Archive for the ‘graduate school’ Tag

the barefoot contessa

My family and only the closest of friends know this about me: I love the Barefoot Contessa. My love for Ina, and her show, began during this past year of my graduate studies. I’d often come home from classes and work too tired to cook for anyone, let alone for myself. So I’d make some eggs or some simple meal and plop in front of the Food Network so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner in silence, alone. “The Barefoot Contessa” happened to be on during dinnertime, and gradually, I realized how much I truly enjoyed the show. Ina has such a warmth about her, and is always serving up delicious recipes for all of her friends.  I view her show as a ministry of sorts–she seems to always be cooking for a friend who is too busy, or moving, or something of the sort. Who doesn’t love a nice homecooked meal, after all?

But, I just learned something new about Ina. She did not have any formal culinary training. This will come as a total shock to anyone who has ever seen the woman cook–her technique, know-how, etc. screams formal training. Yet, she learned what she knows from cookbooks and from experimenting with recipes.

Even more interesting, she left a busy career as a White House nuclear policy analyst to buy a gourmet store in New York. That’s right, Ina earned an MBA in Business from GW and worked in the White House, but she wasn’t happy. She realized that the job she was doing wasn’t “her,” so she left in pursuit of something she really, deeply enjoyed–cooking and entertaining.

Now, this blog post may seem completely random and the information in it is almost entirely from the wikipedia article on the Barefoot Contessa, but I will say this–in this time of uncertainty and discernment in my life, I find her story truly inspiring. How many people go through their lives, simply because they are on a particular path, and do not stop to question what they are doing. I myself feel this way right now, and that is why I am in this discernment process. As documented on this blog, I have spent the past two years working to gain acceptance into a PhD program. And now that I’m in, I am quite confident that this path is not at all what I had envisioned for myself.

So, I am quieting the voices in my head and the ones all around me, in hopes that my true feelings will emerge. Here’s to hoping that I have the courage to follow my dreams, even if it is a departure from what I had planned.

help me believe

A dear friend and mentor from Boston College gave me a beautiful painting as a graduation present a few years ago. The painting is called “The Annunciation” by Henry O. Tanner.

I have had this painting hanging in my room since I began graduate school. I love this painting, and, like many great works of art, it means something different to me all the time. Sometimes I relate easily to its message, other times I don’t know what its message is.

The Annunciation is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.  I love that Mary said yes to God, even though she had absolutely no idea what exactly she was saying yes to. She was young, unmarried, and filled with God’s grace. And she said yes.

I love this painting for many reasons, but lately, I have found this painting very inspirational and comforting. I love the way Mary is looking timidly into this bright light–I love that we can’t see what exactly the light is, or where the light is coming from. Nevertheless, she is looking intently at the light, in such a humble fashion. “Me? Are you looking at me?”

I am currently filled with an indescribable, overwhelming feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. I have no idea what is happening in my life, I have no control over anything, and I am not even sure what I want. I feel a little bit like I am staring into this light, into this unknown space, and asking not only “Are you looking at me?” but “What exactly would you like me to do?” and “Do I have the strength to do this?”

I pray that I can, like Mary, find somewhere the strength to say yes to God’s will in my life, even though I have no idea what that means, or what it looks like. Here’s to trying.

the first day of school

I have always loved the first day of school. Something about the smell of new books, a new set of pens and pencils, binders freshly stuffed with bright white looseleaf paper.  And of course, the thrill of possibility that a new school year brings.  The night before the first day of school has always felt like the night before Christmas! I know, I know…nerd alert.

Tomorrow is my first day of school, but this first day seems different in so many ways. For one, I am alone. This is the first first day of school that I’m ushering in a new year by myself.  Even last year, when I first moved to New Haven, my boyfriend was here on that first day. So this year, I’m alone. And thats ok.

Whats more difficult to wrap my mind around is that this very well could be my “last” first day of school. If I don’t get accepted to a PhD program, this is it for me. Thats all I have to say about that, because I am not beginning this year with a defeatist attitude. Au contraire.

I am walking into this year armed with nothing but passion and the sheer determination to do the best that I can in each of my classes, tests, and applications. This semester is what I have been waiting for: the chance to finally piece together all of my work into hope-filled applications, to be sent off to all corners of the country (and maybe even abroad). I have been chasing this call of mine for years, and here I am, mere months away from some big moments.

I’m going to leave you with this beautiful scripture quote that I found yesterday while prepping for Greek class. I’d never heard this before yesterday, but it is truly something. Enjoy!

“You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.” 2 Peter 1:5-10

running with endurance

Last night, I finally caught up on my episodes of America’s Next Food Network Star. One of my favorite shows, no doubt…there is something so great about watching an ordinary person compete with other ordinary people for a spot on the Food Network. The competition, the intrigue…its all too good.

