As I’ve transitioned to a post-PhD career, I’ve realized something. Success is all about mindset. Now before you imagine those cheesy posters from the 90s that had motivational quotes on them (hands up if you’re old enough to remember those), let me explain.
It’s super hard to realize how much you bring to the marketplace as a PhD grad (or even grad student). When so much of academic life is spent feeling worthless, one of the biggest barriers to success is simply the mindset that we–as wounded PhDs–carry with us. It’s not helpful.
Try to cultivate these beliefs instead. They’ll serve you a lot better.
1. Believe you’re unstoppable.
That’s right. You are.
You were at the top of most of your classes. You wrote hard entrance exams. You won impossible scholarships. If you’re in a PhD right now, it’s because you’re unstoppable.
You used to believe it.
But somewhere along the way that knowledge disappeared. Somewhere–maybe in the middle of a PhD program–you stopped believing you can conquer the world. Instead the world started conquering you.
Find that again.
You have it in you.
And you will be in your post-PhD career too.
2. Believe you’re invaluable
You have so much education. You have such highly refined skills. You’ve got a mind that can solve any problem.
Sure the marketplace doesn’t immediately want your PhD in medieval banqueting. And after spending 5-10 years training you, academia tries to convince you that you’re only worth about $30k a year as a sessional lecturer, or that a $40k post doc is reasonable compensation for what you can do.
You’re not worthless.
Your mind will pay huge dividends in the marketplace once you learn how to apply it. If your knowledge can be commodified, it will too. Either way, you are worth a ton of money.
While you imagined that your calling was to advance human knowledge in a minute field, maybe you’re actually called to something bigger. Maybe you will reshape society for the better. Maybe you will change or save lives.
But you won’t do this if you believe you’re worthless.
You’re not worthless. You’re invaluable.
You need to figure out how you’re going provide this value. You need to learn your exact calling.
You will. It just takes time.
3. Believe that you can invent or reinvent yourself
Because you can. Nobody else gets to decide who you are. Your fate is not sealed. Your identity is not set.
If you want to finish the PhD and fight for academia, great. If you want to go outside, that’s great too. If you want to be a CEO of a multi-million dollar company or run an artisanal bread shop, you get to do that.
You are who YOU say you are. Not what your degree, program, supervisor, or anyone else says you are.
4. Believe that you’re responsible for your success
Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen for you. Too many PhDs do.
PhDs who succeed, whether this means success inside or outside of academia, are those that don’t wait for people who tell them what to do.
They don’t ask permission. They decide what they want and go for it.
This isn’t supposed to be a guilt trip. If you’re not where you want to be I’m not trying to shame you.
But why not decide from this moment on that you’re responsible for your success?
This is empowering.
Your success doesn’t depend on your supervisor, your department, your CV, or anything else. It depends on you.
And, by the way, you get to define success too. Nobody gets to define it for you.
5. Believe that you’ll be happy however it turns out
Because life’s too short not to be happy. So whether you get an amazing tenure-track job or you need to find another path, believe…no wait, decide… that you will be completely happy. You will lead a fulfilled life whatever your post-PhD career.
The nuts and bolt stuff-career, money, etc—will work out. But that’s not the cause of your happiness.
You’ll be happy because life is too short to let a PhD program suck out your joy. You’ll find happiness where you least expect it.
Don’t let the darkness win.
Life is beautiful.
You deserve to be happy.