H ow long have you been ABD? You know the status you once thought was occupied by the cool and accomplished. These were the people who had mastered all their coursework and comprehensive exams. They had the luxury to focus only on their research.

Perspective is Everything

For much of graduate school you may have longed to reach candidacy status. Now that you have joined the ranks of the “privileged,” how does it feel? After you’ve been ABD for some time (years even), it may begin to feel more like a prison or at least a holding tank. Your future feels like it’s out there somewhere waiting for you to crank out this dissertation. Or maybe you have a job that depends on you finishing. If so, this additional pressure only enhances your struggle since you’re now overwhelmed from the dissertation and the job.


Are there days you intend to write and everything gets in the way? Do you find something keeps intruding on the time you hoped to work on your dissertation? Maybe you have a partner/spouse, or even kids, who need your time and attention. How can you possibly work on the dissertation, manage your job, attend to family and friends, and likely something else? Of yeah, what about sleeping, eating, exercising, etc.?

Do you have days when you doubt you can even do it? How many different forms of procrastination have you engaged in? Do you have a long list of excuses or just a few tried and true ones? How much longer are you going to tolerate this purgatory?

Reality of Resistance

If you’ve been ABD longer than you planned, then you likely have an intimidate relationship with resistance. Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, personifies beautifully this powerful, negative energy he labels “resistance”.

If you’ve wrestled frequently with resistance then know you are attempting something meaningful and new. It doesn’t matter that others have completed their challenge. Nor does it matter that you have written other things. Your dissertation is something new in the world.

Of course, it would be easier if you had already done it. And AFTER you finished it, those who notice its clear structure, well-positioned argument, and compelling evidence may think it was easier than it was.

Of course, it’s going to be difficult. And AFTER you finish, even you may wonder why it ever seemed so confusing or why you ever doubted.

New, meaningful and unique contributions, like a dissertation, emerge from struggle and uncertainty. View the struggle as a gift, a confirmation that you’re on to something that matters. Heed Pressfield’s admonition to tackle the dissertation work as a proAnd a pro shows up and works every day!

Resistance will remain a powerful adversary, but you are a worthy opponent when you have a strategy for tackling the work and a mindset that welcomes the challenge.

If you don’t yet have (1) a strategy for tackling the work and/or (2) a mindset that welcomes the challenge, I’d love to help you develop them.

Join “Ready to Leave ABD Hell?,” a private Facebook group for ABD students, to receive ideas, encouragement, and support.