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To Succeed or Not to Succeed—That is the Question...

Successwhat is it? For a candidate making their way through the doctoral process, success usually looks clear and precise. The candidate spends countless days and nights on end, perfecting their research. They re-analyze every meticulous detail until they are 100% sure the committee will approve of said detail, and then they do it again. While spending copious nights perfecting research time and time again, the candidate dreams of attending the hooding ceremony and finally completing their doctoral journey. This is to be expected, as after a long road of ambiguous feedback and criticisms, a ceremony where the candidate’s hard-work and dedication is celebrated only seems fitting. The journey there is not always as smooth sailing as one would hope, though.

Siddartha Khastgir(2018), research lead for Verification & Validation of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Technologies at the University of Warwick in the UK, has described the possibility of “second-year blues.” This is thought to be the idea that candidates come into their doctoral programs eager and ready to incite change with their passionate research, but by the second year of their program, the candidate slows down and becomes less determined to succeed due to the emotional strain one experiences during the doctoral process. Siddartha stated, “At the start of the PhD, every student has the aspiration of changing the world. Students need to manage their expectations to do something really in-depth with great rigor.” He reveals that presenting work and receiving encouraging feedback can also help negate this roadblock.

But, what if what a candidate is facing in their program is more than second-year blues? What if a candidate is not just having a tough time with the work-load, but they are having a harder time accepting the realistic possibility of success itself? Although the fear of success seems like an oxymoron in itself, the concept is not all that foreign. Psychologist, Nick Wignall(2019), shared that he has worked with a number of clients who have shared experiences of having a tough time accepting success when it comes to accomplishing their goals. It is not uncommon for candidates to experience the same feelings. As human beings, we adapt and become comfortable in familiarity. Change can be scary. Avoiding such change will keep us comfortable in our same patterns, and if we let them, will become all-encompassing. In some instances, recurring patterns of self-doubt and avoidance that delay personal success will probably stay comfortable, as they bring a sense of safety and familiarity with them. But, this cycle will always directly hinder the self-growth and rewards that we deserve, and have worked for.

The fear of success can be daunting. But, it is important for the candidate to keep in mind that they are not alone, and acknowledging this fear is the first step to overcoming it. Wignall(2019) shares some insight on some ways to combat fear of success, as it most certainly can be conquered with the right tools. He shares four key values that can equip a person to deal with this roadblock in his article highlighting his understanding of the fear of success ‘validate your fear of success by understanding its origin, track your avoidance strategies related to fear of success, face your fears of success, and in some cases, get professional help from a cognitive behavioral therapist.’

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