dangerous animals, sheer cliff edges, fires, poisonous plants and so on. But what place does fear have for us in other contexts in our lives? How well does fear serve us in a wider sense, for example when we hold back from speaking because of fear of looking silly or trying something new for fear of messing up or not fulfilling our capabilities for fear of failing.

It occurs to me then that as coaching conversations create an opportunity to explore many aspects in our approach to life and work an aspect worthy of exploring is ‘what it would mean to be braver’? In a general sense people typically answer this question with something like ‘I’d do more of what I really want’ or ‘I’d be more of who I want to be’. I wonder how you would answer this?

At a more specific level when PhD students explore ‘being braver’ in relation to their PhD’s during coaching and in workshops they often say things like:

‘I’d speak out more in meetings’

‘I’d contribute more of my ideas’

‘I’d join more clubs’

‘I’d publish my work’

‘I’d present at a conference’

‘I’d write with more creativity’

‘I’d say NO more often’

‘I’d take more risks’

‘I’d challenge my supervisor’

Please add your own to this list and perhaps share them on our blog.

I was coaching someone recently (I’ll call them Izzy but not their real name for confidentiality). Izzy wanted to build a greater network of people with whom she could collaborate in order to help achieve her lifelong ambitions to do with starting her own business after her PhD. Izzy recognised how important it was to attend various meetings and events to build up her network but would only go along if she went with a friend. Fair enough I thought, I guess most of us like some company at these things, me included. The problem for Izzy was a shortage of people to go with who were available at the right time for the right events. Consequently Izzy attended very few (if any) of these opportunities and therefore was not growing her network. Fear was stopping her, specifically the fear of looking out of place and ultimately the fear of being embarrassed in a group of strangers. Izzy found ways of accepting her fear for what it was and tapping into her ‘inner courage’. Her fear remained but she gained the upper hand so it no longer stopped her from making progress towards her ambitions. In short Izzy discovered ‘how to be braver’.

For you then, in the context of your PhD or perhaps life generally, what are the consequences of letting your fears have the upper hand and what would it mean for you to be braver?

On the basis of your answers you could now set a goal in a particular area of your PhD, or indeed anywhere in work/life, that involves you taking a braver path.


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