I want to draw your attention to a subtle point I have tried making
many times: "Don't give in to fear." For me, the importance of these
words can't be overstated. How hard I try to stay calm and
composed when it's the question of drawing motivation to work! I have
let go waste tonnes and tonnes of fear which I could easily have used
to push myself into working hard and getting professionally benefited.
I daresay, I would have been able to prove quite a few points had I
let that happen. I have tried very hard to never let that happen
(though I don't always succeed). Same has been true with other sources
of motivation like rivalry, ambition and professional conceit. I have
always shunned them when I could have used them. The central idea was:
"My research is the purest and most beautiful thing I do. I will not
malign it by letting it get driven by things I consider negative." I
mayn't have been always correct in being so pedantic about the matter.
I sometimes wonder if I hadn't looked at certain things like fear,
anger, rivalry and ambition as out and out negative things, I could
have found it easier to get into a habit of working hard. Once the
habit set in, perhaps, I could have worked towards purifying my
thoughts, and then driving myself with purer sources of motivation
then on. Well, perhaps. I will hopefully get a chance to validate that
hypothesis in future. But, let's not talk about that aspect right now.
The above maxim can be partially stated as: "Never let negative
thoughts drive you to do anything good." But it gets completed when we
say: "Never let negative thoughts stop you from doing what you truly
want to do."
That second part of the maxim came to my rescue two and half years
ago, when I had almost got paralysed after suffering nearly 2 years of
fruitless toil on a problem which wasn't moving anywhere. By some
miracle (which is also called 'introspection'), I realised that,
bigger and more immediate than the problem of my research not going
anywhere, it was that deep fear of having to face failure and
disappointment which was my problem. Slowly, I could get clearer and
clearer sight of that 'fear' which used to draw away my energy
whenever I would decide to sit and do something towards my research.
This fear was born and had grown within me; and yet, I could see it as
an external thing -- something which I had cut and throw away from my
system, something I should take pleasure in killing.
When I succeeded in looking at this fear as something not essential to
my personality, but rather something that I could easily throw out of
my system, and survive, I could actually get up and do something about
my plight. I realised that, for the immediate moment, my success lay,
not in doing successful research, but in honestly trying to do so. And
I wouldn't let my fear stop me from doing that.
I think I won that little battle. But the fear is still there and
sometimes becomes overpowering. But, due to that one triumphant
experience during my PhD, I know that it exists somewhere inside me,
am far more capable to identify it in many of its clever disguises,
and with hardly any delay, am able to get up and start smothering it
back to its little dark hole whenever it raises its head.
I do think (may be it's a fallacy) that this tussle with fear is an
essential experience of doing PhD. Perhaps the most important one.
People who have got that momentum right from the first day, due to whatever reason, mayn't perhaps face this problem now.
Perhaps, they already had faced this problem earlier, and have,
consciously or unconsciously, devised ways of handling it. Perhaps, we
haven't been so lucky (or wise) enough to have faced this problem
earlier in our lives. But, whenever someone is trying to do something
non-trivial, I think, this hurdle is bound to be faced. And only when
one learns to combat one's own fear (which is the mother of laziness
and procrastination), one is really going to have a smooth sail to his
or her destination.
All this is not an advice. I just want you to know something now which
I spent an unnecessary amount of time and toil to understand. I don't
know if it's one of those things which can be learned only the hard
way of experience. But, in case it isn't one of those things, I
wouldn't like to miss this chance to share with you this little
thought which was almost life-changing for me.