My favorite food network personality happens to be Bobby Flay. And on last night’s episode, Bobby graced us with a really great comment. When discussing a contestant who had a so-so week, Bobby explained that he simply didn’t think she was giving it her all each week. He commented that some weeks, she seemed to work really hard and rise above the pack, but other weeks, she has just been ok.  “I’m not sure that she really wants it…Everyone here on this network comes to work each day and gives 110%, and I just don’t get that from her.”  Something like that.

That little comment really got me thinking about my own work. Sometimes (quite often, actually) I look at other peoples’ lives and I romanticize them…thinking, ugh, if I had that job, my life would be so easy! Or, if I could only work those hours, my life would be so simple…and on and on.  But the reality is, it takes hard, hard work to be successful.  My life is chock full of people who work ridiculously hard, every day.  For these people, the 9-5 does not exist.  They go in early, stay late. They go in to the office on their day off.  They spend hours strategizing how to get new accounts, how to keep their clients happy.  And they happen to be the best at what they do. There is no coincidence here.

Just re-reading old posts, it is easy to see that this has been a very challenging summer for me, to say the least. And towards the end, I really began to lose steam. I just got tired, and began dreaming of lazy days of reading for fun and having no worries. That simply is not my reality right now, nor do I want it to be.  This is the epiphany I had last night. I want to be here, working hard, doing everything I possibly can to make my dream come true. And you know what? This morning  I woke up extra early before going to the gym, and I translated some Genesis…just for the practice.  And when I got home from work, I sat down with my Greek New Testament and translated some John.  It felt so great to be working…not because I had to, but because I genuinely believe in this battle that I am fighting.  This is the work that I love, and I’m going to do it.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite scripture verses of all time: Hebrews 12:1.  So I will close with this thought, and with the hope and prayer that you will continue to run with endurance whatever trial is currently before you in your life.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”   Hebrews 12:1

big fat failure

There is this great line from the movie “You’ve Got Mail.”  Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is experiencing one of the greatest setbacks of her professional life, and she is sharing her thoughts with her friend, Bertie.  Bertie exclaims, “Oh, I’m sure you feel like a big fat failure now!”  Really a great moment in the movie.

Yesterday, I had my “big fat failure” moment. I came out of a really terrible meeting, and was ready to just give up. Despite my hard work and efforts to get ahead, it always seems that something pops up that is holding me back. I can’t even express the frustration that accompanied this meeting. I came home, flopped down on my bed, called my Mom, and cried.  Since we are constantly quoting You’ve Got Mail to each other, she knew exactly what I was talking about when I cried “I feel like a big fat failure.” She talked me down from my distraught state and helped me to see the big picture.  I soon felt a little better.

Then, I turned to another coping mechanism: a manicure and pedicure. Few things can pull me out of a funk sometimes, but this is definitely one of them. As I sat in the salon, I kept replaying the meeting over and over in my head. What I realized was this: the reason I felt so awful after that meeting was because my advisor had, point-blank, illuminated every last one of my fears regarding PhD applications.  Literally, one-by-one, he called out any gaps he saw in my work, and pointed out all of my deficiencies.  It felt awful to be so exposed.  So what did I do?  Did I take all of this in stride, and vow to keep working?  Nope.  I got frustrated and upset and went home miserable, contemplating not even applying for programs. 

I’ve noticed that each time I think about giving up, it is accompanied by some sort of trying situation like this.  I never want to give up when I am writing a paper on a topic I’m obsessed with, or when I’ve done well on an exam, or when I’ve received a glowing compliment from a Professor.  No, I decide that its over when I hit a road bump.  I’m working to change this attitude.

So, here’s to facing all my inadequacies and insecurities head-on.  This may not all work out in the end, but I am not going down without a fight.   And lucky for me, I’m not the one in charge of my future. I’ll leave that one up to the big guy.

I am confident of this

A few days ago  in Greek class, we translated a bit of Paul and Timothy’s letter to the Philippians (Sidenote: Little known fact, Timothy co-authored many of the “Pauline” epistles with Paul. But no one talks about Timothy! For ease of writing, I will refer to Paul as the author of the letter, but know that Timothy deserves just as much credit.)

Now, Paul seems to have a great relationship with the Philippians in particular, especially when compared with some of his other letters to other communities (See Galations 3:1, for example).  This is a great letter in general, but one verse really stood out to me today (Phil. 1:6). 

Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

I just love this verse. Paul must have known that the Philippians were going through some tough times as one of the first Christian communities, and felt compelled to write and to encourage them. In fact, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, judging by the content and context of the letter itself. So even as Paul was suffering himself, in prison, he was writing letters encouraging others.

This verse got me thinking that one of the greatest things we can do for each other, whether as Christians, Catholics, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, or even complete strangers–is to encourage one another. We all need someone to have confidence in us, even when (especially when) we don’t have confidence in ourselves.

