Hey doctor...do I have to call you doctor now...how does if feel to be done...now what?
Those are some of the most common responses or questions I have gotten from people since finishing my doctoral degree. After all of the long days and nights at the coffee shop reading and writing where my main focus was always on finishing my project, I never stopped to think about if or how my life would be changing. Not until I went to coffee/tea with a good colleague and friend where she asked how I felt about this "transition" in my life and if I was ok. Those seeming were very simple questions - but quite literally B-L-E-W M-Y M-I-N-D. I had never once stopped to think about this thing that became such a large part of my life for the past 5 years and quite frankly a large part of my identity as contributing to such a huge transitional part of my life. At that moment I went into a slight internal panic - like holy crap what have I gotten myself into...am I ready for this...what does this mean for my life, all of the question came flowing. She then proceeded to point out that because of what is included in the doctoral process, that I may see things differently than I did before, and therefore potentially shifting the way I go about life. Again MIND BLOWN!
Until then I never stopped to reflect about this potential shift, although I had certainly felt it in a number of ways and responded accordingly, I never thought about this transition in totality. A transition that people don't tell you about...a transition that I felt I was not emotionally ready or prepared for. Within the coming months, I started to feel the intensity of this transition. I started to feel the weight of people's expectations and perceptions shifting because of these three letters being added to my name. This elevated status made me really uncomfortable - as I felt no different than anyone else, I felt like the same girl from the rez just trying to live in a good way, still learning and growing. Honestly I didn't want this to define me, I didn't want these letters to be the only way people see me. I recognize that this is a huge accomplishment for those who value education in a particular way but I also didn't want it to separate me from people who may not place the same value on education - as my choice to pursue my education was because of the type of strengths and skills I thought I brought to it and not because it's my measure of one's own "success."
I have certainly been afforded a number of amazing opportunities thus far because of my new found "legitimacy" and because I have a community of awesome people around me (we will get to that point in a second). I feel like those opportunities added to other's elevated perception of me, which seem to add to my feelings of separation. I have had people referring to me "making it big" or "blowing up."I have so many emotions surrounding this separation (that may be real or in my head). I feel like I am no expert (contrary to what having a PhD tell you - you should be), I feel like I am simply fortunate enough to sit and think about certain things and offer academic commentary. I believe that commentary is reflection of my experiences, my community, and those awesome people around me and for that I owe so much gratitude. I often tell people that I didn't complete this PhD for personal elevation or status or to be called doctor - that I did it for my community, I did it to use my newfound skills and talents to be an communal asset. Although I would be remiss if I didn't point out that initially this was not my focal point - initially I wanted to pursue a PhD because I didn't know what else was next for me and it sounded like a good idea - it just ended up working out in my favor. For me, this new elevated status comes with a tremendous responsibility - a responsibility to use it for the betterment of my community and those around me.
Although I am mulling over this current transition - I am very grateful for the shifts that it created for me while I was in school (finding my purpose, reclaiming the use of my given Menominee name - Sasanehsaeh). It was certainly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but am really grateful of my journey thus far. To this end, I am not sure where my journey will lead me but I certainly know that this transitional point in my life has made such a significant impact. For those who may be taken on or considering this journey in education know that this may be coming at the other end of your dissertation - when you are Ph.inisheD.