So I began a doctoral program. After seven years of being self-employed as a mentor, tutor, and coach; after nine years as executive director of a non-profit, I’m transitioning to an institutional home. It helps and it hurts that everything I’ve done for the last few years has not been required by anyone; helps because I know how to be self-directed, hurts because I haven’t been given an assignment with a due date since 2011.

I feel overwhelmed but enthusiastic, annoyed but appreciative, overworked but available, fettered but free. It’s a whirlwind.

There are a lot of firsts: this is my first ever blog entry, in my first ever online course. Last week I had my first ever online class meeting. I’m not comfortable speaking in front of people, and the discomfort is least intense when I’m in person with a relatively small group. Thankfully, this class is that size group; however, introducing myself to a group of people I’ll never see except on a screen was unnerving. The second time was a little easier, and I think I’ll just get used to it. And it is nice to participate in discussions while sitting on my couch in my pajamas.

I was pleasantly surprised by the relevance of the first piece of media we discussed. It was a Ted talk on the power of mentoring. I think I know the power of mentoring, but what I struggle with is finding and keeping mentors. I tend to undervalue myself and therefore assume that those I value so much as mentors probably don’t feel the same way about me. As a result, I’ve develop a bad habit of failing to follow-up appropriately; if you assume someone doesn’t really value hearing from you, why would you want to bother them with another thank you note that they will obviously recognize as an obsequious request for more of their time?

But Stacy Blake Beard, who delivered that Ted talk on mentoring, not only laid out a step-by-step process for finding and keeping mentors, she also challenged her audience to have the courage to consider their ideas worth pursuing and their time worth spending. She closed with a powerful quote that I really needed to read: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde

I’ll try to return to this when I’m down, anxious, or overwhelmed. Some of our early readings have been pretty heavy — basically warnings about what a miserable experience a doctoral program can be. This doesn’t intimidate me because I’m in my forties now; I’ve lived. I know trauma and tragedy and devastation; I know long hours and sacrifice and little reward. And of course I know how to take action, even courageous, improbable action. One small, simple action I took last week was responding to the advice given by my Doc Studies professor and echoed by several classmates: seek counseling. So I went to the counseling services office and filled out the forms; a counselor was available for a 15-minute briefing, so I got to talk with her immediately. I shared about my anxiety, we discussed the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety, and I shared about my panic attacks. She said she had some good ideas for addressing them; our first actual session is scheduled for Thursday.