As this Greek class draws to an end on Tuesday, I’ve been reflecting on the people who have gotten me through the past few weeks, by their little “letters” of encouragement. Votes of confidence, little reminders that I am loved, right when I feel like I am about to give up. I feel blessed beyond all measure as I think about the times over the past few weeks when I’ve heard and seen through the actions of others, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”

To conclude, another classic quote from Paul, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

-1 Thessalonians 5:11

On Doubt

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the end of year party for my department, Hebrew Bible. I had been excited about this event for weeks, but by the time this afternoon rolled around, it was the last thing I wanted to do. A rainy afternoon, preceded by a ridiculously fun and relaxing weekend, did nothing to enhance my enthusiasm. But alas, I mustered up my best attitude and I went.

These sorts of parties are hopelessly awkward, but if you embrace the awkwardness, it goes a little better. So for awhile I was fine with my glass of wine, listening to/cracking jokes about footnotes, the New Testament, and source criticism…but after about an hour, I started to feel really depressed. As fellow graduate students began to share their stories about applying to PhD programs, getting in, not getting in, etc… I felt my familiar enemy, doubt, beginning to creep in. After all, being in a room with like-minded colleagues and professors alike is quite an intimidating situation.

I have found, though, that God always has a way of jumping in when I need God the most.  Tonight, a source of encouragment came from the most unlikely of places–one of my teachers from this semester, who I never really had a chance to get to know.  Randomly, he walked up to me and asked what I thought of the program so far.  Before I even had a chance to answer, he said “You know, it is often said of graduate programs, that ‘the cream rises to the top.’  And while that is often true, and the ‘best’ students always get the best placements, more often than not, it is the most dedicated students who are the most successful.” 

I was completely blown away. Those words were exactly what I needed to here in that exact moment.  He then went on to encourage me, and told me to keep working as hard as I possible can–to apply to as many programs as possible, to really seek out who I want to work with. All wonderful advice.

Because, really, doubting myself gets me nowhere. If I could channel every moment I spend worrying about whether or not I am good enough into something productive, I would be a much better student. And if I know anything about myself, I know that I am dedicated. So here’s to dedication and hard work. Someday, hopefully, it will all pay off.

Do you have doubts about yourself? How do you overcome doubt?

leaving it behind

These next few weeks are arguably the most challenging weeks of the year for me–filled with final exams, final papers, finalizing summer plans. Each day is a race to learn as many signs as I can, write as many words as I can. I feel like I’m carrying around a backpack filled with rocks, and each time I finish something, I get to throw one rock out of my backpack…and gradually, my load gets lighter and lighter.

These tough weeks are just beginning, so right now my “backpack” is really, really heavy. I turned in a draft of my final paper yesterday, so I mentally checked one thing off the list and felt instantly a little lighter.

Since joining my Crossfit gym a few months ago, I have continuously seen parallels between our workouts and my life. This morning’s workout looked really easy on the board–three moves, done 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, all the way up to 10, and then back down to 1. Sounded tough, but manageable.  By the time I made it to 10 reps, I felt like I was going to pass out, and I still had to work my way all the way back to 1.

As I dropped to the floor to do push-ups, I noticed a growing puddle of sweat in my workout area. That is just disgusting, I am thinking to myself. Each time I drop down to do another push up, my little sweat puddle grows. I focus on this for a minute, and I suddenly got another burst of energy. Epiphany! Each morning I come to this gym, loaded down with my worries and thoughts about the coming day–today for example, I have my last quiz in both Akkadian and German (my two hardest classes) back-to-back–but when I’m in the box (what we call our gym), all that matters is pushing through. As I focus on each move, and sweat falls off me, I leave behind my worries about my inadequacies. I’ve left behind eight pounds in that gym already. And with each day, as my body gets stronger, so does my mind.

So today, get out there and push yourself–mentally, physically, emotionally–and feel the exhilaration, the freedom of knowing you’ve left something behind you.

How do you eat an elephant?

Welcome to my blog!

I named this blog “the Elephant Project” because it seems to fit my life right now.   

I am a graduate student…one of those people who can’t seem to get enough of classes, libraries, paper writing.  My academic heart beats wildly at animated discussions about the nuances of a particular Hebrew word, the meaning of a single verse in a Biblical passage, and, to be honest, anything and everything having to do with the book of Jeremiah.  “Professional student” is certainly a misnomer…I prefer the term “lover of knowledge.” Yes, my dream is one that happens to require years of work…while many people my age are getting jobs, starting families, and living the 9-5 semi-charmed existence, I am in the library, memorizing obscure dead languages and translating seemingly endless passages in a variety of languages. Someday, with the grace of God, all of this knowledge will prepare me for my dream job.  But for now, my job is to learn.

Which brings me to the elephant project.  Getting into a PhD program feels just about as daunting as eating an entire elephant. My Dad has this picture on his desktop computer at home that reads “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  This phrase stuck with me, and has become my mantra the past few weeks. So, bite by bite, I am taking on this massive challenge.

I’ll post each day (or so) with random tidbits about my experiences, my work, and my faith. Thank you for listening!

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

domestic diva, M.D.

my mother raised the perfect housewife...then I went to med school

Faithfully Flawed

The Spiritual Evolution of a Faulty Catholic

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The Elephant Project

one day, one prayer, one bite at a time