|Gaddavir by Orlygur Hnefill, cc license|
The night before the defense was another story...
I was a ball of nerves. As much as I told myself to chill, that it was going to be fine, that I had this down, my body just didn't believe it. My stomach was in knots and it's a small miracle that I slept at all. In part, I was worried that I wouldn't be articulate enough to share what was important and that I would do a disservice to the folks who lent their voices to my research. I was even more worried about becoming defensive.
I'm not always great about hearing criticism (and as I write that, I can see my mom rolling her eyes and saying, "You think?!"). Sometimes, when I feel attacked or when someone is telling me something I don't want to hear, I tend to stop listening and either disengage or go on the attack, myself. Neither of these responses would be appropriate at the thesis defense.
I became more aware of this response this past Summer, when I teamed up with a life coach for the first time (Jenny Fenig, if you're curious). At one point, I was on a coaching call with her and I felt myself beginning to bristle at some feedback she was giving me. Luckily, I caught myself and was able to hold my tongue instead of protesting. Also lucky, the call was recorded so I was able to go back and have a second chance at really listening to what she was telling me. What I realized is that she was only there to help me and if I could just let go of my defenses and ego for a moment, there was some real potential for growth. For the remainder of our calls, I always spent a few moments beforehand with the mantra, "I am open. I am receptive."
I kept that mantra running in my head during my thesis defense, with one addition:
I am open. I am receptive. I am supported.
It can be downright reflexive to put up walls when we feel attacked. What a gift, when we can instead take a moment to really listen and be pleasantly surprised at the love and support behind the hard-to-hear words. And what a gift, too, when we can choose to accept the love and support regardless of whether, after really hearing them, we decide to accept the words.