Its over. Done. My Master’s program is now in the past, and already there’s a whole new batch of students who walk the corridors and fill the library chairs at at the London School of Economics. I’d be lying if I said I don’t somewhat envy them. I am bemused by how quickly it’s zoomed by; as if my grasp on the time was so very tenuous. In some ways, its a blur, yet somehow, every moment stands out in my mind. Moments I am yet to fully process, yet which I know I will forever cherish.
Somebody recently asked me what I’ve learnt from my year at LSE, and what I would tell someone who had to go through the same year. What can I say? It has been a year of great learning – not just about my program of study, but about myself too, and the joy of discovery well worth the journey. And, in typical post-hoc reflective melancholy, I decided to indulge myself by writing them down in this post.
It’s not a sprint: The orientation week will not solve all the doubts, nor will it be a fool proof launchpad for the weeks to come. For that, there is just no substitute for reality. Perhaps I had somewhere in my head the idea that the transition into this new world would be seamless. In reality, I felt out of my depth and often overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of new information and stimuli coming my way. So many clubs, so many societies, so much happening. Book into this event, book into that event, sign up here, sign up there: all for fear of missing out on something. And fear is not a good way to begin anything, least of all a Master’s at LSE. It got to the point where I didn’t sign up for anything, because I felt like I wasn’t ready to commit to anything. It was only a couple of weeks in that I found my pace, found my space and got into a rhythm of my own. And once I found what worked for me, most of the rest just followed. Seamlessly.
I have a responsibility to do my research – This is by no means some sort of universal truth, but in my experience it feels that way. By research, I simply wish I had given some more thought to my post-degree plans, or having some idea of my general research interests. Still a teenager at the time, I came to LSE with no particular ambition or plan. I just wanted to learn, and to allow my newly acquired knowledge and skills to determine my path. In fits of petulance, I’d argue that if I knew everything beforehand, why would I have come here? I now see the defensive childishness in that kind of thought. Nobody can know everything, and of course it is important to be open to change, and to embrace the experiences life gives us spontaneously. Still, when you come to a place like LSE, where opportunities abound, it is not advantageous to be perennially unsure. Things don’t just happen to you here. You have to make them happen. And to make them happen, you have to know about them, or try to know. I realised I didn’t need a plan mapped down to the letter, but if knowledge is power, then surely, it is good to know things. I have learnt that sooner or later, I have to ask myself the tough questions, and it is to my advantage if I ask them sooner, even if my answer changes later.
There are anchors and there are crutches: This is something I am very glad I found out for myself, since I’m learning to protect my self-esteem and love myself without ever getting complacent. When people around you seem bent on a certain kind of career, or when everyone seems to be in perfect control of everything, their ways and their choices can seem like the ideal way. It is surprisingly easy to forget who you are and what you want. Surprisingly easy to cast aside our individuality and our true dreams to chase some externally-generated mirage of success. Surprisingly easy to beat yourself to a pulp for not achieving measures of worth you never really set for yourself in the first place. On the flip side, there is no point of coming to a global institution like this one if you are going to cling to your old achievements and refuse to change. I came here to be challenged, to explore new paths and push myself, not to rest on past laurels. I’ve often wondered what the solution to this conundrum is. For me, I decided to differentiate between my anchors and my crutches. My anchors are the things that keep me constant, that support me, that remind me that I am more than just the sum total of my accomplishments or my ambitions. Steadying, reassuring elements that keep insecurity and mindless rat-race behaviour at bay. The things that I can take pride in, irrespective of what I might or might not later achieve. The moments that bring a smile to my face whenever I feel in need of some internal TLC. My crutches are the things which hold me back, yet which I cling to, afraid of falling down should I let go of them. My crutches are my irrational anxieties and my rigid, stubborn preconceptions. The line between an anchor and a crutch isn’t clear to me yet, but I believe that the difference has something to do with fear. An example that comes to mind is my dissertation, where I did a mixed-methods study. I was reluctant to use quantitative methods or run an experiment, since I thought it was just too hard. I kept telling myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t, because I was good enough at qualitative methods and that would be enough. But, with some help from my supervisor, I came to realise that that was a crutch. My fear of trying out a new method and messing it up was standing in the way of my learning something new and doing my research in the best way I could. And the satisfaction I felt when I submitted my dissertation with both an experiment and with interviews, tells me that my crutch might just have become an anchor.
There is so much more I have learnt; so many things I have come to understand, to question and to appreciate. My year at LSE has been so many things: challenging, frustrating, demanding, exciting, engaging, enjoyable and of course, extremely, extremely busy. But more than anything, it’s been life-affirming. And now, having survived it and lived to pen the tale, I can confidently say that if I could do it all again, I would. Exactly the same way.
PS: Thank you for tolerating my ramblings all year long! 🙂