Maureen Terese McCarthy is a PhD Candidate in English and the Manager of Goizueta Business School’s Business Writing Center at Emory University. Her dissertation explores interracial and nontraditional families in nineteenth-century U.S. literature. Find her on twitter @maureentmcc
Graduate school can make you feel “less than,” but every step of grad school (and venturing beyond it) requires the knowledge of your unique advantages. When suffering from imposter syndrome or some other discouragement, take a lesson from Business and count your assets. Otherwise known as counting your blessings, listing your assets can help you feel better, come to a better knowledge of yourself, and—best of all—it only takes a few minutes (no accounting required!).
Write down the good things about you and your life. Include anything you’d like! When I did this exercise last night, I listed everything from the existential (“life”) and things I usually take for granted (“full use of both hands”) to academic accomplishments (“two chapters written”) and little things that bring me joy (“rainbow sprinkles”). In the process, my mood changed from defeated and discouraged to confident and energized.
This exercise can help with two common graduate school ailments: imposter syndrome and not knowing your brand. If you’re feeling small or discouraged or nervous or any other negative feeling, this exercise can help. I find that it brightens my mood and shifts my perspective from negative to positive almost instantly. Listing my assets helps pump me up for a meeting with my adviser, and to feel more confident walking into a room full of experts at a conference.
Second, it can also be a great starting point in developing your professional brand. What makes you unique? What are your strengths? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you build your career and your professional identity. Job candidates who can be identified as “The _________ person” come up more in conversations and are more likely to be invited for an interview. If you can fill that blank with a story or a unique quality, you’ll be a stronger candidate for all kinds of jobs (academic, alt-ac, and nonacademic alike). Knowing your assets is the first step of this process.
Even if your bank account hovers near the poverty line, the list of things you DO have may surprise you. Everyone has assets, and cultivating an attitude of abundance can help you from feeling mentally and emotionally impoverished in graduate school.
Tips for listing your assets:
1. Keep it private, at least at first. This will encourage you to be honest about your best qualities without worrying someone else might see it. Consider writing all over one piece of paper rather than making a straight list. Use a password-protected blog or site such as 750words.com if typing. You may want to just do this in your head, without bothering with paper or screens. You may decide to share or display your list later—it’s up to you.
2. Keep academic assets in mind. Consider categories relevant to your situation, such as:
- Good things about your committee members
- Good things faculty or peers have said about you
- Good personal qualities others have recognized in you
- Achievements and accomplishments
- Resources, including supportive people around you
3. Keep it fun. Include the academic stuff, but don’t get lost in it. Remember the many other aspects of your life, and list the good things about them, too. (I’m telling you, think: rainbow sprinkles!)
4. Keep it positive. If a nagging, negative thought creeps in, banish it! Definitely do not write it down—there is only space on this page for assets. We too often give in to negative versions of ourselves; this is your chance to shine.
5. Keep your list. Consider displaying your list or some portion of it to remind you of all the things you’ve got going for you. If you keep it, you can use it later to begin thinking about your brand. At the very least, try to accept your good qualities—keep them in your heart, so that you feel better prepared to take on the challenges of graduate school and beyond.
[Image courtesy of Flickr user Photo-Fenix.com under a Creative Commons License]
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