Hitting the Wall

Week 8

Big picture

Hitting the Wall

Somewhere between the beginning and the middle of week eight in a ten-week course, many graduate students, even the smartest and most “gung ho,” hit a slump or what is commonly known as “hitting the wall.” This is a time when some students feel less than motivated as well as doubtful. This is the time when the strategies discussed relative to self-efficacy and motivation are tested. This is not a time when students are doubtful about their desire to obtain a graduate degree; rather, they are doubtful about the process; in other words, they tend to question or resist the flow or momentum of the course or program which they have been pursuing. This might very well be the first reality check graduate students may encounter, and that reality is that one cannot go through the wall, or go under the wall. One has to get over it. And when one does, one can truly know that the fortitude of the successful individual has often been tested.


So, how does one get over the Week Eight Wall? Because the wall is something of one’s own creation, it can only be overcome by one’s own actions. However, no one completes a graduate program without the help of others, so conquering the wall will often become a collaborative effort. Let’s look at ways to conquer the wall.


1. Ask for help. Many graduate students hit the Week Eight Wall because they have been hesitant to ask for help. Maybe a student might feel that seeking assistance or asking questions is a sign of weakness or frailty. On the contrary! The most successful people have a network of colleagues to whom they look to exchange ideas, tips and strategies. Every successful writer relies upon a peer group for candid feedback and encouragement. For Ernest Hemingway, it was John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. Together they were known as “The Lost Generation,” but history has proven that they were not lost. Rather, they were, and are, icons. Therefore, connect with people and resources that can help you, and in doing so, you will demonstrate to your professors that you are truly serious about your graduate school experience.


2. Be brave enough to take a very candid look at your progress. Avoiding feedback from professors or dismissing a professor as “too picky,” “too demanding,” or “not liking you” will not help you be successful. Professors provide feedback based upon the skills and knowledge you will need to master successfully the course and your program. Feedback is designed to help you achieve the very best, and that feedback comes from years of experience in the field. Approach the feedback with an open mind. Professors generally provide email and telephone contact numbers to assist their students. If you have hit the wall, if you feel unmotivated, if you do not understand an assignment, or if you are unsure of what to do, call the professor. If you do not, you are sending a message that you would rather complain than act. Professors are not only experts in their chosen fields, but also masters at providing the tools necessary to overcome the wall.


3. Late or missing work getting you down? Don’t avoid it and pretend that it will go away. Pick up the phone. Call your professor. Discuss some type of work schedule to get you back on track.


4. Do not compete against others. Resist the temptation to try to be the smartest or brightest or most vocal in the class. Rather, look to be the best that you can be and realize that your only competition is you. Olivier Poirier-Leroy, a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC, responded to Michael Phelps advice about competing with others by offering that: “When things aren’t going great we tend to get lost in the performances of our competition. We start imagining them as bigger than life, that they are more deserving, more talented than we are. Instead of wasting energy and time on what the swimmer in the lane next to you is doing, direct that energy inward and work on maximizing everything within yourself.”


5. Just Do It! When the wall looms before you, seemingly massive and unconquerable, it is tempting to offer reasons or excuses as to why motivation or interest in the material is waning. Now is the time to look within and tap into the inner strength that creates winners. Remember that you had the strength and confidence to begin this course; now, you tap into that same level of confidence to finish the course, and finish it in fine shape.


Remember, at some point in time, everyone hits the wall. What you choose to do to get over it will set the stage for road ahead. And never forget – call out if you are feeling lost. You are not alone and, together, we can get over that wall.