An end and a beginning...
At about 4:30pm on New Year's Eve (2023), I submitted my PhD thesis.
It was a quiet moment, with my wife by my side. It was a simple moment, with only an email disappearing off my screen to confirm the disappearance of year's of work into the hands of the examiners - no printed and bound copies, no physical copies of any kind. Just a PDF attached to an email. Gone.
It was the end of years of work, struggle, and wrestling. Throughout my candidature, I encountered many doubts and fears. Was my idea good enough? Was I being heretical? Was my idea new enough? Could I do this?
Then there was the inevitable imposter's syndrome and writer's block. Wow, did I struggle with these two. There were too many times to count when I sat at my computer with barely more than a paragraph added to a document because I couldn't get the ideas out of my head and onto the page. This, of course, fed the idea that someone was going to figure out that I really didn't know what I was doing and pretty soon it was all going to be exposed.
As it was, the final few months were fantastic. All of that drifted away. With the amazing encouragement of my supervisors who kept reminding me that my work was good enough, that my writing was exceptional, and I was going to get through this, I made an amazing run to the finish line. I've heard that some people get to that people and freeze up with an irrational fear along the lines of "what will I do once it's gone?" Not me. I came up with a strategy to submit before the end of January 2024. I talked it through with my supervisors and they agreed it was challenging but achievable, and then I just went for it.
The first step was getting all of the words on the page and together in one document. I had to do that before December 17 (I remember the date, because it's my birthday) and send it off to my supervisors the next day. I beat the deadline by two days, which was probably the first time in the whole process that I did so. That gave me my first burst of energy.
Following this, my supervisors read, commented, and edited like crazy. Christmas was looming, and I'd checked with them how this process was going to impact their holiday plans. Amazingly, it all worked smoothly in that regard. Comments ranged from missing full stops and commas, to entire sections that needed to be reworked to make clear the point I was trying to communicate. My wife was also reading through it with fresh eyes and a skilled writer's perspective. Then I just kept working at it.
The closer I got to the end the more enthusiastic I was to get there. No imposter syndrome now - I was going to make it. No writer's block - the words were flowing freely. Even with the necessary time taken to celebrate Christmas with family, as well as enjoying some outings with my wife, my January deadline was well in hand. In fact, I pictured a moment when I submitted before the clock even ticked over into 2024.
The final editing task was to draw upon some simple technology that exists in Microsoft Word. It's been there for several years now and I've used it in smaller pieces of writing but never anything this large. I set up "Read Aloud" (text to speech) with the Australian voice of "Karen" to read my entire thesis back to me. She picked up a few errors along the way; missing words, sentences that didn't make sense, spelling and grammar. In the main, though, it was a therapeutic moment that really put to bed any sense that I was, in fact, an imposter. Despite her robotic, emotionless voice, Karen reminded me that I had produced something of quality that was worth reading and listening to. I had written a thesis that adds to Christian knowledge, that challenges long-held ideas about worship, the nature of God, and what we mean when we confess Jesus to be the God-human.
At the end of all the editing, reading, and final proof-checking, it was time to submit. A simple email to the university, "here's my thesis," attach (very important!) and send.
And it was done.
In that moment, I was happy and celebrated but then moments later I had a strange sensation akin to the final scenes of the movie The Truman Show. After he leaves the set, and the viewers we've gotten to know throughout the movie all celebrate Truman's exit from the false world and entry into the real world, two characters turn to one another and say "wanna see what else is on TV?"
For me, the simplicity of life's responsibilities beckoned. The bins needed to be taken out that night. So, having just submitted a document that had taken me close to ten years to complete, I walked the rubbish out to the side of the road to be collected that night.
The next day, the new year, was a new beginning.
And the bin was empty.