I’m only making one practice a week at the moment, if that. This upsets me. I miss every aspect of the game and I miss my team mates. Also (and I don’t think this is just psychosomatic), my leg muscles seem to be already in decline, despite trying to keep up the gym visits.
I began roller derby around 18 months ago and have strived to give it as much time and energy as I can because it was instantly obvious that this was going to have a positive impact on my life. I’ve since tried to balance this with teaching work, research work and, pivotally to this blog, trying to complete a PhD.
The problem is that I’m now in my final 5 months of my PhD. Deadlines are looming and that dreaded feeling of ‘can I really do this or have I wasted 4 years of my life?’ is always present in my thoughts.
This is a problem because, if other peoples’ experiences are anything to go by, in order to successfully secure a doctorate, you have to be obsessed with it; your research, your writing, your subject area – it’s usually the case that you become totally absorbed. I think the comparisons to our engrossing hobby of roller derby are obvious there.
This got me thinking about two issues, firstly – I’m going to have to prioritize as I can’t do this PhD and dedicate as much of my spare time to derby as I have been doing (we all know it’s far more than the 4 or so hours spent in the training venue every week) and secondly, there have been many parallels between the two experiences.
I’ve had many jobs in my 28 years and I wish I’d had roller derby there throughout – it would have provide sanity saving new challenges when I was in underpaid, under-appreciated roles, and, when I was in more emotionally draining jobs it would have provided some escapism and something else to absorb my mind completely for at least a few hours every week.
I guess what I’m trying to articulate is that I think that your work and your hobby can always somehow complement each other and considering parallels between the two can be useful, rather than feeling that they are binary aspects of your life. So here are my musings on the similarities and positive reinforcement between my job and hobby – have you had similar experiences?
Dispassionate doesn’t cut it
A PhD requires boundless enthusiasm in the face of endless woes. It’s easy to be upbeat at the beginning when time stretches on eternal and it’s all new and exciting. Everyone has moments of uncertainty but, in the long run, apathy and dis-passion will stop you achieving your goals. Sound familiar? Try outs usually bring large numbers of eager skaters who instantly get the appeal of roller derby but, when things get tough, grit and determination are the only things that will keep you going to practice after practice and picking yourself up (literally) time and again.
Comparisons are futile
Sit for more than a few hours in an office full of postgrads and you will convince yourself of a few things; everyone is better than you. Everyone. They know their subject more thoroughly, fit into academia better than you, and will get their PhD before you, if you ever do…and so on.
Stand at practice and look around and you might convince yourself of a few things; everyone is more naturally talented than you. Everyone. They can nail skills quicker than you, know the rules better and will make the team before you, if you ever do….and so on.
Okay, so these are only my experiences and maybe not everyone feels that way, but I think the overall lesson can apply to most people – you have to set your own goals, comparisons are futile, envy is counter-productive, and it’s all about your own development. Most importantly – be inspired by those you admire and not discouraged. Have you ever approached an awesome skater on you team and asked for help with something only to be told to go away and learn it on your own? Thought not, which brings me on to….
It’s a fine balance between Independence and support
I’m lucky to have an amazing PhD supervisor. We collaborate well together; my anxiety inducing self-doubt is usually bolstered by his positive encouragement. He knows when and when not to put pressure on me, he’s well-known in the field and, to put it colloquially, he knows his shit.
Now before I’d even attended my first try outs I’d been told by people I know in other leagues that the coaches were ‘great people’. So reputation wise – I can now confirm that this is the case of the coaches, league founders and captains. In terms of knowing their shit – they’re dedicated to learning everything they can about this ever evolving sport and passing it on to the team. Regarding support – well, I’ve needed a lot – the coaches’ patience and ability to gauge what’s needed is awesome – they know when to demonstrate something to me over and over, and when to let me get on repeating each new skill over and over until I’ve got my head around it.
Ultimately, both of these ongoing encounters foster the perfect level of tailored support and encouragement to go and get on with it independently, and isn’t that how every mentoring relationship should be? This isn’t pure sycophancy in either case by the way, honest observations only!
You’ll get that ‘why do you do this to yourself’ look a lot.
I bruise easily. This often leads my friends and family to look at me with confusion and concern. I also moan on sometimes about DOMS or feeling disheartened, or I over analyse every jam because I can’t get it off my mind, or I push myself to go for a run in the pouring rain (just in case it makes you that little bit fitter and more able to break through that wall or hold back that jammer!). Often this provokes that ‘why do you put yourself through this?’ look (you know the one) from those who hardly know me and even those that know me well.
Now a PhD, in my field at least, can be an emotional wretch that rarely actually leads to higher paid work or guaranteed employment (myself and many of my fellow PhD students left better paying, secure jobs to peruse our research) – so when the times are hard and you’re having a vent – cue the exact same look.
Both demand a lot of work and the only thing that will keep you doing it is holding in mind personal long terms goals you’ve set yourself and reminding yourself why you set them in the first place. If most of the time you yourself can answer the question ‘why do you put yourself through this?’ then that look you get from others can be gleefully ignored (once you’ve thanked them for listening to you moan, obviously!)
In the end I feel the main similarity between a PhD and this crazy hobby of ours is that both will prove to be one of the most frustrating challenges you’ll ever take on whilst also being one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Like many jobs and hobbies, PhDs and Roller derby will have you ecstatic and high on achievement induced adrenalin one moment, and questioning your ability and choices the next. Neither of these things are about instant gratification or a massive a pay-out for little investment.
So, though the comparisons are not instantly obvious, I know that mustering up the motivation and putting in the hard work to succeed in one ultimately helps me face up to the challenge of the other.
…and now I need to get on with writing my thesis and not this 1,300 word distraction.
Written by: #1001 Carter