The Power of Pressure: Amy Palko Interview

When it comes to managing your time, there’s nothing quite like having too many things on your plate. Sometimes it blocks us but other times, like for today’s Someday Interviewee, having many commitments forces us to manage our time really well. And despite her current level of busy-ness, Amy is still taking time to discover her next set of goals.

Amy PalkoWho: Amy Palko of Less Ordinary
Chronically curious, Amy is constantly enthused by one thing or another: a trait which has helped her enormously in her roles as mother, home-educator, academic researcher, university tutor, online community manager & social media strategist.

Name one moment in your life when you threw a pity party for yourself and the reasons why you felt you weren’t able to achieve your goals. Were you feeling stuck? Had you felt you failed? What wasn’t working in your life?
During the course of my PhD, I threw many pity parties, the most spectacular of which occurred in August ’08. I was due to submit the thesis in October and I had handed the full draft to my supervisor, who read it and told me that it wasn’t good enough. Cue the tears. I had worked on that thesis for 4yrs, sacrificed a lot of time and money, and I had just given up yet another summer to finish the chapter rewrites, and it still wasn’t up to scratch. I think what made it so awful was that I felt as though I had let everyone down. It wasn’t so much that I felt disappointed in myself (which I did), but that I felt as though I had disappointed those who had expressed faith in me. I felt that my failure to produce a phd quality thesis was evidence that their faith had been misplaced.

Even our lowest moments fulfill a need in us or express our desires. When you threw yourself that pity party, what did you hope to gain? What need did you fulfill?
I needed reassurance. I needed to be told that the trust my supporters had in my academic ability was not dependent on producing the perfect thesis first time round. I also needed to accept that my expectations of myself were actually unfair, and that no-one could feasibly meet the standards I demanded from myself. I’m a mother of three children whom I am home-educate and I was doing my PhD full-time, and yet, when the thesis wasn’t perfect first time out, I was devastated.

Tell us what you did to break up the pity party. What actions did you decide to take? Did someone help you buoy your spirits? Push you along?
I was lucky in that I had some of the most amazing supporters. I am especially grateful to my husband who showed that his love for me was truly unconditional and who picked me up when the pressure had brought me to my knees. My supervisor, Dr. Adrian Hunter, was also immensely supportive and was such an amazing cheerleader the whole way through. However, I think it was only when I forgave myself for not having produced the perfect thesis that I was able to move on. Being kind to myself is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn.

Can you look back on that moment and tell us how you felt when you did decide to take action? What results came about from your decision to take charge and move on?
Upon coming to terms with the work that I had produced, the work that I still needed to undertake and the disappointment that it wasn’t yet finished, I contacted the registration office and organized retrospective leave to take into account my role as full-time carer of my 3 children. I then set up a grueling writing schedule which would see me submit the thesis the following January. This schedule required the completion of 12,000 word chapters at the end of September, October, and November, with December left over for administrative issues, such as the bibliography, contents page, abstract etc. I wrote 40,000 words in that time and by January I had a thesis that I was proud of and that my supervisor had confidence in. I defended my thesis in March and I graduated with my doctorate in June.

Everyone has a Someday problem hiding deep inside, even little ones. What variety of the Someday Syndrome do you currently harbor? What would you like to achieve but haven’t yet?
The tough thing about having completed a PhD is that you are then left without a goal. My doctorate was something that I had aimed for for such a long time, and now that I had a Dr. in front of my name, I was lost. And in many ways I still am. It’s hard to work within a strict structure for so many years and then to no longer have that sense of security such a structure provides. I’m on a different journey now, one that sees me asking myself what is it that I enjoy doing, what’s my purpose in life, who am I, and where am I going? It’s not a journey which will ever conclude at some absolute goal; it’s an ongoing exploration of what it means to be me, and how I can best serve my purpose.

Examining your Someday Syndrome problem, what are you currently doing to resolve it and eliminate it from your life?
I’m taking the time to rediscover who I am when I’m not a student in an academic institution. I’m learning the hard way that having a definitive goal in life is not the be all and end all, as life continues after the goal has been achieved. So I’m creating vision boards, writing creatively, exploring my spirituality and engaging myself in activities that I find afford me emotional resonance.

Many people suffer the same problems you do. You’re not alone, and neither are they. What would you tell people in your situation right now to help them avoid what you’re going through?
I’d tell them to try and not lose sight of themselves in pursuit of their goal. Perspective can be a tricky thing to hold on to when you find yourself submerged in a major project. By pacing yourself and taking some time out to relax and to treat yourself to little luxuries, you can come up for air every now and then and get your bearings. It’ll not only help you to retain a sense of self whilst completing the project, but it’ll also help you move on once your goal has been achieved.

If you could ask for one thing, right now, to help you overcome your Someday Syndrome, what type of help would you ask for?
A period of grace. Time to reflect on what is now passed, and on what now lies ahead. I think too often we expect people to bounce back from setback or to continue endlessly striving once the destination has been reached, when, what actually needs to happen, is a time out. One thing that I’m still learning from all of this, is that this is not actually something other people can give you; you have to give it to yourself.

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