Overcoming The Fear Of My Pandemic Dissertation


Love Letters To My 20s: A Fortnightly Column On The Stigma Surrounding Our Twenties

“If you can remove your ego from a process, then there really isn’t any difference between success and failure. They’re just both parts of a process. You shouldn’t look at a failure as something terrible, it just is what it is, and you shouldn’t look at success as something great, it just is what it is.” – Elizabeth Day, How To Fail.

Look, I know you didn’t want to be reminded about your dissertation (or indeed any other upcoming deadline) at this time on a Sunday morning. We like to talk about boys, tequila and ‘finding yourself’ here, but this week my time as a wild and reckless twenty-one year old has become completely consumed by a bastard 10,000 word document, so that’s what we’re going to be talking about.

Whether you’re working or studying from home at the moment, the likelihood is that you regularly want to bash your head against the wall, like me. Sitting cross-legged on your bed, and thinking about all of the times that you took the library for granted, seems to be part and parcel of the 2020/21 student lifestyle, and it only makes matters worse that we have little-to-no say in the external factors that have led us here. (Thanks, Miss Rona.)

As well as balancing our studies, work responsibilities, and the government’s sporadic news updates, being at home presents its own set of fun distractions: screaming children, the TV, jobs around the house, wondering if we’re ill, checking in on family and friends, and many more that, at this point, I’m too drained to remember. So, I’ll hold my hands up and say this for every other university finalist out there: the 10,000-word-document-that-shall-not-be-named has been pushed right to the back of my list of priorities in the name of both procrastination and fear. I am convinced that whatever I write will be horrendous. The circumstances I have been left to do it in are beyond unfair; I just cannot find the willpower to write academically right now, and whenever I sit down to start, my mind goes blank.

So what can we do when we are faced with a fear of failing, a love of procrastination, and a lack of motivation?

Firstly, and I know that we are sick of hearing it at this point, know that you’re not alone. With my dissertation, I have been finding it so easy to stay slumped in bed, watch self-pity drip from my bedroom ceiling, scroll through Twitter, and wonder why I am the only person on Earth who cannot string a sentence together. What I need to do is reach out to a tutor, a friend, or my dad, who will (in turn) hold a one-to-one to look closely at what I’m struggling with, tell me that they’re glad they’re not the only one struggling and offer to read over my introduction, and remind me that I have four whole months to get my shit together. During a time where we are being physically forced apart from our familiarities and routines, we have convinced ourselves that we have to overcome everything on our own. Just because we can’t have a moan over a pint in the pub doesn’t mean that we can’t text our mates for a bit of support.

Persistence is not glamorous. You’re not about to see an influencer turn “It took me a whole day to write just 150 words, but hey I made it, and we go again tomorrow” into an Instagram quote with a swirly font, but it’s a valuable attitude to have, and (I’m hoping) the key to feeling successful. I am absolutely murder for trying one or two ways to overcome something, for a whole thirty seconds, and then giving up; nobody likes to be ‘bad’ at something. But if university has taught me anything, it’s that the first solution you have for something probably won’t work. In order to overcome the obstacle, you need to try several ways and move from one to another based on the results you get. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get your best end result at an exhausting take-eight or nine, but you have to be persistent. You have to keep trying instead of giving up.

I have also started to force myself (‘force’ being the keyword here… I’m yet to get it down to a fine art) into doing something with my morning before I settle down to work. Even though every part of me wants to lay in bed for an extra half an hour, droomscrolling with all of my chins out, I have found that using that time to read, have a bath, or fill out my bullet journal allows me to mentally tick something productive, but relatively low-effort, off in my mind. Getting a little productivity rush seems to motivate me when it comes to my work because, like I said last time, I love goals. They help me give my day purpose and help me structure my priorities. But let’s start being realistic about what we will achieve in lockdown, especially when we are producing the work that leads to our graduation. Am I really going to write 2,000 words of my dissertation, and three articles, in one day? Probably not, so let’s stop promising ourselves that we will.

Oh, and in case any other third-years need to hear this: your dissertation is not the be-all-and-end-all. It is not the key to graduating. It will not define your time at university. It will, however, allow you to prove how much you have developed, and it will definitely be hard work. But we have months to get that balance right.

Words by Morgan Hartley.

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